Help me hate travel less
May 24, 2015 8:05 AM   Subscribe

I particularly hate flying. I'm also not good at being in strange places, but the flying is my big concern at the moment. I have to fly in a few days and even though this is a trip for fun, that I expect to enjoy (in between the flights), I am filled with dread when I think about it.

I'm an anxious person with ADHD and misophonia, and flying sparks a lot of anxiety for me. I hate being squished in, I hate crowded airports, people on cell phones, gum chewing, armrest-hogging fellow passengers, etc. I can't lose myself in a book when there's a crying baby or a chatty couple nearby.

Again, I love the idea of travel, and I'd like to be able to enjoy it in practice. I don't expect to ever enjoy flying, but I'd like to tolerate it better.

I used to have a prayer of having an empty seat next to me, which helped. I plan to buy noise-canceling headphones before my next flight, and will have them in my carryon with some klonopin. I'll have my laptop and phone which I can use for distraction.

Does flying make you anxious, and if so what has helped you?
posted by bunderful to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Not to be flip, but Xanax is what helps me.

Seriously, I am an emetophobe, and there was a barfer on my last flight, and after just one little Xanax I was totally chill. Doctors will often prescribe a small dose for limited-time anxieties like flying.
posted by chainsofreedom at 8:17 AM on May 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

I enjoy traveling but I do not like flying much and I always get a bit anxious in the days leading up to the flight. My saviors are decent headphones, a neck pillow, and Ativan.
posted by futureisunwritten at 8:20 AM on May 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I also hate traveling and flying especially.

One thing that really helps me is to build plenty of extra time into my travel. I haaaaaate feeling rushed and herded from one place to another. I find that I'm much less stressed out if I build enough time into my arrival to find a secluded corner* of the airport to sit and nurse an iced coffee before having to go board my flight.

*If you don't mind sitting on the floor, you can find plenty of quiet areas in airports. There are plenty of little nooks and small hallways lined with employee only access doors that get no foot traffic. Airport bars are going to be empty before morning flights. Find a gate with no active flights. Etc.
posted by phunniemee at 8:42 AM on May 24, 2015 [10 favorites]

I have a "chill the hell out" playlist on my ipod that I play on repeat when flying, which helps.

And this doesn't work for everyone, but for me I find that it does help to not get a ton of sleep the night before flying--rather than being short-tempered or overwhelmed, being really tired helps me nap on the plane. Any moment I can be asleep on the plane is a huge help.

I also have a soothing essential oil mix I put on my pulse points to sniff at and relax when I do get irritated.
posted by TwoStride at 8:44 AM on May 24, 2015

Flying makes me super anxious. What helps me is extra airport time so I don't feel rushed, earplugs, splurging on an upgrade when I can so I don't feel as squished, and doing some deep breathing and a body scan meditation during the parts of the flight that make me most anxious - takeoff, landing, turbulence, screaming baby, whatever.
posted by Stacey at 8:54 AM on May 24, 2015

Noise-cancelling headphones and klonopin will get you pretty much seamlessly through all normal travel provocations and most abnormal ones as well. Plan to take the klonopin, don't just carry it.

Embrace the knowledge that you will be mitigating the problems instead of being grimly determined that this is going to be awful. You're going to be high, and you're going to be able to block out annoying sounds, it's all temporary, you're going to use the tools you have, and it's going to be fine. Don't pre-catastrophize.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:54 AM on May 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

I have to travel for work and noise-canceling headphones really did make a big difference for me, so I am so glad that's your plan. You can still hear distinct sounds but the general thrummmmmmm of everything else goes away.

One big change I've made is getting to the airport extra early and getting myself an early reward for facing the trip. It's something I now look forward to! My main airport has a Jamba Juice and tables nearby that're almost never crowded, so I'll just get a juice and quite literally chill out for 20 minutes while everyone else is running from gate to gate. You could get a quick mani, a cup of coffee, a juice, a pulpy novel for the plane...
posted by mochapickle at 9:16 AM on May 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you have the money to throw at this problem: is flying First Class an option? I'm also an anxious and unhappy flyer, but a friend has given me his upgrades a few times and it makes a huge difference for me.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:20 AM on May 24, 2015

I have the SOAR app on my phone. I haven't had to use it yet, so I can't vouch for it, but I like the idea.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:22 AM on May 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Nthing many of the suggestions above - good headphones, Ativan, getting to the airport VERY early, and rewarding myself with a special treat when I get there have all been key to making travel much more bearable for me. I also use a white noise app on my phone sometimes, though if you're getting true noise cancelling headphones I suppose that won't be necessary.

Two other things that have helped me are cutting out all caffeine on the day of flight, and promising myself a shower as soon as I get wherever I'm going. Somehow having that to look forward to really helps - psychologically I feel like I'm washing off that screaming baby and the indignity of the TSA screenings and the grotty arm rests and everything else, rinsing it all down the drain so I can get to the fun stuff.
posted by DingoMutt at 9:36 AM on May 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Good ideas posted already. My favorite chill-out album happens to be Brian Eno's "Music for Airports" (aka Ambient 1), so if you need a soothing listen then give it a try. I also find that familiarity is my friend when stressed, so I like to have a long-time favorite album on my phone, and will try to bring a favorite book or teabag or something. Reserving a special thing, like a new book, for the airport can also be a good thing. Take a lot of care in choosing what you wear. Comfy, and plan according to if you run cold/hot.

I have anxiety and ptsd and definitely find that prevention is more effective than curing, so I really try to isolate what triggers or stresses me and reverse-engineer coping mechanisms. For me, that means considering any physical health stuff that could come up, plus making sure I have support in the form of books, music, and drawing supplies. Also, I play a lot of games in my head, which helps distract me in close quarters. Even something like "Ok, now I'll list men's names that start with P." Etc.
posted by mermaidcafe at 10:10 AM on May 24, 2015

You can buy a one day pass for one of the first class lounges at the airport. Some of them have rooms specifically for people who want quiet.

If you are in the US, you can sign up for one of the Trusted traveler programs to help make getting through security quicker.
posted by parakeetdog at 10:24 AM on May 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Nthing first class if you can afford it.
Some planes have armrests in aisle seats in coach that can be flipped up for a bit more space.
posted by brujita at 10:42 AM on May 24, 2015

Best answer: I don't really have anxiety around flying, but I travel a lot for work, so I put a ton of effort and thought into how to make it as stress-free as possible. To reiterate what others have said, the key things for me are (and unfortunately a lot of this does fall into the "throw money at the problem" category, but I find it to be worth it):

1. As phunniemee said, I try to always make sure I have plenty of time. Many of my fellow business travelers think I'm crazy to go to the airport as early as I do, but I despise being stressed over making my flight, having to run through the airport, etc. I find it much better to just relax at the airport a little longer.

2. I try to avoid connections at all costs. I will pay substantially more for a flight to get one without connections, and sometimes I'll even fly into a different airport that's a little further drive from my destination if needed. If there's absolutely no way to avoid a connection, I (see #1) try really, really hard to build in a big connection time. Yeah, it sucks to have a long layover, but not as badly as it sucks to miss your connection because the first flight was delayed (or to run through the airport to make it).

3. I have Global Entry, which also gets me TSA Precheck, allowing me to (almost always) breeze through the security lines, not have to take off my shoes or take my laptop out of my bag, etc. I can't begin to describe how much nicer this makes travel. And when you travel internationally, the Global Entry component is a lifesaver.

4. I have access to a lounge at almost every airport I go to. Some are nicer than others, but they are all vastly nicer than waiting around at the gate area. As parakeetdog said, you can buy one-day passes to most of them. Usually it is around $50. You'll have to figure out which lounges exist in the airports you're flying through. In the US, IMHO the American Express Centurion Lounges are by far the nicest. If you have an Amex Platinum (or Centurion...) card you get in for free. I think you have to have some other type of Amex card to buy a one-day pass but I'm not totally sure. Other decent possibilities (depending on the airport) at the American Airlines Admirals Club, United Club, and Delta Sky Club. If you fly enough to justify it, you can either buy memberships or get credit cards that include access to these usually for around $400-500/yr.

5. First class does help, and it's often surprisingly inexpensive (especially domestically). A little bit of extra room makes a huge difference, and my experience is that the environment tends to be a fair bit quieter as well (less likely to have crying babies, etc., though that does happen).

6. If you really fly enough, you can earn elite status on an airline which can get you free first class upgrades (though even at my level of flying those are fairly far between), earlier boarding, free checked luggage, etc. If you think you'll be traveling that much, it's a good idea to try to consolidate on one airline so you can actually earn the status.

7. Most importantly, favor comfort and convenience over cost! A lot of the reasons air travel sucks is because people shop solely based on price. If you can afford to not do that, you can have a much nicer experience. Pick the airline you like instead of the cheapest. Pay a little more for a better seat (even within economy most airlines have better and worse seats). Get a direct flight. Etc. It all adds up and makes a huge difference. I couldn't deal with the amount of flying I do if it weren't for these things.
posted by primethyme at 10:47 AM on May 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Over the last 5 years I've travelled a lot and I'm generally a happy flyer but there are aspects of air travel that get me stressed as well (and this year alone I'll be on more than 20 trips/50+ individual flights). There are simply many aspects of the process of air travel that do not lend themselves to feeling calm and comfortable.

I am happy to arrive at airports with minimum lead time but even I get anxious if i am running late travelling to the airport or if the first leg of a journey is delayed and I may miss my connection so I'll nth the allow as much time as you need to feel comfortable.

Give some consideration to your clothes on the day of travel and the number of bags and weight of your hand luggage. It makes a massive difference how quickly and easily you can get through security, move from one end of the terminal to the other etc. For me less is more. Also consider what you put in what bag, if you have more than one, so the items you want to have accessible are not in the bag in the overhead locker.

If you have to wait pay for lounge access or find a more upmarket restaurant/bar and a quiet niche therein. Treat yourself to a nice beverage or nice, light small snack. You'll feel much more human in the more civilised environment whilst you wait.

If you suffer from motion sickness have and take appropriate medication - I get motion sick at the slightest turbulence so I get stressed if I've forgotten (to take) my pills.

Avail yourself of online check-in/early check-in/seat selection options and pick a seat that gives you what you want/need. For me, I am a large person and on a short haul flight I like to sit by the window because I can lean over to the side of the plane and feel less like I am encroaching on the person next to me. I also like to look out of the window.

On a long haul flight it is also important for me that I can get up without disturbing too many people. So I'll try to have only one person next to me, not two. And of course you can throw money at the problem.

If you can afford it, premium economy/business class takes a lot of the strain out of flying. For short haul being physically uncomfortable in a tight space and too close for comfort to random strangers is bad but bearable. For long haul flights I try not to fly economy using my airline status or even paying, if I have to. It turns out that I feel a lot better while flying and on arrival if I have enough space and do not have to tolerate my personal space being invaded by random strangers for hrs on end.
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:01 AM on May 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

My flying experience changed completely when I made two small investments:

1) One of those cheap neck pillows they sell at the airport
2) A decent sleep mask off Etsy, as opposed to those tissue-thin ones they used to give you on the plane (and they probably don't even give you that anymore)

For me, I coupled these two things with "earplug"-type earbud headphones, and I went from never really being fully asleep on a plane, to passing out like I was in my own bed.

(Of course, everyone's experience is different, and if you're having serious anxiety and discomfort around this, that's what medication is for.)
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:43 AM on May 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I always get an aisle seat. It can be a pain in the ass when you're on a budget trying to plan flights requiring a plane change, but it does help a lot with that "squished in" feeling.

Trashy magazines. As much as I'd like to lose myself in a good book for the duration of the flight, anxiety makes it hard for me to concentrate. I always pick up a couple of gossip rags for the flight, as they are interesting enough to keep my mind off the flight but don't require any kind of attention span whatsoever. I never read them any other time except when I fly.

I try not to eat a big meal before I get on the plane, but I make sure to take a couple of snacks on the plane with me so I can nibble enough to keep my stomach settled.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 2:36 PM on May 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Giant yes to spending more money to get a direct flight. I never fly connections anymore, but a few months ago I had to, and it was 10x the stress. I'm never doing it again.

A few other small things that have helped me:

This little foot rest shelf. Being able to rest my feet at a correct height makes a HUGE difference to my physical comfort in those seats. This little guy takes up no space at all and is incredibly helpful.

an iPad mini with plenty of engrossing (but not aspirational! This is no time to try to get through Tolstoy) books and rented TV episodes, movies etc, obviously with a decent pair of earbuds.

Self-permission to spend money to buy a treat/meal to bring on board.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:49 PM on May 24, 2015

Lots of the above tips have worked for me (aisle seat in particular). I also just get up and have a little stroll whenever I feel like it (and it's allowed, obviously).

I try to let myself get into the movies on offer.

I actually do read the safety brochure a few times, so I feel like I won't be running around like a chicken if it comes to it.

I'm on board with making things convenient and giving myself lots of time, that makes things lovely and relaxed (and yeah first class is a treat if you can swing it or luck into it). However, thinking about the times I've been least anxious, it's been when I've been too tired to care because I had to get up at stupid o'clock, or not slept at all, to make a stupid o'clock flight. That is probably not the ideal way to go, though. But early morning and overnight flights tend to be more chilled out, ime.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:35 PM on May 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

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