(Or how to be prepared)
Having PTSD will in many cases be disruptive when it comes to having a normal life. Many people have problems with sleep and nightmares. Poor appetite, fatigue and lack of energy are other very common symptoms. Memory and ability to concentrate are significantly impaired, and many begin to isolate themselves socially.
Travel anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) increases the negative tension by planning and traveling on vacation. The journey, the unknown places, the many people to relate to, being in open spaces and other unpredictable events can make many PTSD symptoms such as anxiety, depression, dissociation and fatigue more prominent.
The question is: Can you travel with PTSD?
Of course you can!
There are many things to keep in mind when planning a trip. Nevertheless, everyone has the right to explore the world and have the best time to do so. Here is a list that may help you on your way.
Table of content
- The preparations
- 1. Arrive early
- 2. Early Boarding
- 3. Use masking sounds
- 4. Never travel at night
- 5. Know where you go
- 6. Use the travel company guidet tours
- 7. Exercise/training
- 8. Test trip
- 9. Cover your six
- 10. Make a list
- 11. Travel insurance
- 12. Resting day(s)
- 13. Your own room
- 14. Medicine
- 15. Talk to your doctor or significant other before leaving
- 16. Bring the medicine recipe
- 17. Travel in low season or outside the holidays
- 18. Always have extra time included in the itinerary
- 19. Pack smart
- 20. Sources and further reading
- 21. What is PTSD?
Traveling can make you very happy and is always possible even if you suffer from PTSD. However, it can be difficult to organize, and also take the courage and really go.
I have always enjoyed traveling and, over the years, I’ll become better at doing that.
Still, there is always a threshold to actually leave home. Especially when I travel alone. I speak several languages and have no problems communicating or getting to know people. The problem occurs when the PTSD symptoms strike. Anxiety, flasbacks, sweating and things like that come easier in places that I will need to pass when I travel. Airports, cities, people to talk to, hotels to book and check in at.
Even dinners to be ordered when I sit at a table in a restaurant- how many times have I not bought something less good from a store instead of the planned dinner out at a restaurant? All because the anxiety showed up. Completely without warning and, often, without reason.
In the following, I will in turn give you some tips on preparations before and during the trip itself. I cannot say that I have followed all of this myself, but I encourage you to do so. The ones I have tried, has helped me a lot. Besides, practice makes perfect. When you first start traveling, moving yourself around the world – you quickly get used to the art of travelling and you will cope excellently.
1. Arrive early
- If you are flying by plane – arrive early at the airport. I am always (no exception) far ahead of the norm (1/2 hour nationally, 2 hours internationally) Knowing that I have plenty of time – makes me calm and not so sweaty.
2. Early Boarding
Most airlines are very understanding if you request pre-boarding due to anxiety. It is possible to pre-board so that you do not have to experience the stress of being so close to everyone in the queue. Let the airport staff know what you need. If you travel in the United States, you can submit a TSA alert card to tell security personnel that you have PTSD. You can also request a private security check.
Ask your airline in advance if you would like to board.
Remember that people with PTSD also qualify to bring emotional support animals on flights. See the National Service Animal Registry for more information:
3. Masking sounds
Use masking sounds. I started this very early. Since I have tinnitus, a flight was initially challenging because the tinnitus got noticeably worse after x number of hours on the plane. I wore earplugs and had good old-fashioned lumberjack headphones with me. I looked like an idiot. But had a comfortable flight. Today I use Bose sound-absorbing headphones. Recommended. Never compromise on such a thing.
4. Never travel at night
I also try to travel when there is little other traffic. This applies regardless of whether I travel by plane or not. Sleep is super important for everyone, but perhaps especially for those suffering from PTSD. The bad sleep you have when you have PTSD should not be further damaged by saving some money on a night trip. Do not do it. It’s not worth it.
5. Know where you go
I always know where I’m going. It may sound a bit banal. (Who does not know where they are going?) What I mean is that I have clarified the itinerary down to the smallest detail. I can sometimes even know where I will stop (if I drive a campervan), where I will eat, and when it comes to planes – where a possible car rental (which of course I have pre-booked) is at the airport. Most of all, I like to prepare for the trip as if it were a military operation. (And I know all about that;)
One tip I got is Streetview Player. Streetview Player takes your journey and then provides a playback of Streetview images that are available from start to finish. Users can see exactly where to drive. Try it!
Included in such a preparation is also the use of photos and video from the hotel you will be staying at. Nearly every hotel now has an online section full of photos. You can see rooms, lobbies, pools and the property before choosing a hotel.
6. Use the travel company guided tours
When I was younger it was a point not to take the tour one was offered by the travel company. It’s silly. Whether you like such things or not. It provides good information and in a way breaks the ice with those you might meet at the breakfast table the next day. If you like sightseeing but find the idea of navigating from place to place overwhelming, look for a guided tour or a hop-on hop-off tour that will take you to all the best places. I did this in New York and it was a wonderful experience.
I medicate myself with exercise. This means that holidays are never without training. On the contrary. Sometimes I exercise even more when I travel. Often the journey brings me to a warmer region, which makes it even easier. I often choose places that have training opportunities. If I do not train one day, I will be grumpy. Worse, PTSD symptoms appear more quickly. Make time for exercise. Of course, it does not have to be practice for a Marathon or a decathlon. A walk, swim, hiking in the mountains, even massage is considered training for me.
8. Test trip
If you are in the starting pit of traveling – try a test trip. Go on a weekend trip to a city not far from where you live. Go with someone if you able to. Check if it works. And in case it does not, what did not work? Can you change something that makes it more relevant to go next time?
Remember that a journey begins with the first step
This can give you the confidence needed to go backpacking, but can also help you see how you cope with being alone or with the people you want to travel with.
9. Cover your six
Have someone you can call. A relative or someone you know will be able to help you or someone you just can talk to.
10. Make i list
Have a small list of things you know will do you good when you are traveling. Depending on where you travel, of course, sightseeing is one such point, but a walk, a run, something you like to eat, something you like to read. For example, always have an opportunity to watch a movie that you like. (or a series) Remember: make sure you have downloaded it before you travel in case you do not have an internet connection.
If you’re struggling to come up with ideas, think of the things that make you happy or calm. Preferably the same as you do at home.
11. Travel insurance
This is a piece of advice everyone should take. Travel insurance is a necessary evil when traveling independently or not. Coverage for your medical condition means that if you become seriously ill, you can still get home and achieve help.
This is especially important if you are traveling alone.
12. Resting day
Again a piece of advice whether you are struggling with PTSD or not. Have a resting day. Take time off from sightseeing, relax, find a beach or watch some Netflix! Do not feel discouraged to need this break, we all do sometimes.
13. Your own room
I never sleep (if I can avoid it) in the same room as strangers. My PTSD is such that I wake up to the slightest sound. If someone turns around, mumbles, snores, or does other more unpleasant things – I wake up. Another thing is that I feel a general anxiety when I have to rest with strangers. It goes against the “war scheme” I have in mind. If you are a veteran of foreign service, you understand what I mean. Therefore, I stay awake and being on “watch” when I am with others. Why – I do not know. Even if they do not make a sound. Treat yourself of a single room.
I have my medicine and it’s exercise, so I do not have to think about this so much. But I know that many people need antidepressant medication, anxiety medication, etc. Remember to pack more than you need on the trip. It is not a good thing to be short of important medicine. Especially medicines which shouldn’t be cut of during a short periode. It can get ugly.
It is also a good idea to find out if it is possible to buy your medicines in the country you are visiting. This is just to be secure in case your medicine disappears or gets stolen.
15. Talk to your doctor or your significant others before leaving.
If you have a full-blown chronic PTSD and are under treatment, your doctor or doctor will probably not recommend a trip for you. But if you “only” suffer from PTSD and you are not in treatment, there is of course nothing in the way of traveling . If you have an appointment and it is ok for you, do mention to your doctor that you plan to leave. He/she can help you with advice and maybe medication beyond the quota for what you can take with you, normally.
Also, talk to your family before you leave. Do not let the trip be a secret. It may sound strange but I have heard about cases where the veteran has just left. Not nice to those who love you and also stupid in relation to the fact that they may be able to give you advice on where to go, whether you should go and that you can get help if you are stuck a place. (see also my zen ish advices which touches on some of these interpersonal points.)
16. Bring the recipe
Preferably in English if you can.
When traveling abroad, it is important to bring a letter from your doctor and the prescription label for the medicine you have. You must also check the country’s regulations before you arrive, as some countries ban certain substances. If you can not find it online, each country’s embassy is the best place to ask.
17. Travel in low season or outside the holidays
You get a calmer experience, and you can also save money.
Another stress-reducing benefit of traveling outside of holidays is that hotels are usually not full, so if something goes wrong with your reservation, you can easily find another place to stay.
18. Always have extra time included in the itinerary.
This is certainly not necessary to tell you. If you have PTSD, you know everything about being prepared and having a good margin of time. Unforeseen things always happen when traveling, so give yourself more time than you think you need to make room for those events. Waiting is always better than sweating.
19. Pack smart
Bring everything you need to be comfortable, but do not overdo it. Packing too much can make navigating airports and other public spaces difficult and stressful.
If you are flying, pack all necessities – such as medicines, snacks or earplugs – in your hand luggage before boarding the plane.
Have a good trip and let me hear if you have additional advice for us.
20. Sources and further reading
Travel insurance. (This is just one of them. Do your own research, please)
Healthy place. (Good advice on travel with mental issues. Personal blog)
Hannahs happy adventures (Personal blog)
Note that I don’t have any economic benefits from these sources or other recommendations on this blog.
What is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, sometimes known as shell shock or combat stress, is an anxiety disorder that can occur in people who have been exposed to particularly frightening and horrific experiences such as aggravated violence, abuse, war and concentration camps, disasters, torture, rape, serious accidents or serious crimes (such as armed robbery).
Mobilization, or fight-or-flight, occurs when you need to defend yourself or survive the danger of a fight situation.