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Tips for Travelling with Anxiety

Recently my daughter and I went on a vacation. She is suffering from anxiety and depression and PTSD and finds it hard to be in different situations. Especially when we leave the house and have to leave her dogs behind.

The fact that HC is a beautiful 26-year old who from the first glance looks “so normal” it has been hard for us to be in these situations when she has problems with her PTSD. Here is our journey.

The Reservation

Where to go…we have found that going places more local usually play out better but for some reason this year HC decided she wanted to try Florida. We live about a 20-hour drive from there so it was decided we were going to fly. I think she must have been in “a good place” the day we decided to go to Florida and check out Universal Studios.

The issues that we normally try to avoid were all going to be staring us in the face. Large crowds, long lines, unexpected noises, uncertainty, etc. At this point my anxiety is creeping up the scale.

The Flight

We were so hyper-vigilant in picking flight times (we find later is less crowded) and made sure we checked in early and had all our ducks in a row. Until we didn’t Apparently there is no way to know if one is flying on an HONOR FLIGHT containing 24 WWII Veterans and their families and volunteers. So here we are thinking we are about to load the plane and here comes 24 wheelchairs and 24 Veterans and about 50 others who get to board before they even start loading everyone else.

We are both HUGE fans of honoring our Veterans. HCs grandfather is a Navy Veteran and it was so awesome to see the parade of Veterans go by and the respect they were given but as the time passed HCs anxiety was hitting a place where she was starting to struggle.

Little by little we started to break through the anxiety and were able to board the plane. I always carry some sort of stress buster with me. It can be a tangle or a fidget or a stretchy toy or sometimes even a hairband. Just something to distract her from her mind wandering off too far in the wrong direction.

Once on the plane she started to relax a bit but then came the turbulence…and it never ended. Two hours of fasten your seat belts and no drink service because the flight attendants were not allowed to get up during the flight either. The anxiety hit her so hard we were scrambling for the little bags in the back of the seats for her to use…and that she did.

We finally are on the ground and get off the plane between 10-11pm and figure the airport would be deserted…and it was except for the hundreds of people waving flags and playing bagpipes for the welcome home HONOR VETERANS.

Lesson learned: doesn’t matter how hard you try to plan a stress free vacation…you need to be prepared for anything.

Universal Studios

HUGE FAN.

Universal provides an Attraction Assistance Pass (AAP) for guests with autism or other developmental disabilities. … Some guests may bring a note from their medical provider but it is not necessary and most likely won’t be read by the Team Members at Universal.

So this is our story. Recently we debated about going to Universal Studios to check out the Harry Potter Themed activities. We have avoided parks because of my daughters anxiety and PTSD. Between the crowds, loud noises and long lines we were quite certain it would be a disaster.

In order to know if this was going to be a possibility we purchased a 3-day pass and did a trial run. We showed up at the park an hour before it was to close to checkout the environment. We wanted to go talk to guest services and see what exactly that AAP pass was and if it would work for us.

The guest services were very informative and helpful and really were not interested in actual diagnosis but rather what services they could do to help our situation. When we explained HCs issues with crowds and her being prone to panic attacks it was decided she was a perfect fit for the AAP option.

There were going to be four of us at the park the next day so after we all got through the admission process we headed back over to guest services. They scanned all four passes onto the AAP and off we went.

Thirty Minutes or Less

We happened to pick a really decent day to go to the park and numerous of the rides were a 30 minute or less wait. For these attractions we just had to go to the express line and scan her pass and all 4 of us could enter right away. Most of these ended up either walking right on the ride or at the most a 5-10 minute wait. This was perfect for HC and her anxiety and PTSD issues and at no point did we feel bad about skipping the lines. The staff at Universal were very aware and attentive to our needs at every part throughout the day.

More Than Thirty Minutes

When we came upon a wait for an attraction that was longer than the thirty minutes they would take our AAP and write down the time we were to return based upon the wait time. There was one time a wait was over two hours and when we showed our pass they marked down we were to come back to the express line in 60 minutes. This was in Harry Potter Land so we went and got some ButterBeer and walked around a bit and then were able to go in through the express lane without the stress and anxiety of having to wait in line with strangers for two hours (which she could never have made it in that line).

Conclusion

As mentioned earlier there does not seem to be a magic pill she can take or a special time to fly or anyway to predict what we may encounter when we travel.

One must be prepared to improvise when necessary and have some items available for those unexpected stressful moments.

And always research the places you are going to see if they have any type of special arrangements available. You do not need to just be physically or mentally handicapped to use these services. Someone with PTSD has just as much right to use the AAP pass as someone in a wheelchair or some other handicap. 

It has taken HC a few times of NOT allowing me to mention her issues and then having a public panic attack before she finally realized that in order for her to enjoy the many things available we will now ask for assistance. Sometimes it is as simple as sitting on the perimeter of a restaurant instead of in the middle.

Having anxiety and depression and PTSD is not a sentence to not be able to go out and enjoy life. You just need to do some recon and prepare ahead of time.

Keep fighting the good fight

Tammy

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Tammy C

16 Comments

  1. Hello Tammy, its nice hearing your experience traveling with your daughter who is dealing with anxiety. I have had a similar experience with my elder sister sometime last year. She use to be a very jovial and simple girl until she started working and from the records, anxiety got to her because of the nature of her job. Long story short, the entire family had a road trip and the road was really bad, my elder sister couldn’t continue we had to stop and go back home. What I learned for this post is that we need to be ready for anything and improvise. That day, the entire car was tensed from her reactions and that was the end of the journey.

    • Sorry to hear that you had such a bad experience last year.  I would suggest that if you were going to try the road trip again that you look back and see if you can pin-point any triggers that could have been avoided.  

      Things like comments that were made, eating off schedule, anxiety over directions, making decisions on the fly, and things like that can so simply be avoided.  I hope some day you can re-group and try again.  I don’t know your sister of course but in our case HC would have felt terrible if a trip was cancelled because of her.  

      Many times someone who suffers really can not help themselves.  It took us a while to come to grips with that very important aspect of her illness.  Prepare as much as you can and then go with whatever happens with as much love and compassion as you can muster.

      Thanks for your comments Benson.

  2. My father in law has similar troubles. Flying is out of the question, so glad that you were able to help HC take that trip and have that experience, I am sure she will always remember that. I think that as a society we are coming to a better realization about mental health, and able to talk about it more than we used to when I was growing up. It sounds like the park in Florida was very accommodating which is always very helpful. Hopefully the flight back has less problems for you all. Thank you for sharing this is important to share these kinds of stories! 

    • Thanks so much for your comments Travis.  First off, the trip home was much better, thanks for asking.

      I do agree that as a society we are coming to a better understanding about mental health and that is so awesome.  I am hopeful that this website can help clear up some of the misunderstandings and offer advice to those who have to deal with caring for loved ones who suffer.  

  3. Seems a pity to miss something like a wonderful excursion to Disney due to stress and depression, but you seem to have done a wonderful job of organizing it all for your daughter. She is lucky to have you. 

    It certainly does take planning right down to the smallest details. Even boarding a flight is pretty traumatic. But I also get quite stressed when going away but for me it is just the part of leaving your home and pets and trusting all will be looked after properly until you get back. 

    • Thank you for your comments.  I agree even someone without her issues have problems and anxiety with those type things.

  4. Yes. I have recently had a bought with anxiety. I went to therapy classes and that helped me a lot. Each person’s situation is different. Your daughter is lucky to have a mother who loves her and helps her cope with PTSD and anxiety. I like that you realize we must take on challenges to do the things we want to and enjoy life.

    • Thank you for your kind comments. Taking one day at a time has been our motto for a while now. Enjoy the days you can.

  5. Hey Tammy, 

    My younger brother suffers from anxiety, we’re going away on holiday this Christmas, so your tips for travelling with anxiety will hopefully prove very useful!

    I’ll make sure that I book as much as possible in advance and do what I can to minimize waiting times. Hopefully between that and some management techniques my brother has been trying, he’ll be ale to keep his anxiety levels down and enjoy the 4 days we have away together.

    • Excellent plan and good luck.  Slow and steady and don’t panic if something happens unexpectedly.  Just step back and regroup.   You got this!

  6. Every time you share your story someone gets encouraged. Glad you made it to Universal Studios and the staff were helpful. You really have great ways to improvise and make good of situations. The tip on knowing before hand about special arrangements for special needs is a great pointer. I can imagine how stressful it would be to get to a place where no one particularly understands or cares about an anxiety disorder. May you and HC keep enjoying life.

    • Hello Carol,

      Thanks again for your very kind comments.   A short time ago we would have just stayed home and played it safe but after many long conversations and lots of research we have started to venture out more.    We are taking thing one day at a time and finding a little joy in each and every day.

      Appreciate you taking the time to comment    It means a lot.

  7. Excellent advice Tammy! 

    My family and I are thinking of going to Disney and Universal next year and I really struggle with anxiety in crowded places. It’s great to know that places like this give you a pass so you don’t have to wait as long. 

    I like the idea of taking a later flight as it will be less crowded so will look into that. 

    Thanks for sharing your story with everyone, I’ve definitely taken something from this!                                                         Tony

    • Glad you can take something from our experiences.  We had a great time and learned to just take breaks and if we see a huge crowd ahead of us just pull off to the side and admire something right there for a few moments until the crowd passes.   Many times it was just for a photo opportunity and they moved on quickly.

      Hope you have a wonderful trip

  8. Thanks Tammy, I have really enjoyed reading your article about traveling with your daughter who is a victim with anxiety and I have got to know that when one is to travel, he or she should be prepared and should choose the best means of transport  to use thanks for these tips admin

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