Lack of Travel Got You Feeling Down? You're Not Alone

The travel dry spell has many Americans feeling anxious or stressed

Instant camera prints on a table
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It's no surprise COVID-19-related travel restrictions have some Americans feeling the blues, but you might be surprised how much of an emotional toll it’s taking. According to a recent Amex Trendex report, close to 50 percent of those surveyed said the lack of travel is causing stress and anxiety. And a whopping 78 percent rank travel as one of the activities they miss the most.

Amex Trendex, American Express's monthly trend report, surveys consumers and businesses on their feelings related to spending, saving, and travel. This most recent study of 2,000 Americans surveyed travelers with a household income of at least $70,000 and who took at least one flight last year.

Although Americans are feeling down about this travel dry spell, many are still hesitant to venture out just yet. Only 10 percent of those surveyed indicated they plan to travel anywhere over the Labor Day weekend. 

As states and countries continue to close their borders—Thailand is likely out of the question for international visitors for the rest of 2020 and Hawaii pushed its reopening back to October 1— the most Americans can do for now is look forward to future trips.

However, that anticipation is actually something that can help ease the blues. Studies have shown simply planning a trip might provide more joy than the actual trip.

"In the planning phase, you anticipate your happiness and everything is perfect," said Zlatin Ivanov, M.D., a psychiatrist in New York City. “Focusing on this upcoming 'breach' of your routine naturally makes you feel happy. How happy you feel after a trip largely depends on how it went, which can be anywhere from relaxing to neutral and even stressful, but you can always get maximum pre-trip happiness" he said. 

Talkspace therapist Meaghan Rice, PsyD, LPC, says planning a trip right now can have benefits, even if it means you're not hitting the road for a few months. "It gives a sense of control over these super uncontrollable times," she said. "[It] gives some extra momentum and energy as there's something to look forward to."

Whether you choose to plan future excursions or not, Rice also stresses the importance of the here and now. "There are some quick mindset shifts that can help us cope," she said. "This isn't forever. Just like most hard moments in life, they're temporary and it's less about what we'll face and more about what we can do about [it]."

Although it's hard to replace the excitement and thrill of jetting off to a destination, some activities can mimic the feelings we associate with traveling, says Ivanov. For example, you can listen to music from your favorite parts of the world, make virtual friends from the regions you love or would love to visit, or even challenge yourself to learning a new hobby.

One thing many sad travelers might turn to right now is looking over old travel photos. This is a good thing, according to Rice, but can also backfire if you're not careful. "With the right frame of mind, we can look at old photos and find enjoyment from our previous travels and be grateful for what we've done," she said. It's the healthy reflection of the past combined with a positive mindset for the future that can be beneficial.

But if you have feel negative emotions while scrolling through your camera roll, it's something you should avoid. "If it's too hard or you find yourself feeling resentful, steer clear of old photos and memories and focus on what you can do in the present moment," said Rice.