No matter how many times I go on a trip or adventure, I still get waves of anxiety beforehand. It can start weeks before the trip. Pre-trip anxiety and worry are common, no matter how seasoned an adventurer you are. Maybe it doesn’t happen to everyone—I’m jealous of my friends who seem so relaxed before a big trip—but for me, it’s almost always a factor. The good news is, it’s a powerful force that you can harness to your advantage. It’s not something to ignore or overcome, but to listen to, accept and use to address pre-trip preparation, planning or packing that needs to happen.
For me, when it starts, my palms get sweaty, my breath light and shallow, and my mind races with questions (often related to packing or partners).
How am I ever going to get everything prepared and packed in time?
How will it all fit?
Do I have the right stuff?
I find my anxiety is worse when there’s a big unknown. Maybe I’m going to do something I haven’t done before (like the time I was spun into a tizzy preparing for a two-week snow-camping trip), or maybe I’m going with new people.
Can I trust the people I’m going with?
What if I don’t get along with the new partner?
What if they don’t listen to me?
What if they go too fast and I can’t keep up? Maybe it’s even about bodily functions: How am I going to pee or poop (this can be a worry with new partners)?
Or for women, what if I have my period?
What about bears?
It starts to feel impossible. The anxiety is spiraling, having a paralyzing effect. It makes me not even want to start planning, and sometimes I think about canceling the entire outing! The list of things that can bring pre-trip anxiety is endless. Undoubtedly, anxiety is what prevents many people from entering the outdoors. It prevents many people from living the life of their dreams.
Give Yourself a Pep Talk
When the spiral starts to happen, it’s intervention time. I tell myself, “Everything is going to be OK,” and “I can do this.” Those words become my mantras, and I will even start saying them to myself out loud, especially while packing. I try to remember that humans have been surviving in the outdoors for hundreds of thousands of years. I like to think of the mountaineers of the late 1800s and the gear they used. If they could do it with that, certainly I can figure this out.
Communicate with Your Team
I communicate my worries with my trip partners. Maybe you’re both in the same boat and they are having the same worries and fears. Or maybe they have more experience with the type of adventure you are about to go on and can provide you some mentorship. It’s a perfect time to discuss previous experience and risk tolerance levels. Don’t hold back with questions that can help address your worries. Put it all on the table. If you’re going to be embarking on a journey with someone, it is essential that you are able to communicate with them effectively at all times.
Share Planning and Packing with the Team
For a big multiday trip or expedition, I like to start the packing and communication well in advance. I know I get into trouble when I leave things until the last minute. It’s a huge relief to be packed up a few days before departure. That way, I can start well rested and relaxed, not staying up late packing the night before.
Maybe you decide to create a shared document with meal planning and packing lists that break down who is bringing what group gear, and what individuals should pack. For instance, if everyone is bringing a base layer, soft-shell pants and hard-shell pants, then you should be able to move through the same temperatures comfortably, as a team.
Visualize the Route
For my personal preparation and anxiety abatement, I do visualization exercises. This is especially helpful before skiing a big line or climbing a hard route. In my mind’s eye, I go through every step of the journey, from transportation logistics to approach, dropping in, and being back at the car. Then I think about what I want or need to be comfortable during all those stages, down to the finest details of when I would rope up or put on crampons, and how I will access essentials in my pack. I study topo maps and Google Earth imagery, and read other people’s trip reports. Whether you’re heading out for a day or a week, ask all the questions you need of your partners and of yourself to make sure all the worries are addressed. Listen to and trust your instincts. Don’t let the anxiety cripple you. Instead, let it be your guide to make sure you are well-prepared for an exciting adventure ahead!
Once I’m on my way, my worries melt away into the excitement of the adventure. I know I’ve done as much preparation as possible and it’s easy for me to relax and enjoy. Trust your preparation, realize that hiccups are part of the adventure, and have fun with your group!
Artwork by Sarah Uhl.