Stephanie Holmes enlists some experts to help you ease common travel worries and have a carefree long-haul holiday.
Your fear: Flying
Whether you're a first-time or frequent flyer, it can be a scary business. Even the calmest can panic when heavy turbulence hits. How do you cope with 24 hours on a plane when you are an anxious flyer?
Solution: Grant Amos, whose company Flying Without Fear (flyok.co.nz) has helped hundreds of Kiwis overcome their phobia, says it's all about preparation.
"There are a number of bad choices people make before they travel," Amos says. "The first is working until the day they go away. Ideally you should be peaking in activity about two days before you travel, leading to a wind down for those two days.
"They don't offload responsibility with plenty of time so they're rushing around until midnight the day before an 8am flight. They begin their journey wound up like a clockwork toy."
He also suggests making sure your physical health is as good as it can be before you fly long-haul, taking care to be fully hydrated and physically fit (enough to walk briskly for 45 minutes). Long-haul flights take a real toll on the body, but if you're taking care of yourself before you board, it will ease a lot of the symptoms you might otherwise experience.
Practise passive relaxation — reading, listening to music, meditation — anything that's going to help calm you if you feel a bout of anxiety coming on. And before you travel, try not to focus on your fear.
"A lot of energy goes into the difficulty people have of getting on to the plane, rather than what they're going to do when they get to the destination," Amos says. He suggests spending more time preparing and planning what you're going to do and see when you get there, which will help keep your mind occupied, and also help you feel better planned for your trip. Spending a day on a plane is not ideal, but it's essential for anyone wanting to enjoy the delights of a European holiday. You'll soon forget about the journey once you're in front of the Trevi Fountain, riding a bike along the canals of Amsterdam or seeing the Eiffel Tower lit up in all its glory.
Your fear: Long-haul flights
You can't wait to get to Europe and wander the history-rich cobblestones and laneways leading to mouth-watering gelato and ancient monuments. But getting there means a couple of long flights. And with the new ultra-long-haul routes, like Auckland to Dubai, Doha, and Chicago, they just keep getting longer. How do you stay sane when cooped up for 24 hours?
Solution: There are a few things you can do to make a long-haul flight more bearable.
First, pick your seat carefully. An aisle seat is best if you think you'll want to get up and stretch your legs a lot; a window is better if you want to sleep undisturbed by other passengers. Window seats give an illusion of more privacy too. Some airlines will charge you for seat selection, but this is one fee that is totally worth paying to avoid ending up in the dreaded middle seat.
If you struggle to sleep on planes, see your doctor before you travel and they may be able to prescribe sleeping pills for you (although this is not guaranteed).
I always carry an eye mask and quality earplugs in my hand luggage — they really help block out the disturbances in the cabin and aid a more restful sleep.
Bring your own entertainment, like an e-reader, tablet loaded with movies and music, and noise-cancelling headphones, just in case there's nothing on the in-flight entertainment you want to watch or, worst case scenario, it's not working.
However, electronic devices could impact your sleep. Amos points out that blue light emitted from screens stimulates rather than soothes our senses. If you really want to be able to rest and relax, take a physical book rather than a kindle or tablet, or listen to music rather than watching movies.
Amos also suggests changing your mindset about the flight. "Think of a 17-hour flight as four four-hour flights and break it down into blocks of time," he says. "What are you going to do for each of those blocks? Some of that will be lights-out time, when you should focus on rest. Not everyone can sleep on a plane but you should still be resting."
If you really can't bear the thought of doing the whole thing in one go, book in a stopover for a night or more along the way. That really helps with the mental battle of travelling so far, and gives you a chance to get some sleep if you didn't on the plane.
Above all else, try to relax. Visualise yourself at your final destination and how good it's going to feel once you get there. Remember this is just one day out of your life . . . and I bet you've spent a whole day on the couch bingeing Netflix before. This isn't too dissimilar.
Your fear: Getting sick
You've spent so much time and money getting ready for your trip, the last thing you want to do is get ill while you're away.
Solution: Being on a long flight, or in a new environment, can often lead to bugs and sickness. It's hard to control, especially when you don't know who you'll be sitting next to on the plane or what their personal hygiene is like. While you can't guarantee staying healthy, you can try to prevent illness.
Try to strengthen your immune system before you travel — take vitamins and supplements, try to avoid stress, get lots of rest and stay hydrated. Frequent travellers I spoke to suggested nasal sprays, oral vaccines and anti-viral medications as their go-tos — see your doctor, or talk to a pharmacist about over- the-counter preventative treatments you can try.
Sickness from food is also a common worry.
"What locals may eat or drink without any ill-effects may not be so easy for your body to process," says Chris White, CEO of Southern Cross Travel Insurance. "Follow food and drink safety advice. If you're in any doubt about the conditions in which your food or drink has been prepared, avoid eating anything raw. Ensure all cooked food is piping hot and cooked through and drink only water or beverages that come from sealed bottles."
Taking a daily probiotic can help keep your stomach healthy — again, talk to your pharmacist about the best one to take. Use hand sanitiser and try to avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth as that's how germs can easily make their way into your system.
White also suggests being careful around wildlife. "Get to know any risky animals, insects and organisms. Do some research before you go and get vaccinations for common infections endemic to your destination," he says. "Follow local advice on any safety measures you need to take around the animals and insects you encounter."
Your fear: Other people
You have only a couple of weeks for your holiday and you want to see it all, but want it to be as easy as possible. You know a group tour can achieve this, but you're worried about being trapped with other people, and don't want to look like "a tourist".
Solution: Group travel has come a long way in the past few years and is actually a really great, cost-effective way to experience a destination. You'll have transport, accommodation and some meals taken care of and an expert guide to get you to places you might not be able to visit on your own.
Group tours are particularly good for solo travellers, as you have a ready-made group of companions, and a travel expert looking out for your safety.
Tony Laskey, from The Travel Corporation NZ — whose brands include Trafalgar, Contiki and Insight Vacations — says a travel director's job is to "ensure you have a holiday of a lifetime, one where you meet locals, explore hidden treasures and indulge in local cuisine, while somebody else takes care of all the hard-to-organise details of travel".
These days there are so many options for different tours and travel companies, offering unique itineraries and added extras. It's worth talking to a travel agent about what you want from your holiday, to see if a guided tour fits the bill.
As for the other people on the trip, well, you can't control what they are like. But it's rare to not find at least a few like-minded travellers on every trip. And you can be as engaged — or separate — from the group as you like. "Free time is a key component of all guided holidays," says Laskey, "with the perfect balance of carefully-planned sightseeing and time to explore on your own."
Don't knock it until you've tried it.
Your fear: Staying safe
Heading off to the other side of the world is a daunting prospect, especially when we hear constant news reports of violence, natural disasters and terrorism. Are you better off staying at home?
Solution: Travel is enriching and rewarding, and you'll always learn something from a trip, even when it doesn't go exactly according to plan. Yes, there are definitely things to be wary of, but with some research and precautions, you can be confident you'll be okay.
"New Zealanders are intrepid travellers and turn up in some incredible locations," says Carl Reaich from Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFat). "We also get into some difficult predicaments — whether it's a crash, a coup or a cyclone, there'll usually be two Kiwis in it somehow."
He says the most important thing you can do before you head away is to get comprehensive travel insurance.
"We also encourage people to register travel and contact details on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade's SafeTravel website, and to check the latest travel advice for the places you'll be going".
SafeTravel is a free service and registering takes less than 10 minutes, but it can prove essential if you get stuck in an unexpected situation while overseas.