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Jen Craig, sales manager of Craig Travel in Toronto, says she tries to quell her clients’ fear about travelling by arming them with as much information as she can ahead of departure.iStockPhoto / Getty Images

When John Clark and his family boarded an Air Transat flight to England at the end of October, it was their first time on a plane in more than two years. Because of COVID-19 they had decided to postpone their vacation until it was safer to travel and, by this fall, they finally felt comfortable.

Still, they were nervous. Not so much, Clark says, about getting sick (they are double-vaccinated), but about all the unknowns of flying in the midst of a pandemic. They worried about meeting all the testing requirements before, and after, they arrived. They were afraid their flights might be postponed or cancelled and they wouldn’t be reimbursed.

“We were just anxious, period, even though we knew we’d done everything we could to prepare,” says Clark, a 62-year-old bus driver in Meaford, Ont.

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Travel agents say that feeling is shared by the thousands of Canadians who are planning to visit loved ones over the holidays – many of whom are like the Clark family and have not travelled since the pandemic began. “People booked trips to be with family months ago when the [COVID-19] situation looked so much better,” says Sarah Halprin, an agent with The Travel Agent Next Door in Calgary. “Now with Omicron and the federal government’s travel advisory, many of my clients are fearful once again because the goalposts are constantly moving and they’re confused – and torn – about what to do.”

Halprin says most of her clients are sticking with their travel plans and she is advising them to check the federal government’s travel adviser site, travel.gc.ca, daily for updates, make sure they have COVID-19 health insurance valid outside the country and to budget extra in case they get sick – or stranded – and have to extend their stay. As for those who are really nervous and unsure what to do? “My advice is don’t go,” says Halprin. “A holiday should be fun, not a constant source of stress”

Dr. Martin Antony, a professor of psychology at Ryerson University in Toronto, says the roots of anxiety are based in fear – which given the times, is a totally natural thing. “Anxiety is an emotion that helps us to prepare for future threats,” he says. “Without it, we would be more likely to put ourselves in harm’s way.”

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For those who must travel over the holidays (or simply want to), he has a few tips to help manage their anxiety. “Practice mindfulness, which means staying focused on the present, and if you feel anxious, not fighting it or trying to control it,” says Antony, co-author of The Anti-Anxiety Workbook.

Slow, deep breathing is another simple way that people can help to manage stress. “This involves trying to breathe from the diaphragm and slowing one’s breathing to around three or four seconds for each inhalation and around the same for each exhalation,” says Antony. “Being aware of one’s anxiety-related thinking and making efforts to think about situations in a more balanced and flexible way can also be useful.”

Jen Craig, sales manager of Craig Travel in Toronto, says she tries to quell her clients’ fear about travelling by arming them with as much information as she can ahead of departure, which means making sure they’re aware of the latest protocols (most countries have some version of a passenger locator form used to facilitate contact tracing, or an app, such as ArriveCan, to verify vaccination status), helping them arrange the necessary viral tests, and making sure they have a quarantine plan in place (that includes extra funds) in case they need to extend a hotel stay if they get sick and need to isolate in a foreign country.

“Right now we’re advising people not to book with third-party suppliers or budget websites that give you cheap airfares,” says Craig. “The reason is that if something does go wrong, you will never be able to get hold of them to get help.”

Halprin agrees: “Because of the international travel advisory, the Canadian government won’t offer much in terms of emergency assistance if you get stuck in a foreign country. Now is not the time to budget travel. It’s worth it to pay more for a better product because you just might need the expertise.”

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