I appreciate that travel enriches my life. I understand that a change of scenery is good for the spirit. Despite these benefits, I freeze up at the thought of taking a trip. My gut reaction is not to do it. My travel anxiety tells me to just stay home, but I know that I am denying myself a healthy break from routine.
Why Do I Have Travel Anxiety?
I know precisely why I have travel anxiety. It does not arise simply from the fact that I am a happy homebody. Dread stalks me at the thought of making travel plans because when I was a child my family took an overnight trip and my kitten died while we were away. We lived on a farm, and all pets lived outside and sheltered in the barn. But the kitten left the barn and ended up freezing to death in a shed.
As a result, my mind connects taking a trip with a dead pet.
My travel anxiety is a bit different than the travel anxiety that typically afflicts people. I worry about a bad thing happening at home because I’m not there to take care of everything.
On the other hand, most anxious travelers worry about something bad happening on their trip, or they get overwhelmed by entering a totally unfamiliar place.
This was the case in a travel anxiety blog post at Something to Ponder About. The author recounted her terror when she took her first overseas trip to Nepal. She learned to deal with culture shock and derive value from the experience, but she had to cope with her travel anxiety fears.
Top Reasons People Have for Travel Anxiety
Going to new and strange places – Your uncertainty about what you might encounter causes you anxiety. You are literally moving out of your comfort zone, and the desire to stick to your normal daily routine feels stronger than whatever the reason is that you are taking a trip.
Traveling some place new can be particularly difficult if taking the trip was not exactly your idea. This happens when you have to travel for work or attend a family event. You may need/want to travel because it’s important to your relationship with a partner, who may not understand why you don’t want to go on a cool vacation.
Fear of flying – To be fair, it’s perfectly reasonable to be afraid to ride in a machine that will go 30,000 feet into the air. You’re placing your life in the hands of the crew and the mechanics and hoping no one makes a mistake. That’s a big ask!
Fear that your hotel, car rental, or other reservation will not be valid – Your tendency to overthink has left you concerned that the trip will be a disaster. Your reservation won’t be in the computer. You’ll miss a connection, and so forth.
Financial stress – This can take two forms. You either worry that you’ll run out of money while on vacation, or you can’t afford it to begin with.
Friends’ stories about terrible trips – Maybe you know one or two people who had an awful time on their trip. Their experience leaves you convinced that something bad will happen to you.
Fear of forgetting some important element of the travel plan – You may stress yourself out because you’re trying so hard to plan every detail perfectly so as to prevent problems.
Travel Anxiety Symptoms
Anxiety strikes people in various degrees of severity. Your anxiety might be limited to worries about travel, or you struggle with anxiety symptoms to the extent that you need medication to ease the symptoms. According to WebMD, about 18% of the U.S. population has an anxiety disorder.
- Higher blood pressure
- Dry mouth
- Loss of concentration
- Sleep disturbance
- Gastrointestinal distress
- Chest pain
These problems might afflict you before the trip or periodically during the trip.
How Can I Get Over My Travel Anxiety?
In many cases, treating your anxiety is possible. You’re right to look for travel anxiety solutions because you want to have a good time and fully experience the rewards of traveling and new experiences.
One of the first things to figure out is if anxiety impacts your daily life or if it mostly strikes you when you travel.
A clinical diagnosis of an anxiety disorder relies on a mental health professional’s assessment. A clinician will compare your reported symptoms to those listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5) for anxiety disorder.
Summary of DSM anxiety disorder criteria:
- You struggle to manage your anxiety symptoms almost every day.
- The stress of your anxiety has a negative effect on daily life.
- Your anxiety has persisted for more than six months.
- The stress you feel is out of proportion with the problems that you cite.
- Another medical condition is NOT causing the symptoms.
To be honest, you may need medication and counseling to help you reclaim your life from anxiety.
However, many people experience anxiety without meeting the clinical criteria for long-term medication. In some cases, you may need anti-anxiety medication temporarily to get you through rough patches, like when you travel.
If you dislike the idea of taking medications, you definitely have concrete steps you can take that will help you travel with greater confidence.
Managing Travel Anxiety Without Drugs
Identify exactly what is bothering you.
Not every aspect of travel may be anxiety inducing. Perhaps a single issue is the primary source of your anxiety. If you can get your thoughts about that concern under control, you’ll gain a greater ability to relax and have fun on your trip.
Alleviate your anxiety with preparation.
If it’s fear of the unfamiliar, gather as much information about the location, culture, food, landmarks, etc. before you arrive. Even trivia about your destination can calm your thoughts because your research will empower you to spot familiar things once you arrive.
Similarly, if you’re worried about bad things happening at home, build a detailed plan to take care of everything. Hire a house sitter or pet sitter if you need to. Do what you consider necessary so that you can depart with some level of confidence that everything will be OK at home in your absence.
Address your fears about something going wrong on your trip by embracing emergency preparedness. Look into what to do if you lose your passport or phone. Write down on paper important phone numbers for people you can contact at home if you need something. Research where medical facilities or pharmacies are at your destinations.
Learn relaxation breathing techniques
Anxiety makes your body tense. The tension makes your mind believe that you’re in danger. You can break this vicious feedback loop with breathing techniques that trick your body into relaxing.
Before you go on your trip, arm yourself with some guidelines about how to breathe for relaxation. These techniques boil down to slow, measured in-and-out breaths that mimic the calm, slow breathing of sleep. When you start to feel anxious, jump into a breathing exercise. It distracts your mind and helps you feel in control.
More Fun, Less Travel Anxiety
Travel can be rewarding. Yes, there’s the chance of something miserable happening, but maybe it will just be a good story in the future. At any rate, you should not deny yourself the chance to see the world and meet new people because of your worries. As long as you’re going some place reasonably safe, the odds are you will have a good time once you learn to cope with your anxiety.
Your anxiety may be a burden, but it mostly means that you’re intelligent because you’re trying to think of everything thoroughly. Harness your active mind and put your energy into carefully planning your trip.