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Travel Anxiety: Symptoms and Coping Strategies

Traveling can be an incredibly enriching experience, but it can also be very difficult for some people. Many times, we are aware that we feel anxious or on edge about some aspect of our journey but may not fully realize what’s going on. Could you be experiencing travel anxiety?

For many reasons, it’s common for people to try to want to hide their suffering from those around us. It’s also true that anxiety can manifest in many different ways. Whether it’s a fear of flying or a need to triple-check the locks in your hotel room, whatever you are feeling is valid. There’s nothing to be ashamed about. Acknowledging and understanding what’s going on is the first step towards reclaiming your power and learning to manage your symptoms.

Pre-Travel Anxiety

As the name suggests, this type of worrying occurs before a trip has begun, and it can manifest in many different ways. Most people will probably say that they’ve felt a bit of this, but when it’s so overwhelming that it threatens to derail your trip, it needs to be addressed.

People experiencing pre-travel anxiety may be excessively concerned about:

  • Trip plans falling through. 
  • Weather disrupting travel.
  • Missing their flight/oversleeping.
  • Getting on a plane. 
  • Checking into the hotel. 
  • Driving a rental car. 
  • Navigating an unfamiliar city.
  • Trying new foods.
  • Getting sick while traveling. 
  • Missing out on a landmark or experience. 
  • Leaving their family at home. 

Whether you or someone around you is experiencing anxiety before travel, don’t downplay the validity of the fears. It doesn’t have to make sense — the source of travel anxiety does not need to be logical. It is, however, very real and should never be dismissed or downplayed. Many times, these feelings are beyond our control, but we can learn coping strategies to make traveling a little easier. 

Fear of Flying

About 40% of the population experiences some fear of flying, yet we aren’t normally able to pick them out of a crowd. Why is that? We become very good at hiding what’s happening inside of us to avoid “making a scene” or being judged by others. The reality is that if we opened up and talked about these things more often, we wouldn’t feel so isolated and alone in our anxiety.

Here are some of the things that could be related to a fear of flying:

If you’re nervous about getting on a plane, don’t ever feel like you are alone. Many people have to work through feelings of anxiety while on a flight. One of the things that help me is to use essential oils (apply them before the flight so that the scent isn’t too strong for fellow passengers). We also rely on deep breathing techniques for anxiety to feel more grounded. 

Checking In to the Hotel

Some might not even give this a second thought, but the entire process of checking in to a hotel can be terrifying for others. If I’m honest, this really isn’t my favorite either. I’m always afraid of my credit card being declined or the room being disgusting. This is especially true if they’re feeling anxious about being far away from home.

People with travel anxiety might worry about:

  • The hotel booking being lost. 
  • Their credit card being rejected.
  • Being stranded in a foreign country. 
  • Hidden or excessive fees. 
  • Theft. 
  • The cleanliness of the hotel
  • Bedbugs. 

The list goes on and on. Your hotel is your home away from home when you’re traveling, so it’s not surprising that this can be a source of travel anxiety for some. It’s hard not knowing what to expect from a hotel until you arrive. You want to be comfortable and safe, and after hearing so many horror stories about hotels, it’s not surprising that people might worry. 

Getting Sick While Traveling

No one wants to come down with something while traveling. Who really wants to spend their vacation with the sniffles or a stomach ache, right? For some people, though, this is a huge worry.  It may not even matter what type of sickness, either. Still, if there’s a huge flu or measles outbreak happening just days before travel, it’s easy to see why someone might feel anxious.

Here are some fears people might have about getting sick while traveling:

  • Concerns about the quality of local medical care.
  • Not having access to familiar over-the-counter medication.
  • Being bedridden instead of enjoying the trip.
  • Dying while traveling.

One of the best things someone with travel anxiety can do is purchase travel insurance that includes medical coverage. Carefully review the policy and/or discuss specific needs with the travel insurance company to make sure you’re getting the coverage you want. It can help provide peace of mind. We also pack our favorite natural products for healthy travel. Planning to visit a theme park? Take a look at our five tips for avoiding germs at amusement parks!

Trying New Foods With Travel Anxiety

One of the most daunting things for some travelers is having to trust that they’ll be able to find food they can eat while away from home. Some might even stick to well-known chains like McDonald’s just to stick with something familiar. Okay, to be fair, McDonald’s in Japan is a whole new experience, but I digress…

There are many reasons why trying new foods while traveling can be daunting, including:

  • Limited experience with a wide array of foods. 
  • Extreme food preferences. 
  • Food allergies. 
  • Dietary restrictions (gluten-free, low sodium, etc.…).
  • Unsanitary food handling practices.

Trying local fare is exciting for many travelers, but not everyone feels the same — and that’s okay. It’s important, however, that this is discussed with travel companions to avoid preventable stress and confusion when choosing restaurants.

I’ll be completely honest here. One of my favorite things to do is try local food when I’m traveling. I’ve got two barriers to overcome — germaphobia and food allergies. As such, I tend to choose destinations that will make my life easier. So far, I’ve avoided Paris, for example, because I’ve heard that they handle money and then food without washing their hands. One day, I’ll get there and find out if this is true for me. Meanwhile, the Japanese way of doing things has actually decreased my anxiety on vacation!

Is There a Cure For Travel Anxiety?

First things first — do not be embarrassed by your travel anxiety! When we hide things, they have more power over us. Instead, be open with the people around you about your feelings. Let them know where you will need patience and support while traveling. Having it out there will be a weight off your shoulders, and you’ll be better able to coordinate travel if everyone is on the same page. That’s the first thing you can do to take your power back. 

You might be wondering if we’ve found some secret cure for travel anxiety. The answer is no. Even in my work as a psychology professor, I can tell you that most people will feel anxiety at some point in their lives. It serves a purpose and protects us from potentially harmful situations. We can’t eliminate it, but we can work towards training our minds and bodies to better understand when it’s actually needed.

We encourage you to continue researching travel anxiety, and if needed, seek support from a trained professional. There’s no shame in that! Most of us need help with life from time to time. We’ve also discovered that every time we take a trip, our coping gets better. So, if your first trip was rough, keep going. Practice makes perfect!

Tips for Managing Travel Anxiety

While there may not be a cure for travel anxiety, there are definitely things you can do to feel more in control. I’ve been amazed by how much more comfortable I’ve become by being proactive about managing my symptoms and triggers. Here are some links to posts on our site that can help you find new tools for coping with anxiety and OCD.

When things get tough while you’re traveling, remember that you are not alone. If you’ve experienced any of the above (and more!), rest assured that other travelers have felt the same way. You’re amazing for fighting through your travel anxiety, and every journey will make you stronger. Keep going!

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