Updated: 4 May 2022
Airport chaos. Heavy traffic. Crowded markets. Mid-flight turbulence. Does the mention of any of these make your palms sweat? Not every person experiences travel anxiety, but for those who do, jet-setting isn’t always blissful and carefree.
Is Travel Anxiety a Thing?
While travel anxiety alone isn’t a medical condition, it doesn’t mean it isn’t a real experience. Noticing red flags is your brain’s way of protecting you from outside dangers – and anxiety is what happens when the instinctive fight-or-flight part of your brain goes into overdrive.
Travel anxiety tends to consist of a combo of mental and physical reactions to:
- Fear (of flying, for instance)
- Stress (nothing more stressful than having to run to catch a train/plane/bus)
- The unknown (like foreign languages or unfamiliar cities)
Are You Experiencing Travel Anxiety?
Anxiety-related symptoms are different for everyone, but here are some of the most common symptoms experienced before or during a trip:
- Nausea or sudden stomach sensitivity
- Trouble concentrating
- Trouble falling asleep or insomnia
- Pounding or rapid heartbeat
- Breathing difficulties
- Irritability, feeling restless, or on edge
- Heightened alertness aka hypervigilance
Most of these symptoms can easily be dealt with; it’s when they become overwhelming that the likelihood of a panic attack increases.
Travel Anxiety Triggers
Around 31% of Americans live with an actual anxiety disorder at some point in life, but everyone’s experience and triggers are different. Essentially, travel anxiety is simply anxiety triggered by traveling or thinking about traveling.
But why do people experience travel anxiety?
There are a number of reasons why people develop travel anxiety, but it mostly comes down to having a particularly traumatic experience while traveling. Those who already struggle with anxiety will often develop fears after reading about plane crashes, illnesses or general dangers, causing them to overthink a trip that they should be excited about.
On a biological level, anxiety is linked to a specific part of the brain, and research shows that genetics may play a role in it manifesting too.
And if you’re wondering whether you should consider taking anxiety medication, here’s what you need to know.
6 Ways to Deal with Travel Anxiety
1. Plan for your anxiety
Since it stems from a feeling that you’re not in control, plan the first few days of your trip in detail. Look for photos of the airport and its terminals, explore the city’s transport systems, look for your hotel on a map, search for local restaurants and read their reviews.
Having the details handy will help keep your travel anxiety at bay. With that being said, it’s important to remember that you can’t plan for every eventuality and some things really are out of your control, so instead focus on what you can control and prepare accordingly.
2. Learn as much as you can
If this is your first time in a new city or country, consider this your homework. Preparing for your trip doesn’t have to be all visa applications and bookings. Fit in some additional research to make your trip more comfortable. Learn about things such as:
- Learn common phrases in the local language
- Guidebooks that tell you about the local culture
- Social norms for when you’re out on the town
- Local scams you need to know about beforehand
- Local emergency numbers
3. Look for logical conclusions
If there’s one thing that people with anxiety know well, it’s thinking about worst-case scenarios. One way you can combat this just before or while you’re traveling is to force yourself to think about the most logical conclusions to all of those scenarios.
What are the chances that what you’re thinking about will actually happen? For example, if you’re terrified of getting food poisoning but you really want to try the local cuisine, go through the steps you would take should it happen. Once you break a scenario down into logical steps, it doesn’t seem as scary as it once did. Plus, you always have Air Doctor too!
4. Practice relaxation techniques
Try to relax as much as you can. Ease your travel anxiety before or during your trip with these suggestions.
- Meditatation has been proven to reduce stress and boost overall health. You can use music or guided meditations, or even affirmations like: “I am safe” to calm your thoughts.
- Focus on a calming image in your mind or on an object you can physically see to take your mind off your fears.
- Distract yourself. Whether it’s with a book, music, or a movie, sometimes taking your mind off something is the best thing you can do to minimize your anxiety.
- Breathe – long, slow, deep breaths help reduce anxiety. Breathing in slowly through your nose and out through your mouth can help prevent the onset of a panic attack.
5. Focus on past travel wins
What are some of the good things that happened during your last trip? Write down the useful tips and amazing experiences that you had so that you can read through them any time you feel yourself getting slightly anxious. Having reminders of positive experiences will flip the switch in your brain and help you have a more enjoyable time.
6. Speak to someone you trust
If you know that travel anxiety is a big issue for you, make time to sit down with a trusted friend, family member, or your therapist so that you can talk through your concerns. Sometimes, you just need someone to bring you back down to earth to feel better about your upcoming trip.
When to Speak to a Doctor
If you’ve tried some of these tips and you feel like they haven’t worked for you or that travel anxiety might disrupt your vacation or business trip, then it might be time to consider seeking help from a professional. They might prescribe medications to help ease your travel anxiety and often have programs that teach coping techniques you can use to overcome your fears.