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Travel Anxiety – 5 Tips for Dealing with It

For years, people have told me how brave they think I am for all the travel I do. They say, “I could never do what you do because I’m just too afraid. I have too much travel anxiety.” And despite my commitment to travel, I always could relate because even the most seasoned traveler feels a twinge of excitement and fear just before a trip. But more recently, I’ve started to not just be able to relate to these fears, I’ve been experiencing them myself.

Ever since I started traveling on my own I loved airports. When I would arrive at a terminal I’d feel an extra bounce in my step and a smile would spread across my face. The good things that awaited me at my destination always trumped any discomfort in getting there.

But that carefree excitement I used to feel when embarking on a new journey has been dampened due to a near death experience I had at an airport. I witnesses a live shooting event. And suddenly now I feel stress around travel in ways I never felt before.

This is a big challenge for me, being someone who has built their life around travel. And as I see it, my only viable option here is to confront travel anxiety to regain my freedom. As I battle through it, I’ve created useful methods. And I’d like to share them with you in case they might help you through your anxiety due to your travels or in life in general.

So here are my top travel anxiety combating tips:

1. Make up stories

The problem:

One way we really get ourselves worked up into anxiety about travel is by imagining potential negative scenarios. Personally, I might imagine missing my flight, feeling bored and frustrated on a long-haul plane journey or not packing the right stuff, etc. I have become quite the master at crafting these stories.

A solution:

Remember, these narratives are fiction you are making up in your mind! That is the reality. So for every doomsday scenario you imagine in your head, also make up a detailed counter-story that is positive and outlines an ideal chain of events. Because most often it is the ideal situation that ends up happening. And if something goes wrong, it most likely won’t be what you were worrying about. So don’t waste your time futurizing your demise!

2. Illuminate the shadows

The problem:

Not knowing what to expect once you are on the ground at your destination can cause fear for some. To a certain degree, it is human nature to be weary of new surroundings. And this unfamiliarity can become a source of stress.

The solution:

Take it into your own hands to eliminate as many unknowns as you can. Do your research and prove to yourself you’ve done all you can to prepare.

Don’t just read travel publications that make every destination seem ideal. Find blogs by regular travelers to get a more full understanding of your destination. Also, watch travel videos on YouTube because if you watch videos, they can provide you with a more visceral impression of your destination, easing your fears.

And finally, once you’ve researched, let it go. You are not going to cancel your trip. So, you might as well enjoy the journey!

3. Engage in self-care

The problem:

Our emotions are not simply governed by our surroundings – they are highly impacted by our activities and hormones. And if you are anxious about travel – it is especially important to take care of yourself leading up to a trip.

The solution:

Exercise and balanced blood sugar levels are your best friends!!

Do exercise the morning of your travel day so that your blood is circulating well. This decreases the chance of swelling or restlessness on your flight. And it releases endorphins that make you see the world more positively.

Eat a balanced diet with frequent snacks on your travel day to make sure to keep your metabolism fired up and your blood sugar leveled. Ever heard the saying, “fights always happen when you are hungry?” When we are experiencing dips in blood sugar irritability and any dormant fears or anxieties can become amplified.

Personally, I now tend to eat more frequently on travel days just to stay on top of my emotions. But be sure to eat healthy things like nuts, fruit, and protein packed meals throughout the day. Don’t go for the snacks that are high in artificial ingredients, sugars, fast food or empty calories because those will cause your blood sugar to peak and then crash. And the crash is when you go to stress city!

Also, drink lots of water the days leading up to your trip. It helps!

4. Find a musical distraction

The problem:

If anxiety sets in for you while you are at the airport or on the plane – you know it can be tough not to fall victim to the fictional stories from tip #1. It can get rough. I’ve been there.

The solution:

Anxiety is like a little child. Distract your mind away from it and it will subside. That’s why music is an important tool. Make yourself a few playlists a calming one, a groovy one, and even a playlist that reminds you of another time in your life when you were more carefree. For example, I’ll use a 90’s R&B mix that takes me right back to an 8th grade dance or I’ll put on salsa music that makes me think of having fun on the dance floor. Sometimes this provides just enough distraction to get me through a tough moment.

5. Relocate your body

The problem:

Sometimes stress gets us going and it is hard to stop the mental processes that are making us anxious despite our best efforts. And when music or talking to another human doesn’t distract us enough, we have to get creative. The goal is to get back into the body and into the reality that is around us rather the one that is being imagined in our heads.

The Solution:

A powerful technique that we can use in any stressful situation is called Progressive Muscle Relaxation. It helps calm you down by bringing your attention to the physical world and to your physical body. And you can do it standing in line or siting down–anywhere.

A basic example is as follows. Make a fist and squeeze your hands tight for 3 to 4 seconds, then release. Next, flex your forearms for 3 to 4 seconds, and release. Then do the same with the biceps. Cycle through these muscle groups a few times over and your thoughts will find themselves out of your fast moving mind and into the physical world. Use this as much as you need. And if you are sitting or laying down, you can include a wider range of muscle groups. The more you use, the more relaxation it induces.

That’s it for this list of anti-anxiety travel tips. Remember, it is when you do something that takes you out of your comfort zone and challenges you that you feel most triumphant and free. This is how growth happens. But please, listen to yourself and be patient. Everyone reacts to stressors and stimulus in their own way. And if anxiety plagues you, I challenge you to find a way to move on through.

If you would like to read more about ways to cope with travel anxiety I find this book, The Anxious Traveler: How to Overcome Your Fear to Travel with World by Rita Anya Nara to be helpful.

  • Carla Thomas
    April 22, 2014 at 12:28 pm

    great tips. I salute you . I know by reading your blog what your near death experience was and the fact that you can over come and push on to the life of joy you want is heroic. I admire you

    • travelwithkate
      April 22, 2014 at 1:40 pm

      That is so kind of you to say. Thank you 🙂

  • SandiMcKenna
    April 22, 2014 at 3:41 pm

    Great post and tips Kate! I am always a wreck when I travel … can’t wait to give these a try!!!

    • travelwithkate
      April 22, 2014 at 9:44 pm

      I’m sorry to hear that. Let me know how it goes!

  • Lakota
    October 20, 2014 at 6:00 pm

    Great post…I have just started to have anxiety and am traveling tomorrow between this post and God I believe I will make it …Thank you very much!! Blessings

    • travelwithkate
      December 9, 2014 at 11:57 pm

      Lakota, I hope this helped you and your travels went smoothly!!

  • How To Survive an Emotional Breakdown while Traveling | Adventure To Anywhere
    December 9, 2014 at 11:17 pm

    […] inspired to write this post after reading “5 Tips for Dealing with Travel Anxiety” from travelwithkate.com…she has some awesome advice as well. While you can’t necessarily control your emotions or […]

  • Pariss
    February 2, 2015 at 12:04 am

    Hi Kate, my names Pariss and I’ve been dealing with Anxiety for a few years now on and off but in the last few months it has been at it’s worst and I believe this is due to my upcoming holiday overseas by myself for 3 months. I am so excited but I occasionally feel very overwhelmed and anxious about it all. This article has been really helpful. I will try all of the tips if I start to feel anxious about it. It’s great to read something like this and know I am not alone in feeling like this and I know this experience is going to help me move past my anxiety. Thank you.

    • travelwithkate
      February 5, 2015 at 5:01 pm

      HI Pariss, I am so happy for you that you are challenging yourself and facing your fears. It is so important to do. Engaging in the very thing you are afraid of will help get rid of the fear. Good luck on your trip. And most of all, just focus on the good and on the wonderful time you will have. XO Kate

    • catherine conroy
      October 6, 2016 at 4:28 pm

      So how was your experience looking back at it now? X

  • Chad Hicks
    September 2, 2015 at 2:13 am

    Traveling to Vancouver from Winnipeg with just enough to cash to be stable for a couple of weeks, i haven’t traveled there sense i was 12, took a nap when i got home from buying my tickets. Woke up in a cold sweet panicking thinking of every negative thing imaginable “what if i run out of cash” “what if i miss one of my bus connections and get stuck in the middle of no where” what if what if what if.

    Stumbled on this article and its helping me deal with it. its just good to see these worry’s and axnsitys happen to many travelers so there is that. if i worry about every little what if ill go absolutely NO WHERE but insane. I have a week before i get on my bus so ill be reading these articles as much as i can in that time.

    • travelwithkate
      January 23, 2016 at 2:47 pm

      I hope your trip was a success! And I’m glad this help 🙂

  • Alice
    December 24, 2015 at 8:07 pm

    Thank you for your post! We CAN control our anxiety, we just need to learn how to not be afraid and not give up! <3

    • travelwithkate
      January 23, 2016 at 2:46 pm

      Exactly 🙂

  • Before Your Travels – How to Help Keep those Anxieties at Bay! – The Antsy Traveller
    January 22, 2016 at 11:50 am

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  • Makayla Reyes
    February 22, 2016 at 7:01 am

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I am a bit nervous about my first solo travel but looking forward to make memories for life time.

  • Makayla Reyes
    February 22, 2016 at 9:21 am

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I am a bit nervous about my first
    solo travel but looking forward to make memories for life time.

  • Stan Carrental
    February 23, 2016 at 5:13 pm

    The main source of anxiety is not willing to do something, escape you comfort zone. In order to overcome your fears – your curiosity and willingness to travel must become stronger.

  • jessica
    March 29, 2016 at 12:29 am

    This was extremely helpful and also comforting at the same time. It is comforting because I know that I am not the only one who is scared of flying and I know that because of reading your blog, and reading the comments. They really make me feel that I am not alone. Also the Techniques of Relocating Body, and Musical Distraction will really help me when flying. Because music really helps me calm down and it takes me out of the reality of what I am living. Thanks so much!

  • helena
    April 3, 2016 at 7:18 pm

    Hi, thank you for this entry. I have always been eager to travel and have travelled by myself on planes that were 9 or 10 hours long and now my anxiety lies specially in places that are REALLY far away. So I´m from Spain, traveling to America or Asia will cause me anxiety. It´s ridiculous. So I´m thinking of doing a long trip this summer to get it over with.

  • Jean
    May 3, 2016 at 5:20 pm

    Just stumbled upon your website Kate and want to thank you for you article of encouragement, yet honesty of putting yourself out there. I suffer “and I mean suffer! ) with anxiety on a daily basis. So much so that my mental tape plays over and over of what-if’s what-it’s. It’s daunting; physically, mentally, and emotionally. To the point where I don’t want to even THINK about going anywhere anymore. We’ll I managed to travel almost 2,000 miles away from my home ( I had to for family reasons) and now I have to get back. I will say it amps up my anxiety thinking about the travel back home. Hoping you, as well as others, will have some encouraging words to focus on other than constant dread. Thanks again for sharing your personal experiences.

  • Peter Vejrum Terp
    March 23, 2017 at 7:06 pm

    Thanks for the post about a topic which is not much talked about.

    My wife and co-blogger has actually written about the same topic on our blog. She is self-employed where she helps people with anxiety.

    Maybe it is worth a read too

  • llmillar82
    May 28, 2017 at 7:59 pm

    Found this post while frantically googling travel anxiety the night before a long haul flight for a 2 week adventure to Peru. I used to be a really easy going traveler but in the past few years have found myself getting anxious in the lead up to trips which spoils the excitement of the build up. I think this has been caused by the extensive media coverage of airport attacks, planes going missing etc. Reading this post really helped especially point 1 – I am now using this as my mantra to dull the anxiety and to let the excitement have priority!

  • mahialoha
    June 19, 2017 at 7:49 pm

    What works for one person will not necessarily work for another. As someone who has rare panic attacks that can absolutely be induced via air travel, I offer this: Do not accept a seat in the tail cone of the plane. If you can manage the extra $80 or so for a “comfort seat” that may be the best solution going. Know that “managing anxiety” only works up to the tipping point. Once you are on the verge of full blown panic, it is very difficult to bring yourself out of it without help. These are things that help: certain kinds of music. I like Hawaiian slack key guitar. Softly sweet, soothing. A mental exercise where you travel to your “safe place”. This is best accomplished by guided meditation before your feet leave the ground, several times, so you establish the road and can readily take yourself there. Finally, there are drugs for that. Talk to your doctor. More people than you would ever imagine use anti-anxiety medications for the occasional long trip by public carrier.

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