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How to conquer your travel anxiety

Do you love going on vacation, but despise flying? Do you find yourself daydreaming of Italy, but are too nervous to actually go because don’t speak the language? Do you love planning a trip, but become so overwhelmed on the actual trip that you can’t enjoy yourself?

All of these scenarios are tied to travel-related anxiety. According to some sources, it affects 20 percent of travelers. I’d venture to say that number is actually much higher. Whether its fear of flying, changing up your routine, or spending time in a completely foreign culture, anxiety is the killer of fun. Here’s a few ways to keep travel anxiety at bay.    

Before you go

According to some sources, travel anxiety affects 20 percent of people. I’d venture to say that number is actually much higher. Whether its fear of flying, changing up your routine, or spending time in a completely foreign culture, anxiety is the killer of fun. Here’s a few ways to keep travel anxiety at bay.

Talk to your doctor.
Travel anxiety is a real thing, and you shouldn’t hesitate to bring it up with your doctor. There is no shame in getting a professional opinion about your mental health, and a doctor can help you come up with a plan. Whether its breathing exercises or medication, just knowing what you will do if you start to panic helps put your mind at ease.


Plan, plan, plan.
From travel itineraries and hotel addresses to passports, take photos of all your documents. That way, you can access whatever you need without WiFi. Take it a step further by emailing all of these photos to yourself should you lose your phone.


Book your seat near the front of the plane.
And no, not just so you don’t have to sit by the bathrooms. Martin Seif, a clinical psychologist and founding board member of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America says that 70 percent of people with flying anxiety aren’t afraid of crashing, but of panicking while on the plane. Sitting in the back can create more of a claustrophobic, tunnel vision experience, which can definitely make you more anxious. Sitting near the front feels more spacious (for airplane standards, anyhow). Plus, you’ll be one of the first ones off the flight!


Run through scenarios.
Make a list of all the things that worry you about an upcoming trip. Next, figure out the steps you would take in order to resolve the problem. For example, if you’re afraid of getting food poisoning in a foreign country, what would you do? Write down what medications you’d like to have on hand, how to contact your physician or nurse at home, and how you’d find a doctor locally.


Download the SOAR app.
In 1982, Captain Bunn established SOAR to help travelers overcome their fear of flying. Bunn’s course, based on cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, is now available in a neat and tidy app for iPhone and Android. It’s free to download, but has in-app videos and audio for purchase. Lessons include how to control in-flight anxiety and panic automatically, and the app features an in-flight G-Force monitor designed to give you peace of mind even during the worst turbulence.

Day of travel

According to some sources, travel anxiety affects 20 percent of people. I’d venture to say that number is actually much higher. Whether its fear of flying, changing up your routine, or spending time in a completely foreign culture, anxiety is the killer of fun. Here’s a few ways to keep travel anxiety at bay.

Get to the airport early.
Simply arriving at the airport with plenty of time to spare alleviates 90 percent of stress-related travel. Nothing intensifies anxiety like being in a rush, feeling lost in the airport, or sprinting to the gate like it’s your own personal running of the bulls.

Arrive 90 minutes before your boarding time. If it’s the summer or a holiday, make it two hours. What’s the worst that could happen? You should up early enough to have a pre-flight coffee or cocktail? Exactly.


Sometimes, it’s worth paying a little extra.
Stressed about parking at the airport, or not sure you can count on your brother to pick you up on time? Take a cab, Uber or Lyft. Depending where you live, it’s probably cheaper than parking at the airport anyhow!

Did you know curb-side check-in is usually free? It’s true, and is a great way to check large bags and get your boarding pass. It is customary to tip about $5 a bag, but I say that’s worth every cent if it means avoiding long lines.


Designate a place for important documents.
I used to constantly worry that left my passport behind. That’s why I always designate a specific spot for all important things. Every time I take out my passport, I immediately put it back in the same place.


Prepare for security.
Holding up the security line can be incredibly stressful. Make it easier by wearing easy on-off shoes, removing everything from your pockets, organizing any liquids into a plastic bag (and storing it in an easy access spot). Hate taking your belt off? Why not wait until after security to put it on in the first place!


Eat and stay hydrated.
This is just great life advice, and it’s especially important when you travel. Pack high energy snacks like nuts, fruit and protein bars for when hanger (that’s hungry + anger) strikes; and a water bottle with a reliable cap to refill once you pass security.


Distract yourself.
Listen to your favorite music, binge on your favorite podcast (This American Life, Dirty John and Invisibilia are great options!), or watch the Queer Eye reboot on Netflix (you can download episodes now!). Whatever will get your mind off the flight.

While you’re there

Do you love going on vacation, but despise flying? Do you find yourself daydreaming of Italy, but are too nervous to actually go because don’t speak the language? Do you love planning a trip, but become so overwhelmed on the actual trip that you can’t enjoy yourself? All of these scenarios are tied to travel-related anxiety. According to some sources, it affects 20 percent of travelers. I’d venture to say that number is actually much higher. Whether its fear of flying, changing up your routine, or spending time in a completely foreign culture, anxiety is the killer of fun. Here’s a few ways to keep travel anxiety at bay.

Create a daily ritual.
This is how I get centered on the road. Whether it’s the coffee shop in the morning or afternoon (or both!), enjoying a glass of wine on your patio, the reading of your emails at the same park bench, just that sense of really slowing down time will actually enhance your travels. It really only needs to take 20 minutes, and will help you relax and live in the moment.


Resist over-planning.
When you’re visiting a new place, it’s easy to pack your calendar to the brim. Rushing from one activity to the next is stressful and, honestly, not that enjoyable. Instead of filling every minute, decide on one activity a day. This allows breathing room for rest, plus you’ll have more flexibility to be spontaneous, which is when travel’s most fun and memorable moments always seem to happen!


Book a tour.
You might find the idea of, say, a double-decker bus tour, a little cringe-worthy. I LOVE them! An organized tour of any kind takes the pressure off planning. You simply get to go with the flow and enjoy yourself, not stress about the details. Embrace being a tourist—you are one, after all!


Take a break.
It’s okay if you need to spend a few quiet hours holed up in your hotel room. Don’t feel guilty about “wasting time” on your vacation. Travel is fun, but it can be really hard. Sometimes a break is the best thing you can do to ensure you actually enjoy your trip.

What do you do to decrease stress and anxiety when you travel? Share in the comments!

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According to some sources, travel anxiety affects 20 percent of people. I’d venture to say that number is actually much higher. Whether its fear of flying, changing up your routine, or spending time in a completely foreign culture, anxiety is the killer of fun. Here’s a few ways to keep travel anxiety at bay.

This Post Has 19 Comments
  1. Thank you so much for even saying travel anxiety is an actual thing! I’ve had some “unfortunate” experiences over the years that have just reinforced it. I try to pinpoint what is stressing me, sometimes I think I’m nervous to be away from my kids (they’re adults!) and grandkids, or that somehow I feel guilty. I think the main stress is over transportation of all kinds. I don’t want to fly, but I force myself. Boats–no. Being driven by people I don’t know who drive like reaching a destination is less important than how fast you get there. Just being away from home. Maybe it’s the lack of control over nearly everything. But it’s miserable. A few weeks ago a friend called me in the spur of the moment and asked me if I wanted to go to Italy with ger–on her–and I said no.

  2. This sounds weird but I read an article years ago about bringing treats like donuts or Lindt truffles to give to the fight attendants while boarding on long hauls. They appreciate it so much that they pay extra attention to me which in turn actually lessens my anxiety for some reason. And well, it’s a good deed too! They work pretty hard on those flights!

  3. All good suggestions. I was stressed about a few things things before going to Italy recently. We went on a month long trip and so we had two medium size and two carry one luggage. We were afraid of travelling by train with all our luggage. It went mostly fine. However, going to Venice was really bad since we were dropped off at the wrong station by the Water bus and we had to walk 1-1/2 miles to our hotel, including several bridges over the canals. If we had were dropped at the right station, we would have reached our hotel in four minutes. So, we didn’t plan right. Next, we were also afraid of getting robbed since we heard so much about the thieves in Italy. In reality, we almost got robbed twice, once at a bus station by a Gypsey, offering to help us, my wife promptly saw what was happening, and saved herself. Next, I almost got robbed by teenage looking young girls at the bus station at Pisa, offering to help, but my wife saw what happening and saved me from losing my money and wallet. In addition, a taxi driver in Naples charged me double the published fare, when we took a taxi from the train station to the hotel. The hotel receptionist told me what the real fare was, and so, we did not get cheated again.

    1. Pickpockets and theives are everywhere. Guys, don’t put your wallet in your pocket. I wear a little money holder that clips onto my bra. When I need my credit card I turn around, reach in and no worries. Carrying a purse is also asking for trouble.

  4. I take a crossword puzzle book for the airport wait & flight, and in the mornings, when I’m drinking coffee to wake up. Sometimes, in the evening, with a glass of wine after a busy day.

  5. I bring noise canceling headphones for the plane. It is amazing how much it drowns out the roar of the engines and those darn crying babies. Plug them in to watch a movie or listen to your favorite music and the time flies by!

  6. I no longer fly. I take trains and ships. It takes longer, but makes the trip WAAYYY more relaxing, and I’m never stressed coming home.

  7. I find that talking to fellow travelers makes for a more enjoyable experience. Remember, we all have something to share and we’re all in this together. Some of the best experiences I’ve had when traveling are just shooting the breeze with a new friend. Look around the airport. All those people going somewhere, with their own secret stories.

  8. Fantastic tips for trying to deal with travel-related anxiety, Samantha. Thank you.

    My wife and I have been traveling and living in the world since we retired in May 2008.

    However, travel related-anxiety happens all the time – before we are finished packing and ready to go to the airport, train terminal, bus station or rent a car.

    Our #1 travel-related anxiety pops up every time we need to take a flight – getting to the airport on time – checking in with the airline and especially trying to do our best to cooperate and get through TSA Security without a hassle.

    So, the day before we leave, we do nothing except relax, go over our travel itinerary, enjoy a delicious early dinner and read a good novel that we’ll continue to read on the flight, train or bus.

  9. My wife and I have been traveling and living in the world since we retired in May 2008.

    However, travel related-anxiety happens all the time as soon as we are finished packing and ready to go to the airport, train terminal, bus station or pick up a rental car.

    Our #1 travel-related anxiety pops up every time we need to take a flight – getting to the airport on time – checking in our luggage with the airline and especially doing our best to get through TSA Security without a hassle.

    So, the day before we leave, we do nothing except relax, go over our travel itinerary, enjoy a delicious early dinner and read a good novel that we’ll continue to read on the flight, train or bus.

  10. When travelling by plane (Which I hate because I’m claustrophobic and afraid of heights- a double whammy!), I like to make a specific playlist for each trip- usually songs that I’ve been listening to a lot lately. It sort of grounds you in a sense, because you heard the songs a lot recently at home, or in your car, or at the office, and you can mentally remove yourself from the flight you’re on and relax and imagine you’re in those places.

    Another thing I learned about anxiety while travelling is that sleeping in a hotel room can be rough on people with insomnia (Sleeping in our own rooms is hard enough!), so make sure you have enough of your sleeping pills with you, and make sure that you get to bed at a decent hour so that if you do choose to take them, you won’t be completely exhausted the next morning.

  11. ALL GOOD TIPS…. Thank you ! First time travelers can use all of your suggestions while seasoned travelers might focus on those that caused problems on previous trips. I’ve been traveling for over 30 years, starting in college.. One of my must-do on any trip is to check the weather forecast at my destination, about 2 weeks in advance, to plan what I’ll wear. The second thing I rely on is my packing list. It definitely reduces the stress of worrying there’s something I forget to pack – underwear, medication, make-up , etc.

  12. Best tip I ever got was from my doctor.
    When you’re starting to feel fearful or anxious, find a flight attendant and watch them. They fly all the time. If they aren’t fearful, there’s absolutely no need for you to be. That advice has served me well.

  13. I’m 62 and love to travel. But alone it’s difficult and I’m afraid when I do travel. Any special places that are safer. How can I travel safer?

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