Travel for both work and leisure is booming. Those traveling for leisure do so to get away from the routine of life, relax, disconnect, and discover new places and adventures. Ironically, many people seeking to relieve themselves of anxiety and stress through travel experience anxiety from traveling.
With the right tools and support, managing your travel anxiety and enjoying a stress-free journey is possible. Recognizing travel anxiety is one of the most critical steps in overcoming it.
What is travel anxiety?
Travel anxiety is a feeling of nervousness, fear, or worry that is experienced when planning to travel. It may include intense fear of being away from home and the unfamiliarity of new places. Someone suffering from travel anxiety might experience panic attacks, nausea, sweating, difficulty breathing, and general unease. Travel anxiety can affect anyone regardless of age or gender but is particularly common among those who have had previous negative experiences while traveling.
Travel anxiety with my family
Many people might be unaware that there are different forms of travel anxiety. As a household of six people, there was anxiety that surrounded any travel we did. There was a lot of preparation that always went into any trip. It felt like I was packing for all of us. I would try to complete every last detail at work before leaving and would obsessively clean the house so that when we returned, a clean and organized house would greet us.
I’d do a walkthrough of the house to water all my plants just before leaving. That was always my last task, and I’d let out a sigh of relief and think, “Ok, so I’ve got it all done.” There was stress and anxiety even before we had left the house!
My son Brian has a seizure disorder, and I’d try to bring his stress factors down the best I could by ensuring we slept well and ate on time while traveling. When my youngest daughter Ellen was a child, she struggled with anxiety when sleeping in other places. For her, family vacations were ideal because we were all together in one space, making her feel safe. I was fully aware of both of their anxiety and pretended to be zen on the outside, but inside, I was stressed out just worrying about their needs. I often dreamed of a vacation after the family vacation.
Recognizing signs of travel anxiety
With the right tools and support, managing your travel anxiety and enjoying a stress-free journey is possible. Recognizing travel anxiety is one of the most critical steps in overcoming it. It can be easy to brush off your feelings and try to push them away, but acknowledging and accepting them can help you take more productive steps toward reducing the intensity of your anxiety.
According to clinical psychologist Dr. Dawn Potter, “Travel anxiety is not really one unified concept. Travel anxiety could be a bunch of different things for different people.” That said, there are some tell-tale signs to look out for when thinking about your travels.
- Uneasy stomach
- Sweaty palms/feet
- Inability to focus on ordinary tasks
- An overall feeling of panic
- Increased heart rate, shortness of breath, dizziness
If you experience any of these symptoms when thinking about your travels and cannot move past them, it may be helpful to dive deeper into the cause.
While it’s beneficial to signs of travel anxiety, it’s equally important to identify what triggers your specific worries or fears around travel. Consider whether it’s preparation anxiety, responsibility to others, issues with air travel, unfamiliarity with a new place, feeling overwhelmed by crowds, or homecoming anxiety. Understanding why these situations make you anxious can help you create strategies for coping. Once you know which aspects of travel cause distress, brainstorm solutions for each one so that they become less intimidating and more manageable. When my children were young, I was not exceptionally equipped to guide myself or my family in this way, but if I knew what I know now, these are some things I would have done. Let’s look at these six sources of travel anxiety.
1. Preparation anxiety
Many people experience the bulk of the stress during the preparation phase.
Preparation for yourself can be stressful enough. When you carry a lot of the responsibility of ensuring everything is packed and ready for your whole family, it can be overwhelming, especially if you have a large household.
Delegate tasks – Even younger household members can be responsible for specific items or chores. Divide out responsibilities as much as possible and trust that each person will rise to the occasion. They may complete a task slightly differently than you, but the tradeoff is worth it.
Use lists – Write down everything you need to pack or do before leaving. As you complete each task, check it off. A list can provide a visual reassurance that you’re on track.
Start early – Begin your preparations several days before leaving. Giving yourself adequate time to prepare will reduce the last-minute rush.
2. Responsibility to others
When you are responsible for caring for others when traveling, the duties can be a source of anxiety. When my kids were young, I focused so much on managing Brian’s stress levels to ensure his well-being. For Ellen, I focused on helping her to feel secure with all the changes that come with travel. These two ways can help take some of the weight off your shoulders and empower those you may be responsible for when traveling.
Open discussion – Talking openly with those you are responsible for is essential. I used to talk to both Brian and Ellen about their anxieties. They might have specific needs or ideas about what would make them feel more at ease.
Travel kits – Preparing travel kits for those you are responsible for can help combat anxious feelings they may have. For Brian, packing a travel kit tailored to his needs could have helped ease both of our anxieties. Items like his medicine, comfort items, a routine chart, and his favorite snacks would’ve been ideal. For Ellen, a similar kit might have helped. Her favorite blanket, a stuffed animal, and pens and paper to doodle on would’ve been ideal for her.
3. Issues with air travel
Many people have a genuine fear of traveling by airplane. If you’ve never flown in a plane, you may fear the many unknowns. If you are used to traveling by plane but still experience anxiety, these tips also may be helpful.
Educate yourself – The risk of being injured or dying in an airplane is significantly less than in other forms of travel. Equipping yourself with facts about the safety of airplane travel and how the plane operates can help combat the fear often associated with airplane travel. Focus specifically on education around takeoff, landing, and turbulence, as these are the most common points of anxiety.
Acknowledge claustrophobia – Another common fear of flying is due to the fear of being confined in a small space within an airplane. Managing claustrophobia can include self-help techniques like slow and deep breathing, meditation and prayer, exercise, and low sugar and caffeine consumption. For a more in-depth approach, discovering the onset of claustrophobia and processing through that experience via therapy such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or EMDR can also be helpful.
4. Unfamiliar with a new place
By nature, humans love safety and security. Even when we look forward to a new adventure in a new place, the routine and safety of home can still cause feelings of conflict and hesitation. There are some steps you can take when you start to feel anxious about traveling to a new place.
Balanced information – It is always helpful to research any new place you may be traveling to. What often comes with research is negative information. While that helps take precautions, it is also essential to look for positive information to have a more realistic and well-rounded perspective. Every city has positives and negatives, and expecting and planning for both can help alleviate stress.
Plan for what you love – Oftentimes, fear of traveling to new places can be grounded in not having access to things that bring you peace and comfort. If going for a morning walk brings you peace, research ahead where you could take a walk when traveling. If a good cafe is where you like to relax, find a few places in the city you’ll be visiting and build a visit into your plans. When traveling somewhere remote, consider bringing something with you that can help you feel at home no matter where you are, such as a book, a pillow, or a candle.
5. Overwhelmed by crowds
Traveling and lots of people often go together. Crowds can sometimes be unavoidable from the airport to tours and sightseeing. Shortness of breath and hyperventilation are the two most common symptoms of panic in large groups. The feeling of being overwhelmed can come from the size and noise of the crowd, previous traumatic experiences in large crowds, and the fear of being unable to leave quickly in an emergency. These steps can be helpful when you find yourself in a crowd.
Grounding techniques – Grounding techniques can be helpful, especially with anxiety from large crowds. Techniques like visualization, deep breathing, meditation, and mindfulness can be beneficial to feel grounded in a moment when your senses may overwhelm you.
Take a break – Give yourself the grace to break from the crowd. It may mean taking a bathroom break or moving into fresh air in a less crowded area. Removing yourself from the group should never come with shame. Fear of large crowds is something many people struggle with. You are not alone.
Create positive associations – Taking the initiative to create positive and enjoyable moments in a large crowd can help rewire any negative connections you may have formed.
6. Homecoming anxiety
My need to water the plants and clean the house before traveling was my way of easing homecoming anxiety. Coming home after traveling brings dirty clothes and tired and jet-lagged people. Having an untidy or dirty house exacerbates these less-than-ideal factors. The following can help combat anxiety related to returning home after traveling.
Prioritize – While a clean home is always lovely to return to, decide on the ‘must-do’ tasks and what can be left undone. Cleaning before vacation may mean targeting the shared living spaces and the other areas can be saved for another time to prioritize more critical travel preparations.
Consider external help – Enlist a neighbor or a friend who could water your plants, check your mail, and keep an eye on your home while you’re away. Receiving help can alleviate the before travel planning while ensuring your home stays in order.
Seek professional help
Depending on the severity of your travel anxiety, seeking professional guidance may be beneficial. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is especially effective in helping individuals cope with anxiety and can provide invaluable skills for managing stress while traveling. They can also recommend relaxation techniques, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), or exposure therapy to help you reduce the intensity of your anxiety symptoms while traveling. If medication is necessary, they can also prescribe medications like antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs to help relieve symptoms of extreme stress and panic attacks.
With professional help, you can also better understand how to cope with challenging situations while on the road. By recognizing triggers and having strategies to deal with them, you prepare for any anxiety-provoking situation that may arise during your travels. Whether it’s learning relaxation techniques or a better understanding of your symptoms, seeking professional help can give you the support needed to stay calm and relaxed while exploring the world.
Don’t forget self-care
Finally, self-care is essential for coping with travel anxiety. While looking out for everyone else, remember yourself. Make sure you take the time to do things that make you feel relaxed and safe on the go.
Express yourself – Talk to someone about your feelings – your partner, a friend, or even a professional. They might offer comfort, advice, or a listening ear.
Bring a good book – A captivating novel or an intriguing self-help book can help take your mind off the details of the travels and help calm you.
Listen to calming music – Bring headphones and load up your playlist with calming music to help ease your mind. Music is a powerful calming tool that is easy to take wherever you go.
Practice mindfulness techniques – Deep breathing dramatically helps to reduce stress levels, and meditation, or even short breaks, can help calm your nerves.
Acceptance – Sometimes, just accepting that certain things are out of your control can be liberating.
Many self-care tools help with general anxiety, and these are just a few to consider.
Remember: everyone experiences some level of travel anxiety—it doesn’t have to prevent you from having an enjoyable trip! By taking proactive steps, you can gain more control over your fears and enjoy your travels more fully.
Lastly, remember that it’s okay to ask for help. Whether it’s your family pitching in more with the preparations or seeking professional advice to cope with the anxiety, taking steps to alleviate some stress can make a significant difference. Safe travels!
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