How To Manage Travel Anxiety

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated May 22, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Traveling can be a rewarding and enriching experience, but it can also seem intimidating if you live with anxiety. The prospect of navigating unfamiliar situations and managing logistics can be stressful, and you might worry that you won’t be able to fully enjoy your trip as a result of your symptoms. How can you manage travel anxiety so that your journey is a success? While each person and travel scenario is different, there are a variety of techniques you can try that may help keep your travel-related anxieties in check so that they don’t hold you back from exploring new places.

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Explore ways to effectively manage your travel anxiety

Defining travel anxiety

We’ll be using the term “travel anxiety” throughout this article, but it’s worth noting that this is not a diagnosable mental health condition. It’s simply a way to describe the common phenomenon of feeling greater-than-usual stress, worry, or fear when traveling.
For people who are already living with a diagnosed anxiety disorder that affects daily life, the stress of traveling (or planning to travel) may trigger panic attacks. After all, travel almost always means confronting unfamiliar scenarios while far from your usual routines and networks of support. Many different disorders have related traits that can exacerbate difficulties with travel, like  travel anxiety, including:

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)

This condition is characterized by disproportionate levels of worry and anxiety about many different concerns. It could lead you to feel more stress than usual about the details of your travel arrangements or spark unreasonable fears about the things that might go wrong.

Panic disorder 

People with this disorder experience panic attacks along with potentially disruptive fears about how or where these attacks may manifest in the future. They might find it hard to stop worrying about what would happen if they had a panic attack while in an airport or in a place where they don’t speak the language.

Social anxiety disorder

Also known as social phobia, this involves an intense fear of being watched, judged, humiliated, or rejected by other people. Since traveling virtually always means interacting with strangers and being around large groups, it can be a trigger for those with this disorder.

Getty/Vadym Pastuk

Agoraphobia

Someone with agoraphobia has an irrational and excessive fear of public spaces, unfamiliar surroundings, and/or open areas. It’s hard to avoid being in public when traveling, so this condition can make the process seem very intimidating or even impossible.

Techniques for managing travel anxiety

So, how can you avoid letting nerves ruin your travel experience? The following strategies could help you manage your symptoms so you can enjoy your time away.

Identify your triggers

Even if you feel anxious about the entire idea of the trip you’re planning, there are likely certain aspects of travel that are particularly stressful for you. Many people with anxiety disorders have specific triggers that tend to provoke their most severe travel anxiety symptoms. Recognizing these triggers and thinking ahead about how to cope with them can be helpful in managing your travel anxiety.

What parts of the journey are you most anxious about? Is it the thought of looking foolish because of cultural norms you don’t know? Do you worry a lot about something going wrong with your flight? Are you concerned you might have a panic attack and be unable to get help?

Journaling or otherwise writing down your thoughts and feelings about traveling could be an effective way to identify travel anxiety-related triggers. In addition to helping you figure out which elements of the journey are causing you the most stress, studies suggest that this process could help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression in and of itself.

Create a detailed plan

You might be tempted to avoid thinking about what could go wrong during your travels, but this approach may only increase your fear related to travel anxiety. Instead, it could be best to confront the possible negative scenarios a week before your travel date and create a plan for how to cope with them. For instance, if you’re worried about missing your connecting flight, you could research alternative travel arrangements and deliberately leave some wiggle room in your planned arrival time. This type of planning can help make the sources of your travel anxiety seem more manageable and avoid negative psychiatric consequences.

In addition to planning for mishaps, you may also want to create a detailed itinerary to help you organize your travels. Research indicates that proactive planning may help lower stress by reducing uncertainty. However, you may also want to remind yourself that it’s okay if some things don’t go according to plan and that you’ll be able to adapt if things change.

Pack for self-care

It can be easier to manage and overcome travel anxiety if you have some small sources of comfort to help bring you calm while you’re away. You may want to pack things that you can use to create little rituals of relaxation and a comfort zone no matter where you are. Possible examples include:

  • Scented sachets or sprays, since research suggests that some types of aromatherapy could help you feel calmer in the face of travel anxiety
  • An eye mask to help you get quality sleep while you’re away, which can help keep anxiety under control
  • Noise-canceling headphones to help you avoid overstimulation and find calm
  • Books, crossword puzzles, handheld games, or other forms of distraction
  • Workout clothes, since a short workout or even a brisk walk may help decrease symptoms of anxiety
  • A scalp massager to help ease anxiety by releasing some physical tension
Getty/Luis Alvarez
Explore ways to effectively manage your travel anxiety

Plan and budget for relaxation

In addition to bringing items that can help you feel calm, it could be helpful to set aside enough money and time for self-care during your trip. Even if you’re traveling for work, it might be a good idea to plan for a bit of stress relief and even self-indulgence along the way. You could try to find time for a massage, take one night in a nice hotel room, plan time in your schedule to just sit in the park or walk on the beach, or sneak away from your colleagues to dine by yourself one evening.

Learn some anxiety reduction techniques

Exercises for mental and physical relaxation may help you reduce your symptoms of travel anxiety in the moment. Learning and practicing methods like these before your trip may help prepare you to better cope with any difficulties that could arise.

  • Sensory grounding. Grounding techniques can redirect your attention to the world around you instead of your own anxiety, potentially preventing a panic attack. A common method is to take notice of concrete things you can perceive with each of your five senses. As a bonus, this can also help you take note of the novel sights and sounds of your travel destination.
  • Meditation. Mindfulness meditation has shown considerable effectiveness in reducing anxiety symptoms in many people, as evidenced by research on the neural correlates of mindfulness meditation anxiety relief.  You can practice it for 10–20 minutes per day from anywhere by sitting still, breathing deeply, and noticing the thoughts and feelings that arise without judging them or trying to control them. 
  • Earthing. Some studies suggest that being in contact with the ground may help lessen symptoms of anxiety, perhaps by conveying a sense of stability and comfort. This is known as “earthing”. You can try it for yourself by sitting, lying down, or planting your feet firmly and paying attention to the sensation of touching the ground.
  • Expressive journaling. As we noted above, journaling may help with worry and anxiety. Writing about what’s making you anxious instead of bottling it up could provide a constructive outlet for your emotions to lessen their intensity. Plus, taking time to also record the positive and interesting things about your travels could help cement happy memories for you to look back on later.

Connect with a loved one

In the internet age, going to a new place doesn’t mean you can’t still lean on your support network. When your travel anxiety gets particularly strong, you may want to reach out to an understanding friend, partner, or family member to let them know what you’re feeling. You may not be able to talk with them over the phone right at that moment, but even writing out a text message or email may be comforting on its own, and you could check in via phone or video chat then or later if possible. A simple conversation with someone you trust could go a long way toward helping you feel less alone or worried in the face of travel anxiety.

Talk to a therapist about anxiety 

Talk therapy can be an effective way to manage and treat anxiety, including travel anxiety. If you’re getting ready for a trip and are feeling anxious about it, reaching out to a therapist beforehand to discuss your worries could be a good way to mentally prepare for travel. If you connect with a therapist online, you may be able to continue your sessions during travel as well. The ability to talk with a mental health professional from anywhere you have an internet connection is one significant benefit of online therapy platforms.

Research into online therapy suggests that it may be able to significantly reduce anxiety symptoms, with various studies of its effectiveness having found no meaningful difference between attending therapy online or in person. This appears to be true for symptoms of a wide range of anxiety-related conditions, from generalized anxiety disorder to panic disorder. With an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can meet with via phone, video call, and/or online chat to address the anxiety you may be living with.

Takeaway

The stress that can be associated with travel may exacerbate the mental and physical symptoms of an anxiety disorder. Reducing uncertainty by planning ahead for potentially triggering situations may help you feel less anxious. You can also incorporate techniques for relaxation and mental grounding into your journey. Staying in contact with supportive friends and/or a mental health professional may provide additional relief when your travel anxiety feels most severe. Also, therapy may serve as an effective long-term anxiety treatment even when you’re not traveling. Take the first step toward relief from anxiety and contact BetterHelp today.

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