If traveling gives you anxiety, there are ways to help you stay grounded on your journey.
As much as I love traveling, my travel anxiety is very real.
I had a panic attack on a bus in Los Angeles. I called my mom at 3 a.m. from a dorm room in Paris so I could feel comfort in hearing her voice. I sat on the floor of the Aruba International Airport convinced I was dying from back pain.
My travel anxiety prevents me from enjoying trips that are meant to be relaxing, restorative, and fun — and I know I’m not alone in this experience.
An estimated 40 million people in the United States are affected by some type of anxiety disorder every year. And many people with and without anxiety disorders may experience travel anxiety.
Knowing how to cope with travel anxiety before and during your trip can help you stay calm and grounded so you can enjoy your time away.
It’s important to identify the cause of your anxiety so you can address it, says California-based psychotherapist Julia Simone Fogelson, LCSW.
Giving your anxiety a name may also make your anxious feelings more manageable and within your control.
Try asking yourself what’s triggering your travel anxiety. Your answer could be any of the following:
- flying in an airplane
- being away from your family, friends, or pets
- missing work
- breaking away from your routine
- feeling scared of the unknown
To learn what your unique triggers are, Fogelson recommends journaling or chatting with trusted friends or a therapist.
Laura Sgro, LCSW, who practices in Los Angeles, suggests reflecting on when you’ve felt anxious on past trips and how you might manage anxious thoughts or feelings when they pop up again.
“Humans naturally become more anxious when things are out of our control,” says Lindsey Schafer, LMSW, a therapist in New York and New Jersey. “Knowing what to expect on a trip through researching what to expect reduces the risk of unknowns or surprises.”
To plan ahead before you leave home or continue your trip, you might try:
- reading reviews on your hotel or car rental
- researching the destination as much as possible
- asking people who have traveled there before
Schafer recommends planning ahead of time so there’s less chance for confusion or fear of the unknown to occur on your trip.
“While it’s impossible to plan for every scenario, it can be helpful to feel like you’ve covered your bases before you leave,” says Sgro.
To prepare in advance, you might want to:
- book hotels
- reserve a rental car
- plan out daily activities
- hire caretakers for pets or kids at home
- schedule transportation to and from airports
- have a backup plan for lost documents
- bring comforting items (e.g., lavender essential oil, a blanket)
Mindfulness and grounding practices are helpful for anxiety, especially because catastrophic thinking often leads you down a spiral, Sgro explains.
“Grounding helps with keeping us anchored in the present moment while also helping to soothe our physiological responses to anxiety and calming down the body,” she adds.
When you feel your travel anxiety coming on, consider any of the following techniques:
- 5-4-3-2-1 grounding exercise
- emotional freedom technique (EFT) tapping
- 1-minute mindfulness exercises
- deep breathing exercises
- guided meditations
- fidget toys
- bringing awareness to your senses
Traveling can often be overstimulating. Stimulation or sensory issues can flare while away from home, especially for folks who live with mental health conditions like:
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- autism spectrum disorder
- sensory processing disorder
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- anxiety disorders
“If you’re hypersensitive to certain stimuli, try calming your body by wearing comfortable clothing such as soft fabrics, loose waistbands, or already worn-in sneakers,” Schafer says.
At times, travel anxiety may feel exhausting to deal with. Be gentle with yourself as you cope with your symptoms and navigate any anxious feelings that arise.
Self-care while on vacation might look like:
- meditating before you start each day
- setting positive intentions for your trip
- taking a bath or shower after a long day
- taking deep breaths when you feel stressed
- eating a favorite snack or comforting meal
- drinking a cup of hot tea or coffee
- skipping certain activities to prioritize rest
- distracting yourself by listening to music
- spending more time in the hotel room
- taking anti-anxiety medication (if prescribed)
“Listen to your body and the discomfort that it’s experiencing, and offer enough kindness and care to find what might allow you to feel less anxious in this unknown space,” says Schafer.
It can be hard to look past the negatives when you’re in the throes of anxiety. But focusing on the positive aspects of your trip may offer a sense of relief.
For example, Sgro suggests focusing on the parts of the trip that you’re most excited about.
“Reminding yourself of the fun things you’ll be doing can be a great way to overcome some of the anxious thoughts you may be having,” she says.
Remember, having anxiety while traveling doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy your trip. Sgro says that you can still have a great time by acknowledging these feelings and trying different tools to manage them.
If you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed while away, remember to lean on your support system back home.
“Call a loved one or travel with someone who can be supportive, listen to your worries or fears in anxious moments, and let them know your needs to feel less anxious,” says Schafer.
Fogelson recommends preparing a list of two or three people who you can call on vacation when you need support.
If you’re traveling abroad, consider downloading an app like WhatsApp for free international messaging and calls with WiFi beforehand.
It’s OK if you don’t want to reach out to friends or family, too. In these moments, it may be helpful to connect with a therapist. A mental health professional can offer personalized coping skills and help during your time of need.
Travel anxiety is common and certainly possible to overcome. Using coping skills can improve your odds of having a successful vacation now and in the future.
These expert-backed tips for coping with travel anxiety may help:
- identify your triggers
- research and plan
- prepare as much as possible
- try grounding techniques
- distract yourself
- practice self-care
- talk with loved ones or a therapist
While travel anxiety can be challenging to deal with, traveling can offer wonderful benefits, too.
“Traveling outside of our routines can increase feelings of well-being, confidence, and connections to other places and people,” says Fogelson. “In other words, the juice is worth the squeeze.”