Having anxiety about traveling can make planning or taking a trip a stressful experience, but there are ways to overcome it.
For some, the thought of planning or taking a trip brings feelings of excitement or exhilaration. Seeing new places, meeting new people, and having new experiences can be thrilling.
For others, thinking about travel can have the opposite effect.
Rather than excitement and exhilaration, you might be overcome with feelings of anxiety and stress. And the closer you get to the travel date, the more nervous, worried, and afraid you become.
Travel anxiety can turn a fun vacation into a stressful event. If traveling causes anxiety for you, there are ways you can manage it.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) estimates that nearly 40 million U.S. adults are affected by an anxiety disorder every year.
Anxiety is one of the ways your body reacts to situations or circumstances that cause stress, worry, or fear. Everyone experiences anxiety differently.
While it’s natural to have anxiety from time to time, living with an anxiety disorder means these feelings are amplified and impact your day-to-day functioning.
There are several types of anxiety disorders, and while each may share some symptoms, they each have their own unique causes, triggers, and effects.
Travel anxiety — aka vacation anxiety — is a feeling of worry or fear that occurs in relation to traveling.
Having travel anxiety can make planning and going on trips difficult. Just the idea of going to a new place may bring on feelings of fear, uncertainty, and extreme nervousness.
This anxiety can prevent you from enjoying new places, seeing new things, or even visiting loved ones who live far away.
While travel anxiety isn’t an official diagnosis, it is a common cause of anxiety. Anytime you have to or want to travel, it can seriously impact your well-being.
Even though travel anxiety can feel overwhelming, there are strategies that can help you overcome it.
With any type of anxiety, therapy and medication are two common treatment options. You can also learn ways to cope with symptoms.
How common is travel anxiety?
Travel anxiety is common, especially for those who already experience other forms of anxiety. Those who have a family history of anxiety, take certain medications, or who have certain physical health conditions may also have a higher chance of having travel anxiety.
Many things can play a role in how you feel when it comes to travel. Your vacation anxiety may be the result of:
- Experiences. Our past can often influence our present. Having negative experiences with travel or activities related to it in the past can create feelings of anxiety in the future. For example, older research suggests that 65% of people develop travel anxiety after experiencing a major car accident. Other less-than-pleasant incidents can also affect how traveling makes you feel.
- Fear of flying. Flight anxiety, or the fear of flying, is a common concern that affects
between 3–8%of people. It can be triggered by several things, like worries of crashing, fear about being so high in the air, claustrophobia, or discomfort during takeoff or landing.
- What we hear or read. Consuming news or anecdotes about negative travel experiences — such as accidents, injuries, crimes, or even falling ill while on vacation — can create anxiety around travel.
- Leaving what feels familiar or safe. Some people face discomfort about being away from home or visiting a new and unfamiliar place. They may also find themselves hesitant to be in crowds or public places, especially as we continue to cope with ongoing concerns about COVID-19.
- Concerns about the “what ifs.” We can plan for many things, but we can’t plan for everything. Letting yourself become worried over what could or might happen during a vacation can cause anxiety. For instance, you may find yourself concerned about not having enough money during your trip, potential issues with your rental car, or whether you’ll get lost while sightseeing.
Other factors that may make you more likely to develop travel anxiety include:
- being shy or reserved as a child
- a family history of anxiety or other mental health conditions
- physical health conditions, such as thyroid disorders or heart arrhythmias
- taking certain medications
- high intake of caffeine or other substances
- having generalized anxiety disorder or another anxiety disorder
There also may not be any reason. Sometimes, there isn’t a cause behind why someone has travel anxiety — they just do. And that’s OK!
Anxiety affects everyone differently, including your symptoms or how severe they are.
Travel anxiety can cause:
If anxiety — related to travel or otherwise — begins to affect your day-to-day quality of life, it may be time to consider seeking professional support.
A healthcare professional can help you figure out if there are underlying causes for your symptoms, offer suggestions to manage, or refer you to a mental health professional if needed.
To diagnose an anxiety disorder, a doctor typically compares your symptoms and medical history with the criteria listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5). This is a handbook published by the American Psychiatric Association.
According to the DSM-5, you may have an anxiety disorder if:
- managing your anxiety is difficult
- your anxiety causes you extreme stress, which affects your daily life
- you have anxiety nearly every day for more than 6 months
- your anxiety is excessive and out of proportion to the trigger
- there’s not another mental health condition that could be causing your symptoms
If you receive a diagnosis for an anxiety disorder, you and the doctor can work together to develop a treatment plan that works for you and your symptoms.
Treatments for anxiety often include:
Depending on your symptoms and their severity, your doctor may recommend one or a combination of these treatments.
If you don’t receive a formal diagnosis but still want to resolve your issues with travel anxieties, you might still benefit from some of these treatment options. A doctor might not prescribe medications, but a few therapy sessions could help you learn coping skills.
Living with travel anxiety isn’t always easy, but there are ways to manage, minimize, and sometimes prevent your symptoms.
Here are some strategies for you to consider using:
- Identify your triggers. It can take time and patience as you learn what triggers your travel anxiety, but understanding what’s behind your anxiousness can help you figure out specific ways to manage beforehand and in the moment.
- Plan ahead. If you’re concerned about the “what if” scenarios, consider planning ahead. You may not be able to plan for everything, but it can often give you a sense of security knowing that you’ve covered all your bases.
- Take care of things at home. Does being away from your responsibilities at home leave you feeling anxious? While you plan ahead for what could happen during your trip, plan for what will happen at home, too. This can look like enlisting a neighbor to water your plants, setting up an alarm or security camera, or placing a temporary hold on your mail.
- Bring distractions. If your mode of transportation has you worried, consider bringing something to keep busy during the journey. Some distracting activities include reading, journaling, crossword (or other) puzzles, movies or TV shows, or any other easily portable activity you enjoy.
- Relax. Practicing relaxation techniques — such as meditation, mindfulness, or breathing exercises — before traveling can help you ground yourself and ease anxiety.
- Find the silver lining. Rather than dwelling on what may worry you, you can focus on the happy times ahead. Thinking about the fun times and new experiences you’ll have on your vacation can help replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
- Take care of yourself. Taking care of your physical health can have a positive effect on your mental well-being. Try to incorporate healthy lifestyle choices — such as a well-balanced diet, exercise, and getting enough sleep — into your daily routine.
- Travel with others. If traveling alone makes you anxious, consider asking a friend or loved one to join you. This not only offers you companionship in a new location, but having someone you trust around can also help encourage new adventures and experiences.
- Consider medication. If other strategies aren’t easing your anxiety as much as you’d hoped, consider talking with your doctor about medication options. This could include daily anti-anxiety meds or as-needed options for panic attacks.
You may not always be able to avoid travel anxiety, and that’s OK. If you’re proactive and take positive steps to manage your anxiety, you can help reduce the severity of your symptoms and make them easier to deal with.
Anxiety surrounding travel can really impact your ability to enjoy taking vacations. It can cause you to have symptoms like increased heart rate, difficulty sleeping, and even panic attacks.
But vacation anxiety does not have to prevent you from enjoying travel and all the experiences associated with it. You can take steps to cope with your anxiety and make living with it easier. Strategies, therapy, and sometimes medication can all be used to help you manage.
If you’re finding it difficult to overcome feeling anxious about traveling, a healthcare or mental health professional can help. They can evaluate if an underlying condition is behind it and help you figure out a treatment plan so you can start enjoying your travels, rather than be overwhelmed by them.
Looking for support but not sure where to start? You can check out Psych Central’s hub for finding mental health support.