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Travel Anxiety: Causes and Cures

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10th, 2020

Travel Anxiety: Causes and Cures

Many people dream of travel. But travel anxiety is also very common. Some people experience a significant amount of anxiety when they travel. Those with persistent generalized anxiety and panic attacks are also prone to travel anxiety simply because travel represents change and distance from comfort. Some people fear travel but are not completely aware of this fear because they avoid booking their ticket or come up with other excuses in order to not leave their homes.

Whatever the case, travel anxiety makes it much harder to travel, whether for work or pleasure. This article explores the concept of travel anxiety, providing tips and information regarding what you can do to reduce your fear.

Causes of Travel Anxiety

Travel anxiety is unlikely to have any single specific cause. Many people have travel anxiety their entire lives. Others may develop the anxiety either because of past experiences relating to travel which were anxiety provoking; and some seem to have travel anxiety for no apparent reason at all. Here are some examples of experiences that can lead to travel anxiety:

  • Fear of Flying Probably the most common issue seen in those with travel anxiety is a fear of flying. This is a fairly common phobia that’s linked to various factors: the lack of control, the changes in air pressure, the general discomfort, and the turbulence. These can all contribute to a fear of flying, especially as you age1. Since travel often involves flight, it's not uncommon for these fears to interact with your ability to control your anxiety.
  • Horror Stories Some people are influenced by the "worst case scenario" stories they hear on the news. You may not even realize you're influenced, but when you access news articles about kidnappings, injuries, and other accidents, it's easy to subconsciously associate travel with tragedy.
  • Home Comfort Some people also develop a fear of being far from home, because their home is their source of comfort. It's very common in those with anxiety disorders involving panic attacks or agoraphobia, for example, because their home becomes associated with being safe. The idea of leaving their home for an extended period of time then becomes very stressful.
  • Post Trip Worries You may not have travel anxiety before the trip, but you may find that you develop it during your trip. This type of anxiety can be due to any number of issues, including the stress of planning and organizing details upon your arrival, the possible discomfort of being in a new environment, the looming threat of jetlag and perhaps simple worries about not knowing where your nearest supermarket or pharmacy might be.

But this is just a simplified list. You may not even know the exact reasons why your travel anxiety developed. It is possible - and important - to understand what your specific worries are (we'll get to that in a moment), but it isn't always possible to know why you have those worries. Travel anxiety affects many people and it can have a disruptive influence on your life.

How to Overcome Travel Anxiety

Of course, knowing about the causes is only the first step. Ideally, you'll also want to learn how to overcome your travel anxiety. Consider the following tips and strategies to reduce your travel anxiety:

  • Don't Avoid It If you want to travel or you have to travel, don't avoid buying the ticket and don't push back the date of the vacation. The act of avoiding something fearful actually increases future fear, because by pushing it back you've created what's known as "negative reinforcement." This means that it becomes more and more likely that you’ll deal with travel anxiety in future by simply avoiding the travel date. This also serves to strengthen the anxiety. If you really want to overcome your travel anxiety, you need to put yourself out there and not let yourself fall into the avoidance trap.
  • Figure Out Your Fears While you may not be able to figure out the underlying cause of your fears, it’s a lot easier to identify what your fears are. Are you afraid of flying? Afraid of being away from home? Afraid of the stress of planning a vacation? Notice when you're feeling travel anxiety and write down the thought that's going through your mind at that point in time. Knowing your fears will give you an opportunity to evaluate them.
  • Prepare in Advance Start your trip anxious, and you’re setting yourself up for a difficult journey. Do your best to pack, plan your mail, arrange for a friend to look after your home, etc., as far in advance as possible. That way, the time before your departure will not be quite as hectic. Have your entire tripped planned as best as you can too so that you're never worried about what you're doing once you arrive.
  • Have Someone to Call at Home You may also want to consider having someone that you can call if you experience anxiety - like a friend or family member. Ask someone you know that will be around. Tell them you have travel anxiety and you want to know that they'd be available if you needed to call someone. Knowing that person is there can often be enough to lower your anxiety levels.
  • Take Vacation Breaks If you find that your anxiety while on your trip is acting up, take a short break from your vacation. This might mean, for example, going for a massage and staying home to watch Netflix rather than going sightseeing. Don't try to relax and ride it out if you start to get anxious. Anxiety is the type of condition that is nearly impossible to "fight" because fighting it increases stress, which ultimately creates more anxiety.
  • Plan an Empty First Vacation If you have a fear of traveling in general, make your first vacation something where the entire goal is to do nothing but get used to the idea of traveling. For example, catch a plane to a location near a beach, and spend each and every day just sitting on the beach relaxing. Alternatively, plan a vacation where you spend as much (or more) time relaxing as compared to sight-seeing and actively engaging. This can help you get used to the act of being on a vacation without the pressures that come from some of these trips.

Beyond these travel anxiety ideas, you'll also want to focus on reducing your overall anxiety. Anxiety is a cumulative disorder. When you experience anxiety in one area of your life, it can cause more anxiety in other areas of your life. If you have anxiety on a daily basis, reducing that anxiety will provide you with a powerful advantage when it comes to managing your anxiety on the whole.

Questions? Comments?

Do you have a specific question that this article didn’t answered? Send us a message and we’ll answer it for you!

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Question:

Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient

Answer:

You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

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