Travel Anxiety: How Can You Overcome It?

travelling can (and should) be a wonderful experience, but all too often planning for a trip can give you butterflies, and sadly not the good kind. You catch yourself wondering, “Have I packed everything I need?” Then, if the answer is yes, you think, “Oh no, have I packed too much?” This is often followed by, “Will I get to the airport in time?” “Will everything be ok at home?” “What if I don’t enjoy the trip?” Increasingly, something enjoyable begins to look like… travel anxiety. If you struggle to stop that internal chatter from making you nervous, unsettled and unable to feel any pre-travelling excitement, know this: you are far from alone. And that horrible, anxious feeling? It’s more common than you think. “But how to get over it?” must now be the question lingering on your mind. We’ll tell you how.

Happy smiling couple taking pictures during cruise with their mobile phone.

Travel anxiety is what causes people to feel anxious, stressed and overwhelmed in the lead up to a trip. Some have a fear of travelling abroad, or of travelling alone. The fear of flying is, after all, one of the most common fears due to factors ranging from a perceived lack of control to changes in air pressure and turbulence. Others anticipate missing home, worry about forgetting something, or dwell on travel ‘horror stories’ they have heard.

What can you do about it? We recommend you to start with recognising the symptoms of anxiety: shallow breathing, restlessness, nausea, a racing heart, a tight chest and excessive worrying, just to name a few. If you experience general anxiety in your day to day life then you might know what signs to look for, but then your chances of experiencing travel anxiety might also be increased. After identifying the symptoms, you need to work towards a solution. While anxiety tends to get rewarded in our culture – just think of how many people wear “busy” as a badge of honour – this shouldn’t stop you from using your vacation to relax. Below are our suggestions on how to achieve just that:

Make a plan – Anxiety usually stems from feeling like you’re losing control, and the worry that something terrible might happen. One way to give you back some control is to plan out your trip. Start by familiarising yourself with your destination by searching online for a map and looking up pictures of your accommodation. Better yet, plan your exit from the terminals and how you will get to your hotel or Airbnb. Researching what to do in case your luggage gets lost and writing down a set of instructions can also help minimize your fear of the unknown.

Young people with map and paper planning a holiday, trip, city break, getaway.

Keep your routine – we know that you are going on vacation to try to escape your day to day life but travelling can be stressful and confusing at the best of times. A lack of routine is sometimes the root cause of anxiety, so we recommend creating a holiday routine. It doesn’t sound very relaxing but knowing exactly what needs to happen next can trick your brain into regaining its sense of control. Try setting an alarm every morning and heading out for a morning run or a walk along the beach.

Try to ignore that niggling feeling – Listening to your gut is great, but not if you’re already feeling worried. This is because your gut is overactive and tends to interpret both external information and internal sensations as threats, so what feels like intuition might be anxiety. One way to tell the difference is by how long your symptoms last. A gut instinct is often a reaction to an immediate, seemingly dangerous situation. Anxiety, on the other hand, tends to be present regardless of its relevance to your current experience. If your head is swarming with hypotheticals and worst-case scenarios, it's most likely not your intuition telling you that you shouldn’t board that plane.

Bring plenty of distractions – For some, a film or a game can offer a visual distraction and a pleasant way to pass the time. Others find comfort in quiet activities, such as reading books, playing sudoku or, anxiety allowing, taking a nap. You can also try talking to someone, either to share your concerns surrounding travelling or simply to pass the time. It can be the person you’re travelling with, a loved one on the phone, or even someone interesting you are sitting next to on the plane. Whatever your distraction is, consider using it to keep those negative thoughts at bay and have something positive to focus on instead.

Young tourists taking a selfie in new city they are visiting over the weekend.

Don’t compare your experiences – It’s easy to beat yourself up when you compare your experiences with the social media feed of a friend or travel blogger. It can increase feelings of inadequacy and make you feel like you must match, or even out do their experience. Trekking 5 miles to take a picture with a famous landmark or taking a boat trip to swim with turtles might get you amazing photos, but is it worth all the work and anxiety that it causes? If simply lying on a beach reading a book is your idea of the perfect holiday, then do it! Remember, no one’s trip is just a series of Instagrammable moments. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else, try to focus on enjoying your trip and stop worrying about what other people think! 

Pre-book an airport experience – The airport lounge is the ideal place for you to escape the crowded, noisy departure terminals. No matter your airline, class of travel or destination, you can seek peace in an airport lounge. Our main suggestion for those already dealing with travel anxiety at the airport? Enter a lounge, grab a drink and write down a list of things you want to do during your trip. This will not only help you gain control and feel organised, but it will also remind you of all the reasons you wanted to travel. With free Wi-Fi in most lounges you can do some pre-travel research, download a book you’ve always wanted to read or listen to some soothing music.