Anxiety has always been a problem for me, but after spending months after months indoors due to the COVID-19 lockdown, my travel anxiety has become much, much worse. My comfort zone is indoors, so the thought of travelling can cause a lot of anxiety. The problem with travel anxiety is how much it limits you. When you can’t travel and enjoy it, you lose a bit of your freedom.
Whether you want to go abroad again or are just working up the courage to book a staycation in the UK, I hope my tips and experiences will help you travel. Being able to visit places and be out-and-about without anxiety is incredibly freeing!
What is Travel Anxiety? Spotting the Symptoms
Travel anxiety can refer to any anxiety that comes about due to travel. Maybe it’s only airplanes and airports that cause you anxiety. Perhaps it’s the thought of getting lost in a foreign country. Or maybe it’s just leaving your safety bubble, even if you’re only venturing into the next county for a weekend away.
According to Calm Clinic, travel anxiety can be caused by numerous things… or nothing at all. For me, it’s a combination of general anxiety of social settings (e.g. crowded train stations and awkward conversations in foreign languages) and past experiences that were anxiety-provoking.
What Does Travel Anxiety Look Like?
Anxiety can present in many different ways. Sometimes it will be just a feeling (for me, it’s a weird gnawing feeling in my chest along with other symptoms). Other times, you might experience other things and not realise it’s anxiety.
Common anxiety symptoms include:
- Excessive worrying,
- Sweating and feeling hot,
- Shaking and jitters,
- Dry mouth,
- Racing pulse and hearing your heartbeat in your ears,
- Restlessness and sleep troubles,
- Tense muscles,
- Irritability and agitation,
- Inability to concentrate on tasks (or work),
- Panic attacks.
I’ve known people who feel like they’re having a heart attack when anxiety hits. Sometimes it makes me nauseas and dizzy, like I’m coming down with something bad.
Furthermore, I’ve personally found that symptoms change over time.
5 Tips to Overcome Travel Anxiety
These 5 coping skills and tricks to get over your anxiety about travel are all the ones I personally use. They work for me and I hope they will work for you!
I highly recommend checking out advice from Healthline, NHS, Calm Clinic and other leading health websites online. You can also check out Reddit and other forums to find out what other people are doing.
While anxiety is absolutely terrifying when it strikes, there’s plenty you can do about it. Don’t let it rule your life and travel plans!
Think Positive Thoughts
More often than not, anxiety strikes when I think of the worst case scenario and get fixated on that. Too often, I think about what could go wrong.
When this happens, I stop going over everything that could go wrong and say to myself, but what if everything goes right?
Whether it’s a fear of flying, anxiety about getting lost, or even anxiety about getting sick on holiday, we tend to focus on the negatives here. So, I try to picture everything going right in my head. I imagine having a lovely time and instead of the worst happening, I push myself to imagine the best.
Honestly, this only works about 70% of the time for me. Nonetheless, it has still saved me from some nasty pre-trip anxiety attacks.
And do you know what? When my travel trip is over, I usually find that it did go right instead of wrong.
If you like to meditate, then try a guided meditation that involves travel, so you’ll be pushed to imagine going on a holiday where everything is perfect and you have a lovely time.
Music and Meditations
This is my favourite technique when I’m feeling anxiety due to travel, but I can’t pinpoint exactly what it is. Many anxiety-relieving techniques focus on resolving a problem that’s causing the anxiety, but that’s not always possible when you can’t work out the cause. You need a gentle fix that will ease the travel anxiety symptoms regardless of their causes.
Yoga With Adriene has a really good meditation for anxiety that I use when I’m getting nerves about travelling late at night, or when I’m overthinking things.
If you can hear your heat beat in your ears and your pulse is racing, this is a brilliant solution as the meditation focuses on your breathing to lower your heart rate. Furthermore, the sound of Adriene’s voice will block out your heartbeat too.
Download the audio of this video and you can listen to it on an airplane too. It will really help with fear of flying anxiety!
Sometimes I experience travel anxiety while I’m actually travelling. When this happens, I like to play music in the car. I sing along loudly in my head, and this tends to help calm me down. It’s a good distraction.
Plan in Advance
By plan, I don’t mean Google all the dangers and things that could go wrong at your destination. Instead, plan the things you can take, the places you will go, and how you will get there. To keep yourself busy and help feel more in control, follow this checklist.
- Find out the weather forecast for your vacation,
- List all the clothes you need to take and plan what you will wear each day,
- List all the toiletries and other items you need to take,
- Plan what you will wear as you travel,
- Find your hotel on Google maps and take screenshots/download the map onto your phone so you can access it without WiFi or data,
- Use Google street view to take a virtual tour of your destination,
- Find 3 places you want to eat at,
- Buy tickets in advance for any attractions you want to visit, then print out the tickets and organise them in a folder (even if you don’t need a printed ticket for entry),
- Move some money into a savings account, so you have access to emergency money if needed,
- Find out where the embassy is, a help point is, or the police station and make a note of it,
- Research where the nearest pharmacy is.
By the time I’ve finished this list, I usually feel much more in control and less anxious about all the ‘what if’s.
Learn a Language
I experience a lot more anxiety about travelling abroad than I do travelling within the UK. A big part of this is the language barrier. The thought of struggling to speak a foreign language to someone who doesn’t speak English terrifies me. It gets worse when I remember that British tourists aren’t exactly the most popular folk in many countries around the world. Being met with hostility on holiday is a huge source of anxiety.
Learning a language alleviates that immensely. I am currently using Duolingo and I recommend you check it out too. I only learn a language for 5 minutes a day (it’s weirdly addictive) but it makes me feel so much more confident.
You can also write down a list of phrases that you will likely need to use. Write down the words, then underneath them, write it phonetically.
For example, if I was travelling to France, my note might say:
Excuse me, where is the toilet?
Excusez-moi, où sont les toilettes?
Excusey-mwoa, oo sont lez twoilet?
And of course, one phrase you should always learn when you’re travelling abroad is “do you speak English?”
Listen to Your Anxiety on Your Vacation
Hopefully, you’re holidaying with a traveller who is sympathetic and understands your anxiety. This alone will alleviate anxiety a lot, but not all of it.
When anxiety strikes, it’s not something you can fight. You can wait for it to pass, you can soothe it, you can erase it by removing the cause, but forcing yourself to do something that causes anxiety will only make things worse, in my experience.
For example, going to the museum we booked tickets for is giving me anxiety. Even if I push myself to go to the museum and everything in the museum is fine, I am still going to feel anxious… even though there’s no reason to. Anxiety can be irrational like that.
Sometimes, the best way to deal with travel anxiety when you’re actually on holiday, is to stop the holiday. Head back to your hotel room and spend the day lounging about in bed. Or drop the plans that are making you anxious and just spend the day roaming around the city – with no pressure or commitments you need to meet.
I do think there are times when overcoming anxiety and pushing through has benefits. Sometimes it is good to step far outside your comfort zone and push yourself. But is your vacation the best time to do that?
Remember, you’re on a holiday to relieve stress, relax and enjoy yourself. Maybe now isn’t the time to face your fears, but actually have fun and feel good doing things that make you happy instead.
Summary – Travel Anxiety Isn’t the End of The World
A nice cup of chamomile tea and a quick meditation is often all it takes for me to overcome travel anxiety. But anxiety is different for everyone, so please don’t feel disheartened if my 5 methods won’t work for you. Some people overcome their anxiety completely while others experience it over a full lifetime. Either way, you can still enjoy travelling and I hope nothing holds you back from achieving all your travel dreams!
I highly recommend reaching out to a mental health professional if you are really concerned about your anxiety.