How To Overcome Travel Anxiety

Traveling can be the most meaningful, rewarding, and moving risk anybody could take. If anything, seeing this great big world up close and personal can make it less daunting than we usually make it out to be. Once you take your first big leap you quickly realize that the world doesn’t revolve around this atypical "us versus them" mentality, even though it may seem that way as most of us grow up in our separate, exclusionary bubbles. Every human is as complex as you; full of fears and dreams, hopes and aspirations, gripes and troubles... and sometimes the thought of traveling, meeting these strangers and making mistakes that everyone makes, can be more scary than traveling in itself.

Even so, it’s not like one day you say "Hey! I think I wan't to go to Thailand!" so you snap your fingers, and suddenly you're transported to some magical place with a gorgeous view at every angle.  Then, the second things get uncomfortable, you click your heels, and you're in the safety of your own home. That's simply not the case; travel is complicated. You have to figure out where to go and how to get there, deal with the stress of customs, patch language barriers, and the list goes on. As someone who often struggles with anxiety, travel can begin to feel paralyzing, and the thought of the leaving your safety blanket to explore the vast unknown can seem nearly impossible. But I promise you, choosing to avoid traveling the world and succumbing to your fears rather than facing them is no way to live. The benefits greatly outweigh the cost, so I'd like to lay out how I typically push through my pesky travel anxiety.

 

Taking The First Step

The first, and most important thing is to try and nail down what exactly causes you to become anxious. The most common things that afflict travelers are the pre-travel anxiety, the fear of flying, and the post-travel anxiety. As someone who frequently travels by plane, I mostly only suffer from the pre/post-travel anxiety (but that doesn't mean I don't start saying my prayers at the first sign of turbulence). Once you've determined what it is about travel that causes your anxiety, it becomes significantly easier to start to overcoming it. 


Pre-Travel anxiety

In a world where disasters are plastered all across the news 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, the thought of not leaving the country can quickly seem to be the only path to self-preservation. This is what gets me the most, regardless of the fact that I know it’s not realistic, but that’s just it with anxiety; you just can’t control your fears sometimes. 

 

Remind Yourself why travel is important to you

The first thing you should do is tell yourself why you want to travel. Don’t get hung up on all the bad thing that might happen. Remember that the pros of travel almost always outweigh the cons, and you will experience so many life-changing moments along the way that you won't even have time to be anxious. Don’t play the worst case scenarios over on a loop in your head, when you can play the most likely scenario: Great times, new friends, and a beautiful new outlook on life. 

 

Research

The next tactic I use to stop pre-travel anxiety is to do real research on where you're planning to go. Don’t read sensationalized, fear-mongering articles that only expose the darkest side of the truth. Instead, talk to locals and people who’ve traveled to that area before. Don't be afraid to ask lots of questions! The internet is a great place to source advice from experts, other travelers, and even people that may have shared the same fears as you. Try exploring TripAdvisor and asking questions on Reddit to find out how to be more careful, and if your destination is really as unsafe as the media portrays it. You’ll be surprised to learn that a lot of the negative press you hear turns out to be hearsay or nearly unheard of. Of course, some places are truly dangerous, but 99.9% of the places you visit will be no less safe than your home city. For example, we live just a hop and a skip away from LA. Whenever considering taking a trip to an area infamous for crime, we always get those anxious butterflies and overthink what could go wrong. Once we look it up, 9 times out of 10 we discover that LA has a worse crime rate and is significantly more dangerous than anywhere we're traveling to. Oops! But honestly, as long as you keep your wits about you, you shouldn't run into much trouble. 

 

Just think, Are You Really That Much More Safe At Home?

Think of where you feel the most comfortable... is it really as safe as you m If you’re getting anxiety about traveling to some far off place, try to take a look into your own backyard, especially if you're from America. It may surprise you that people are afraid to travel where you live, yet you'd call those people crazy. That should reinforce the fact that a lot of these fears are manufactured, and not justified.

I know personally that I feel super comfortable in big American cities. I’ll gladly wander the streets of New York or Los Angeles, but the thought of wandering the streets of Mumbai seems incredibly daunting. But why? Crime levels in America are extremely high in some places, violent crime too, yet you can walk the streets without fear and nothing happens to you. Remember that wherever you’re going, people just like you live there too. People live their whole lives in these places and grow old without issue.

 

Don't Get Ahead Of Yourself

The best thing you can do if your pre-travel anxiety gets too rough, is to just work your way up. The romanticization of just getting up and heading straight to the most exotic and fantastic place you can think of can be extremely alluring to some, but incite total fear in others. Remember that you don’t have to just jump in head first, you can take baby steps. Experience and exposure is what will get you over your fears the quickest.

I'm not saying that you should just avoid challenging yourself. Personally I am fond of the feeling of being in a place I'm not totally comfortable in. That being said, if you’re getting anxiety about flying halfway around the planet as your first major trip to the point where you've decided you’re just not going to go, maybe try to travel to somewhere you feel a little more comfortable first. Stick to a major city where your primary language is readily spoken and tourism is common. Just don’t dwell on this for too long. If you think you can do it, I recommend going wherever your heart desires as soon as you can, but if travel anxiety is totally preventing you from realizing your dreams, it may be best to try to dip your toes in the water before you jump in. Just take the first step to go anywhere, even somewhere in your own country. I can guarantee you that the travel bug will bite you like it has so many others. 


Fear of Flying

The fear of flying is pretty straight forward. Being trapped in a plane, thousands of feet above the ground for several hours can be claustrophobic and terrifying at , especially when the turbulence kicks in. Since this is one I don’t really struggle with personally, I’ve done some research on what you can do to help calm your anxious mind.

 

Comfort is In The Numbers

 The best thing you can do is to remember that over 104,000 planes take happy people (well as happy as you can be in a cramped airplane) from point A to point B every single day. What helps me most is looking at the businessmen and women down the row from me who have probably taken this flight a thousand and one times. They have no ounce of fear because to them this is just another part of their job, and you shouldn’t either. Just think about where you’re going, and how excited you are to get there. Better yet, just take a nap!

 

Don't Try and Fight Your Anxiety

If you’re much more severely afraid of flying, then it’s important to remember not to fight your anxiety, but to take a deep breath and let it pass. I know from experience that just telling yourself to just stop being anxious over and over again is a one way ticket to panicville. Instead try to separate your fear from danger. Remind yourself that anxiety is a perfectly natural response. Think about what is triggering you and remember that you are not in danger, your brain is just treating fear and danger in the same way.

 

Ask For Help

If you’re flying with a friend of loved one, let them know the best way to comfort you or help you if you get anxiety so that they know how to let you move past it. If you need to talk to someone, just give them forwarding that talking helps you get your mind off fear. If you’re flying alone, be sure to tell someone around you the same. People’s kindness and understanding will often surprise you. If you feel uncomfortable asking someone around you, alert the staff on the plane. Flight attendants have a lot of experience with people who suffer from flight anxiety, they will be glad help you through it.


Post-Travel Anxiety

Post-Travel anxiety is anxiety that hits you once you’re already traveling. This kind of anxiety can seem the most terrifying, and restricting. As someone who got a crazy case of this on a trip a few years back, it can be really difficult to deal with.

I’ll go into my post-travel anxiety story in much more depth in a future article, but to sum it up I was backpacking through Yosemite National Park, under-packed and under-prepared both mentally and physically. This set off a part in my brain that couldn't handle it. I handled the situation poorly and left rather than faced my fears. I still regret it to this day. Learn from my mistakes and don't let anxiety stop you from what you want to do.

 

BE Prepared

The best way to deal with post travel anxiety is to avoid it. If you’re the kind of person who is prone to this kind of anxiety, prepare yourself to avoid the triggers that set off your anxious mind. It's not always that easy though. Sometimes you don’t know what, if anything, will set you off, especially if you’re new to traveling. So here are some actions you can take while on the trip to help ease your worried head.

 

call a friend or family member who is good at soothing you

If you are having sudden anxiety, you can always try and call a loved one who knows you well. Vent to them, tell them what’s scaring you, or what’s getting you down. The most important thing is to just talk it out. Getting trapped in my own thoughts is the number one thing that causes my anxiety attacks, and sometimes just saying how you’re feeling out loud can convince you that your fears are unjustified.  

 

Remember that you are safe

Unless you’re traveling through uncharted areas of the Amazonian rain forest or the Australian Outback, you are probably in a place tht hundreds if not thousands of people travel to and from every month safe and sound. Hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions of people call these places home, and though it can seem scary and foreign to you, remember that everything is going to be alright. Remember that you can leave any time if you need. That doesn’t mean you should leave early at the first sign of distress, but remember you are safe and not trapped.

 

Don’t spread yourself thin

If you’re having anxiety, chances are you’ve taken off a bit more than you think you can chew. You don’t have to be the Bear Grylls of traveling, you can take it at your own leisurely speed.  Travel is supposed to be enjoyable. It’s not always about trying to suck the marrow out of life, and seeing everything you can as fast as you can. If you need a day or two to rest after a huge day of seeing the sights, don’t beat yourself up for it. You can always come back if you feel like you wanted to see more than you did. Honestly no matter how much you see, you will always want to see more! If you’re with people who are pushing you to do more than you think you can, remember that you’re in control of your life, not them. Only you know your limit and let them know that you would be more than happy to sit one day out while they continue onward, if you feel you need to. 


Learn by living

Honestly, the only real way to overcome travel anxiety is to travel more. Each time you do it, you’ll become more and more comfortable with traveling and all ofthe mental baggage that comes with it. There will always be scary parts of the journey, and the road will not always be paved ahead of you (both literally and figuratively), but you will always come home happy you did what you did. Travel is just that worth it. 

For additional help and reading