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Anxiety comes in all forms, and according to Healthline.com, anxiety about travelling can cause a great deal of stress, causing some people to even cancel holidays. While this may seem extreme to some, it can often just start because of a minor everyday experience and something as simple as a delay, food poisoning and not meeting our expectations. Negative associations can develop over time and in ways that start small and suddenly become big issues. I struggle with travel anxiety and not just the usual fear of flying; I actually get anxious about being away from home, the journey, the weather (you don’t have to say it, I know) and smaller things like leaving things behind. It made me think about my own anxiety surrounding travel and what I’ve learnt about travelling with anxiety.

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I will share some of the main causes of anxiety about travelling, common triggers, tips and treatments to help you overcome it.

It wasn’t always like this

The first time I really discovered a love for travel, I was 11, and my Dad and step-mum took me and my brother (then 9) to Ibiza. I’d never been on an aeroplane and I’d only ever been on the ferry to France a year or so before. Suddenly there was this whole new world to explore, and the thing that always (still does) blow my mind is that it was nothing like home. My home was still there, but I was eating breakfast in a different world to what I was used to.

Man Sitting Beside Black Backpack Near Railway
Photo by Porapak Apichodilok from Pexels

I knew then that travel was going to be an important part of my life, the wide-eyed dreams of an 11-year-old were something to aspire to. I have been lucky enough to travel to Majorca (x3), Belgium, France (x5) and Cyprus and apart from an awful travel experience in Cyprus we did pretty well, but in 15 years we’ve barely left the UK.

The Curse of Anxiety

Homeownership, kids, and extra financial burdens of a special needs child have meant that our priorities had to shift. We didn’t have the spare income to book a family holiday to Spain. Instead, we opted for cheaper staycations. However, looking back, we probably could have got a better deal aboard, we live an expensive country! We’d load the car and spend a quick weekend away in Cornwall, in a Premier Inn with no luxury but can’t knock the amazing breakfast. However, it never felt like a holiday.

A lot of anxiety is being away from home, having a child with any kind of additional needs means that we have to consider his needs before our own. Our son has epilepsy, and when he was younger, we had cluster days and scary absences. So we need familiarity. Perhaps in a way, my anxiety stems more from his disabilities than the actual travel itself.

Everyone will experience anxiety differently; anxiety related to travel can be caused by many different reasons but and can cause many if not all the following symptoms:

  • Trouble sleeping or insomnia
  • Nausea or diarrhoea
  • Restlessness or agitation
  • Trouble focusing
  • In extreme cases rapid heart rate, chest pain and difficulty breathing

I can honestly say that trouble sleeping, nausea and agitation are the top three for me and at times can feel overwhelming. On the other end of the scale my best friend has been known to become so overwhelmed that she has had panic attacks before a flight but how do you really know that what you are feeling isn’t excitement about your pending trip? How can you tell if what you are feeling is actually anxiety?

Causes of Travel Anxiety

We live in a social media age, where news is at our fingertips, or we can use a search engine to bring up a whole list of information (yes, I use google). As I mentioned initially, negative associations with travelling can develop without you even being aware that it’s become a bigger problem.

My husband has never been a keen flyer; it took me nearly four years to convince him in our early 20’s, including one cancelled trip before I got him on a plane and this was after 9/11 but with the increase in social media, it wasn’t hard to find information on the bad stuff and not just planes, terror attacks and extreme weather. I don’t want to go into details with regard to his fears as I don’t want to trigger anyone.

Photo of Woman Standing Near Glass Wall at airport
Photo by Palu Malerba from Pexels

The other barrier we have is our son, he has cerebral palsy, epilepsy and significant learning difficulties that are similar to autism and affect his behaviour. I have nightmares of the aeroplane door closing and him having a meltdown for the whole flight, with annoyed onlookers wondering why the hell we bothered! So we’ve only ever travelled by car and the Eurostar, which was interesting enough.

So as you can tell our anxiety as a family isn’t necessarily the travel itself but how our son will react and at 15,000ft, that’s a scary place to be. However, there have been reports from biomedcentral that have found strong genetic links with developing anxiety, so perhaps we have always destined to be anxious about travelling. Still, some tips and tricks can help you feel less anxious.

Tips to Overcome Travelling with Anxiety

Before thinking about how you can overcome travelling with anxiety, we should first look at the triggers. If you are aware of when things start to become too much, you can find a solution. For example, if your anxiety begins with packing or arriving at the airport, find solutions to ease that growing feeling.

However, sometimes we can feel increased excitement about a nearing trip and allow other influences to take hold, like lack of sleep, not eating properly and drinking too much alcohol (not the best idea before a flight)

Silver Camera Near Black Coffee in Mug, Silver Samsung Galaxy S7, Turkey Passport, and Black Earbuds
Photo by Ekrulila from Pexels

Plan and Be Prepared

When we make our travel plans, it can be an exciting time, from booking hotels, flights, excursions and even airport parking and as I have said many a time, I am a planner. I am certainly not a see how it goes type of person when it comes to my travel plans. A little preparation can go a long way to ease anxiety. Always plan for the worst-case scenario.

  1. Money – Always have more than one version of currency, so two different cards, cash and a way of transferring or adding funds if need be and don’t forget to tell your bank where you will be visiting and when so they don’t block your card!
  2. Insurance – It can be the last thing you think about when really it should be the first before you part with any money or book a trip in case the company goes bust or pandemics take over the world, you should have enough cover in place and make sure you tell them if you have any health conditions, so they are covered. Staysure also includes Covid-19 cover at no extra cost.
  3. Leaving your house unoccupied – It can be hard to leave the security of home behind, with a little planning you could ask a friend to house-sit, have a family member check on the house a couple of times, warn a neighbour that you will be away and with added technology you can have inbuilt security systems that can ease your mind.
  4. Travel documents – The biggest stress can be keeping a tab on the travel documents, even with most tickets virtually on our phones, I have had moments when apps don’t load, or there is no internet to bring up emails and its added to the stress when there is a line of people behind you. I suggest purchasing a travel wallet as I did, to keep all the family passports, print outs of tickets, boarding passes and confirmations incase of technology failings. This can also include any important document you need like fast passes (Disney World). That way, you know exactly where everything is.

Distractions

It can be hard with so much going on to relax, airports are busy and congested places, and at the best of times, it can be hard to find a quiet space. However, Gatwick airport was the first one in the UK to include a sensory room which can be booked if you are departing from the North Terminal. They also offer further assistance should you need support during your visit.

Airports are also great with the additional benefit of lounges; these are chargeable per person but could be the difference between sitting in the centre of the departures lounge to reading a book in a quiet area.

My favourite distraction has always been listening to music, more so than watching a movie, but I have included a few ideas for lowering your anxiety when travelling:

  1. Reading
  2. Movies & TV
  3. Video Games
  4. Listen to music
  5. Puzzles

Distractions that you enjoy are more likely to calm you when negative thoughts or feelings start to be triggered. Whatever your distraction, make sure you have plenty for the hours you may need and that if batteries or chargers are required you pack them in your hand luggage.

Person Holding Smartphone Riding Airplane
Photo by Jason Toevs from Pexels

Relaxation Techniques

Anxiety and stress can often be increased by travel anticipation, but with a few simple techniques practised beforehand, it could help when things become a little too much.

  1. Mediation
  2. Deep breathing techniques
  3. Visualisation
  4. Memory games

Practising these relaxation techniques in the weeks before you travel could help you learn to keep your uncomfortable thoughts at bay and with regular practice, find ways to keep your symptoms under control.

Travel with a Confident Traveller or Friend

Travelling with a trusted friend, companion or family member could help to ease the anxiety of travelling alone if that is your biggest trigger. They should be able to put you at ease, offer you support if you start to feel anxious and help you with your sense of security.

Medication

Like my friend, no amount of relaxation techniques, planning and distractions are enough. Even discussing her concerns with her doctor didn’t ease her anxiety, and she found the medication had a limited affected, but for some, this could be the only option.

For the extreme cases, Doctors will prescribe benzodiazepine, but this is only after trying other options first as it can cause bad after-effects and can become addictive, so it is only used for a short time. Any concerns you have, you should discuss with your Doctor.

Travelling with Anxiety Shouldn’t Stop you experiencing life

For many years my husband has put many barriers in front of us travelling, mainly due to his own anxiety. Blaming anything he can for why we can’t leave the country and that’s okay, I understand and appreciate that it will take time for him to feel comfortable travelling again but if like him you do suffer from travel anxiety, often the best solution isn’t to give up and never travel. Parenting is a struggle at the best of times, without adding anxious travel into the mix. It’s to start with short trips closer to home and build your confidence from there.

Booking a trip should be exciting! I love scrolling through the internet at the beautiful places I can’t wait to visit (I will eventually). Still, you also shouldn’t feel pressured to fly long haul if you struggle with spending at least 9 – 10 hours on a plane but if you turn that negative thought into what you can achieve when you get there, whether it be seeing your best friend you haven’t seen in 10 years or your parents who moved to Spain when they retired. Being a little mindful before you book can go along way into making it a successful trip.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

Anxiety when travelling can be challenging, but it shouldn’t hold you back from having a fulfilling life. I hope that after reading my tips and with careful preparation and practice, you will be able to travel and enjoy some amazing times without anxiety taking over.

So when’s your next trip? Let me know in the comments below if you suffer from anxiety when travelling? Have you found something that works, or do you struggle along?

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22 Comments

  1. Really great post and some lovely tips here! It was so nice reading about your experience of travelling and coping with it. I used to be a terrible flyer but over the years grew to love it and now travel is my biggest passion x

    1. Thank you, Della, travel is definitely a big passion of mine. Need to build my husband’s confidence in general travel before getting him on a plane!

  2. I don’t suffer with travel/flight anxiety, but my partner does and this is so helpful! Thanks for sharing! And fingers crossed we can get out more in 2021…

    Katie | katieemmabeauty.com

  3. These are fabulous tips for reducing/eliminating anxiety. Anxiety can really catch you in the worst moments and these tips will most definitely help us be better prepared for them

    1. I always wanted to do the travelling thing when I was 18 but stupidly didn’t but I plan to visit so many countries if I can. We have such a beautiful world to explore. I so glad you found the courage at 18!

    1. Thank you for sharing what helps you with your anxiety. Insomnia while travelling is so common, I can’t seem to sleep on planes, too much going on and noise. I may need to consider ear plugs!

  4. I use to get so anxious when I travelled, but I’m much better these days- or at least I was before the pandemic hit! I hope I can maintain the confidence I’ve built, but these are fantastic tips for when people begin travelling again x

  5. Aw, this is a lovely post! I remember taking my honeymoon in Mexico a few years back and it was honestly the first time I travelled without my parents and I had a lot of anxiety. I was uneasy basically the week before and especially the day of. It’s so odd to get out of my comfort zone. I was planning a big Asia trip last year but it’s been postponed so hopefully in 2022! This year I plan to stay local 🙂

    http://www.lynnmumbingmejia.com

    1. Thank you, Lynn, for your lovely reply. My first trip was Majorca, and I deliberately chose somewhere I’d been with my family for the security, but it was still eye-opening. I’m sorry your trip to Asia got postponed but better to go when you can have a better time without restrictions. This year, we are staying close to home. Had a Disneyland Paris trip planned (not booked) but now the end of 2022. I don’t want to meet Mickey wearing a mask. 🙂

  6. This is a fantastic post, one of the best I’ve read on anxiety. I used to have great anxiety when travelling and turned to meditation as I couldn’t sleep for days before I was due to fly. Great advice. Thank you for sharing this ❤️

  7. Great post. After being a traveling consultant, you would think I’d be a pro, but I am a mess until I get on the plane because I’m so anxious about missing my flight! (It’s not like I haven’t missed a few before and been just fine…😂)

  8. […] While the pandemic has taken its toll on every single industry, hotels (and hospitality and tourism in general) have been in a strange position of lengthy closures and reopenings with drastic changes to services. Plus, in this time of health precautions we’ve taken to keep our families and communities safe, so much of what we associate with staying in a hotel (breakfast buffets, swimming, socialising) raises confusing ‘what ifs’ and might even be causing some anxiety. […]

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