Everything You Need to Know to Get Over Travel Anxiety

a woman exiting a plane

Travel anxiety is one of those things you likely don’t understand unless you have it—it runs the gamut from worrying about flying, fearing being far from home, feeling unsure of your trip, or even getting nervous post-vacation. Why does this happen? Well, it can be triggered by a bad personal experience or hearing others talk about theirs, or can come out of nowhere.

One friend deals with flight anxiety every time she boards a plane, but she still says her biggest joy is exploring faraway places. “It’s the most frustrating thing for me because I can’t stop it from happening—it’s like my body takes over and my heart can’t stop pounding and I’m convinced my plane is going to crash,” she says. “I think it would be a lot easier for me if not traveling was an option, but I love it too much.”

What I’ve personally found from experience is that travel anxiety doesn’t tend to be treated as something as serious as say, depression. “It bothers me when others tell me flying is so safe and treat it as just a fear,” my friend says. “I think people don’t mind criticizing people for anxiety about flying, but I don’t criticize people who have social anxiety.” Well, if you’re anything like my friend who deals with this type of anxiety during every trip, then the tips below are for you. Here are six ways anxious travelers calm their nerves. Try a few to see what does the trick.

Don't Stop Traveling

By not traveling, you’re actually telling yourself it’s something you cannot do. The best way to work on getting over your fear is by purchasing a ticket—this means unless you’re willing to forgo the money, you will be on your way in a few months (or weeks, depending on how far in advance you’re planning). By avoiding buying a ticket, you would be participating in something called “negative reinforcement,” which is basically telling yourself that the fear itself is bigger than you. If you’re driving somewhere, you can book the first night at a hotel to encourage yourself to get on your way.

Book a Trial Trip

If you feel that travel anxiety is really taking over, it may be best to have a trial trip where there is nothing at stake. This is a solo (or joint trip with an understanding friend or family member) in which you are going for the sole purpose of being comfortable with being away from home. Since you won’t be there for a wedding or a girls’ trip or something to that effect, you can take the time and really learn some coping mechanisms for when it all seems a bit too much.

Get Into a Routine

If your anxiety revolves around being away from home, forming some habits may help. Blogger and author Lauren Juliff says what’s helped her with her anxiety while traveling is creating a routine. This can be something as small as having the same thing for lunch each day, setting an alarm every morning at a consistent time, or always taking a calming bath at night. Additionally, give yourself plenty of time at the airport and know all the TSA rules to avoid adding on avoidable stressors, such as having to rush or needing to check items that aren't allowed through secturity. “It’s all about staying in control, and these small constants help with that,” she writes. No matter what unknowns may pop up, at least you’ll have these touchstones throughout the day to look forward to.

Find a Go-to Community

Whether your mom is on speed-dial or you text your S.O. every few hours, have someone you can rely on when things get tough. It can also help to connect with those who experience a similar type of anxiety. Juliff recommends an online community like No More Panic as a great way for you to chat with those who understand what you’re going through—and who may have some tricks for lessening your travel anxiety. (Plus, the internet tends to be much cheaper compared to phone calls while you’re away). “Integrate yourself into a community like this before you leave so that if anxiety does hit you when you’re on the road, you won’t feel like you’re struggling on your own,” Juliff writes.

Channel an Out-of-Body Experience

The friend I mentioned above recommended a book called SOAR: The Breakthrough Treatment for Fear of Flying, written by pilot and therapist Captain Tom Bunn. The book suggests that you can stop your body from producing stress hormones on a plane (or otherwise) by channeling an out-of-body experience that produces oxytocin, known as a “love hormone.” Some of the common things they say to bring to mind and focus on are: your first time breastfeeding, saying vows on your wedding day, a specific memory of your mom consoling you, and having sex with someone you loved for the first time. In order for this exercise to work, you really (really) have to teach yourself how to focus.

The Five Things Exercise

SOAR also suggests an exercise to combat travel anxiety in which you say five things that you see, five that you hear, and five that you feel. You then start counting down in order by repeating four of all three, three of all three, and so on. This enables you to take the focus off of whatever you are anxious about because you are too busy concentrating on thinking up things (and counting).

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