What causes anxiety before traveling, and is it normal to feel fear before flying? Travel anxiety is caused by three main factors: 1) a personal disposition to nervousness (internal) ; 2) negative travel experiences in the past (external); and 3) news reports about traveling and flying (external).
The good news is that you can calm your travel anxieties no matter why you feel anxious before a trip. And overcoming fear may be easier than you think! Even if your anxiety is caused by scary news and problems at your destination — and even if you’ve had bad past travel experiences — you can calm yourself and even enjoy the trip. Here, you’ll find emotional support for calming fear and practical tips for overcoming anxiety while traveling.
I’m glad you’re here. Acknowledging your travel anxiety is a huge, important step toward calming it! Admitting that you feel anxious or even afraid means you have self-awareness and insight into your own emotions, thoughts, and attitudes. And, talking about your travel anxiety has a positive effect on the people around you. Contrary to what you might think, sharing how you feel and what you fear can reassure and calm people.
Here’s a recent example from my own life:
“I don’t know why I always get anxious before I travel,” my husband said as he rushed around, preparing to fly to Mexico for a work trip. The taxi cab was due any minute. “I always feel so nervous and jittery before I go anywhere.”
Hallelujah! I was so happy to hear my husband say this. We’ve been married for 15 years and we travel regularly, both separately and together. My husband is a geologist who travels several times a year for work. We drive through the Rockies twice a year to visit family in Alberta — a 14 hour road trip, on icy roads and through blizzards in the winter. We also go on vacations to places like Peru, Turkey, Jamaica and Portugal once a year (except for this year because of the travel ban).
Before every trip — whether it’s field work in Mexico, a European vacation, a Canadian road trip or even a ferry ride over to Vancouver Island in British Columbia — my husband gets a little irritable. Nervous. Jittery. Grouchy, even. I always suspected it was travel anxiety (though he doesn’t have a fear of flying), but didn’t want to say anything. So when my husband finally said he feels anxious before he travels, I was so proud of him! He recognized and admitted his travel anxiety.
And that, dear traveler, is the first and best step to overcoming anything.
How to Calm Travel Anxiety and Fear of Flying
How you cope with your fear depends on the reasons you are anxious. For example, if you’re genetically or personally predisposed to anxiety and nervousness, your solutions will be different than if you’re worried about the political, geographical, or medical situation at your destination. Traveling is unique for everyone, which means there are no “one size fits all” answers.
Generally, travel anxiety is caused by three main factors:
- A personal disposition to nervousness (internal)
- Negative travel experiences in the past (external)
- News reports about traveling and flying (external)
If, for instance, you’ve had bad past travel experiences, you’ll prepare for this trip in different ways than if you’re anxious by nature. You might start by reading Bad Vacation? 15 Easy Tips for Fixing Terrible Trips. :-)
If you’re anxious about a work trip because you’re giving a talk or presentation to colleagues who don’t speak your language, you’ll prepare differently than if you’re worried about what to pack for a beach resort vacation on your honeymoon.
1. Reflect on why you feel anxious about the trip (internal or external anxiety?)
Some nervous travelers find breath prayers and meditation effective. Other travelers have physical dispositions that increase the stress and anxiety hormones in their bodies, which means cognitive therapy or prescription medication (or a combination) might be most helpful. And still others find that simply saying “I often feel anxious when I travel. My fear and anxiety is just how my body and mind copes with the unknowns of traveling.”
2. Experiment with different ways to calm travel anxiety
There are dozens of ways to cope with anxiety; your job is to find what works for you.
Here’s what works for me: When I feel anxious, scared or irritated I breathe in the word “Yahweh.” I inhale on the Yah and exhale on the Weh. This immediately slows my heartbeat, drops my blood pressure, and calms my nerves. Breathing God in reminds me that this is all just temporary and unreal — the world, people, my fears and anxieties, my body and thoughts. It’s a fleeting moment. The only thing that matters is God’s presence. Breathing Yahweh calms me spiritually, emotionally, and physically.
3. Prepare before you go on vacation or leave on a work trip
The best time to practice overcoming fears and calming anxieties is before you leave home. It’s important to ingrain these practices and ideas when your brain is calm, your heartbeat slow and steady, and breathing is normal. Then when a travel anxiety attack hits, you don’t have to think or scramble for ways to calm your fears. Your body and mind will go into your default relaxed state, and you will be fine.
My most effective tip for calming your mind and body when you’re anxious about traveling is spiritual. Why? Because a healthy personal relationship with God is the most natural, beautiful and powerful way to travel through life. Feeling God’s presence is transformative and life-giving. God changes who you are — heart, spirit, soul, mind and body — which affects everything you do. And see. And think! And that’s what traveling in faith is all about.
4. Try these practical tips for calming travel anxiety
If your faith is shaky and your relationship with God rocky, you won’t travel the same way I do. That’s cool, I can dig it. Here are a few tips to reduce fear and anxiety for travelers who don’t find prayer effective.
Know that you are vulnerable anywhere. When I was 18, a guy broke into my apartment in the middle of the night and assaulted me. It was traumatic, but it taught me that I am not safe anywhere — not even my own bed in my own home at 3 am! I didn’t get paranoid; I got freed. After that I traveled alone to Egypt and Israel. I lived in Africa for three years. I traveled solo to Nepal, Dubai and Hong Kong. Bad things happen in the backyard, which means I don’t get anxious about traveling.
Believe that you are safe everywhere. In Are You Traveling Alone and Feel Homesick? I described how friendly, helpful and encouraging most people are to travelers. When I feel anxious, I’ll turn to someone nearby and ask what time it is. I might ask for directions even if I know exactly where the place is. I’m astounded at how friendly and helpful people are to me when I travel. I feel as safe on the metro in Dubai or Hong Kong as I do walking in my forest at home in Deep Cove.
Talk to a healthcare provider if you’re experiencing extreme travel anxiety and fear. In Rediscovering Joy When You’re Depressed After a Vacation a reader — a counselor — described the difference between major depression and the holiday blues. Depression is a serious emotional health issue that requires time and attention; the blues is a normal state of sadness after a great holiday. Talk to a doctor or health practitioner if your travel anxiety and fear of flying has a prolonged negative effect on your physical health, emotional state, relationships, and work.
Know thyself. What causes your anxiety before traveling? Is it normal for you to feel fear of flying? If travel fear and anxiety is new for you, consider what has changed in your life — or the world. Differentiate between what you can control (your response, thought patterns, attitude toward others, tone of voice) versus what you cannot control (the weather, flights, the situation at your destination, your family’s health, your pets).
The more self-aware you are, the easier it’ll be to find ways to calm travel anxiety that work for you. If you start practicing your methods early, you won’t just be prepared to for your trip…you’ll actually enjoy and be excited about traveling! Wouldn’t that be amazing?
Your thoughts, big and little, are welcome below. How do you calm the travel anxiety you feel? Do you have a fear of flying? If you have any tips or tools for travel that transforms you, please do share those. We love tips and tools :-)
Travel in faith, and be transformed.