What to Know About Travel Anxiety

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on February 27, 2024
3 min read

Anxiety is the feeling of fear that develops when your body responds to stress. It’s characterized by worry, tension, and increased blood pressure. Some 19% of people in the U.S. have an anxiety disorder.

Travel anxiety is the fear of visiting an unfamiliar place. It can also involve the stress that comes with planning your travels. Even if you have no history of anxiety, the idea of being outside familiar territory can throw you into panic mode.

While it's normal to feel uncertain about visiting new places, travel anxiety can become serious. It can stop you from enjoying vacations and add stress to your life.

There's no one cause of travel anxiety, and the triggers differ from person to person. Some people have travel anxiety their entire lives. You might get it after having a bad experience related to travel. Or you might have it for no reason at all.

Some common causes of travel anxiety include:

Fear of flying. One of the most common issues in people who have travel anxiety is the fear of flying. This fear might be triggered by:

  • Air turbulence
  • Takeoff and landing
  • The idea of flying miles above the ground
  • Fears of crashing
  • Feelings of claustrophobia

You can have these feelings even when you know air travel is statistically safe.

Being outside your comfort zone. Do you ever feel uncomfortable when you’re away from home? A severe version of this is called agoraphobia, or the fear of public places. This fear has become more common since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Horror travel stories. Hearing too much bad news about crimes and injuries that happen to people while they travel can affect your psychological well-being. You may start to associate travel with tragedy.

Mid-trip concerns. You may not have anxiety before you travel, but it can catch up with you once you’re on the road. You might worry about:

  • The details of your accommodations once you arrive
  • The discomfort of being in an unfamiliar place, including not knowing the language or people in the area
  • The effects of jetlag
  • How to get to places you need to visit, like supermarkets or shopping malls
  • Not having enough money to last through the trip

Your genes and your brains. Scientists have established a link between genetics and anxiety in young adulthood and beyond. Research has also found that people with anxiety disorders have changes in some parts of their brain.

To help yourself manage travel anxiety:

Identify your triggers. Triggers are things that start or increase your anxiety. They include fear of being in a new place, the stress of planning, or physical things like fatigue or low blood sugar.

Plan well. If you get travel anxiety because you worry about what will happen, create a battle plan:

  • Make sure you have enough money. Have a friend you can contact in an emergency.
  • Keep a map or guidebook in your bag or on your phone
  • Buy travel or health insurance before you leave
  • Before you leave, research places you can get health services if you need them
  • Plan for people or services to cover your responsibilities at home while away

Practice relaxation. Teach yourself relaxation techniques and do them before and during your trips. Mindful meditation helps you relax and see the positive side of things. Breathing deeply and relaxing your muscles can also help.

Bring along some distractions. Do you like playing online games, reading novels, or listening to music? Enjoying a favorite activity as you travel can reduce the symptoms of anxiety. These distractions will keep your mind off the things that stress you out.

Also, consider seeing a therapist. They can recommend effective ways for you to deal with your anxiety. A doctor or psychiatrist can also prescribe medication to ease your symptoms.