Travel Anxiety: Does It Get Easier?

Imperial Palace Kyoto

I threw up on the airport floor before my solo flight to Buenos Aires in 2017. I hadn’t slept more than half an hour the night before because I lay there, completely paralysed with travel anxiety and unable to even get out of bed. My brain kept telling me over and over that solo travel was going to disintegrate my long-distance relationship and leave me alone on the opposite side of the world, where no one would want to talk to me.

Anxiety usually manifests itself as extreme nausea in my body, which explains the vomiting on the airport floor. It was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life, as other passengers physically recoiled from me in the line to check-in, and I had to watch a complete stranger clean up my mess. In some ways it was a positive, because the humiliation distracted me from the strength of the travel anxiety, but I hope to never repeat the experience.

This wasn’t my first solo trip, not by a long shot. I travelled alone through Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand in 2013, and to Vietnam in 2016. I intellectually know that I am capable of travelling alone and meeting new people, but anxiety is not a rational beast.

A few readers have emailed me recently and asked how to overcome travel anxiety, and whether it gets easier. In all honesty, it hasn’t gone away for me, and I don’t anticipate that it ever fully will. I’ve taught myself strategies along the way so that I can cope more easily, but I think it’s unrealistic to expect the travel anxiety to leave completely.

Leaving is always scary.

Castle gardens in Kyoto

Rather than just a physical place, your home represents comfort, stability, and the familiar. Your brain craves stability subconsciously because it increases your likelihood of survival. Simply speaking, if your environment is well-known, easily controlled, and lacking in danger, then you are more likely to live longer. Leaving your comfort zone and travelling are exciting, but they are in direct contradiction to these natural desires. It’s normal to feel travel anxiety because you are stepping into the unknown, but you can’t let it rule your actions.

Interacting with strangers is difficult.

In this post  I talk about how I used to struggle with crippling social anxiety. I was terrified of talking to strangers and would hide in my room rather than socialise in a hostel. Over time, I developed confidence and taught myself skills for overcoming social anxiety. However, I have to use these skills constantly if I want to keep feeling confident. The longer I go without pushing myself socially, the more anxiety creeps back in.

Some people are naturally very extroverted and thrive off socialising with new people. If you are more introverted or struggle with social anxiety, you will need to continually practise approaching and talking to strangers. If you don’t travel solo for a while, then the travel anxiety will come back, although the levels are usually lower and more manageable with your strategies.

Travel anxiety must pass.

A view of a black and gold Japanese temple with white lanterns hanging off of it.

I used to struggle with insomnia and I experienced distress because, in the moment, I believed that it would never end and I would never fall asleep. I think that you can use the same mentality for anxiety, including travel anxiety. When you are experiencing it, you worry that the anxiety will never end. However, your body can’t physiologically sustain anxiety forever, and it’s important to remember that it will end.

“Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise”- Victor Hugo

In the meantime, you can reduce your travel anxiety by:

  • focusing on slowing your breath
  • focusing on bodily sensations (engage the five senses)
  • using self-soothing techniques 

Travel anxiety gets easier.

You may never fully shake off travel anxiety, but it’s important to remember that with time and practise, you can travel with more confidence and happiness. Continually practising techniques for overcoming social anxiety and forcing yourself to face your fears will gradually reduce the strength of your anxious feelings. You will learn proficiency in anxiety management and with each new situation, you will feel more capable of proceeding.

Solo travel is well worth the investment, and will help you to gain confidence and greater purpose in your life. Anxiety may still take over your body sometimes, but you have the power to overcome it.

 

Do you struggle with travel anxiety? Has it lessened over time? 

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Comments

    • Sab
    • January 20, 2018
    Reply

    Thank you for sharing your story. I can relate to some stuff, especially when it comes to talking to strangers. Traveling alone is never easy, but I guess nothing is better for your personal growth than learning to be by yourself in a different culture. It can be very exciting, too.

      • Her Travel Therapy
      • January 23, 2018
      Reply

      I’ve learnt that a lot of important things in life are both terrifying and exciting!

  1. Reply

    Thank you for writing about a condition which so many travellers struggle with. I also believe that travel anxiety can get better over time as the right approach is taken and more confidence is gained, especially with solo travelling when you are so self-dependent!

      • Her Travel Therapy
      • January 23, 2018
      Reply

      Thanks 🙂

    • Sara
    • January 20, 2018
    Reply

    I have to admit I have suffered from anxiety, but never travel anxiety. Travel is my freedom. Being an introvert traveling solo is my happy place.

    How my life would be so different if I suffered from anxiety over travel. I can imagine it would be quite terrible to suffer from it.

    Glad you have learnt to deal with it.

      • Her Travel Therapy
      • January 23, 2018
      Reply

      Thank you!

  2. Reply

    What a heartfelt and difficult post. I know a lot of people that suffer from anxiety issues, but don’t suffer myself. It is always eye-opening and enlightening to learn what others are going through, and helps me be a better friend. I have heard about concentrating on your 5 senses – just giving you something to concentrate and ground you. Well done for having those coping mechanisms in place!

      • Her Travel Therapy
      • January 23, 2018
      Reply

      Focusing on sensory experiences is really important because it allows you to get outside of your brain for a moment. Thanks!

    • Dany
    • January 21, 2018
    Reply

    I do get this kind of anxiety when I travel without my husband. Not enough to throw up at the airport but almost. Mine is mostly because I suffer with asthma and I’m terrified to feel unwell when I’m alone. I’m hoping it gets a bit better for me too!

      • Her Travel Therapy
      • January 23, 2018
      Reply

      It’s scary to travel alone when you also have a medical condition, because you know you will have to rely on yourself if something goes wrong. I believe it will get easier for you over time 🙂

  3. Reply

    I can imagine how difficult it is when the person inside wants to be out traveling, exploring etc, but the anxiety appears every time. Thankyou for sharing such an honest post – I’m glad to hear that you’ve developed strategies for helping yourself through the really bad days – I think in this situation that acknowledgement that it may be something which never shakes, but realizing that time, practice, and strategies will help take control of it, is the biggest thing to continuing with life.

      • Her Travel Therapy
      • January 23, 2018
      Reply

      I think it’s easy to become discouraged when you expect it to just go away, because that’s not a realistic goal. Acknowledging that it’s something you will have to deal with to some extent is half of the problem.

  4. Reply

    I have friends that suffer from anxiety and it can be so difficult. It’s really good that you’ve developed strategies to help you cope, especially when you’re away from home and the unfamiliar can put any of us at unease. Good for you to step so far out of your comfort zone and travel at all. Some people would just stay home out of the fear of it all.

      • Her Travel Therapy
      • January 23, 2018
      Reply

      Fear definitely stops people from getting outside of their comfort zone, which is a shame, because it’s a real space for growth.

    • Lucy
    • January 23, 2018
    Reply

    It must have taken a lot to write this article, thank you for sharing as anxiety effects so many people and many people do not like to talk about it. I have anxiety and I try to tame it. I really felt for you when you said you threw up at the airport, it must have been a big build up. I try to count in my head when travelling and use rescue remedy drops.

  5. Reply

    Thanks for sharing your story and experience. Travel for me is exhilarating. I look forward to meeting new people and discovering a new part of the world. I’m glad to read in your case that you have found some coping mechanisms. As you say, the anxiety must pass…and it does!

  6. Reply

    I never experienced something like this before so it is difficult to give you my opinion. Does travel compensate your travel anxiety? I don’t know, if I would suffer from travel anxiety I would probably not enjoy traveling because the cons look heavier than the pros. Hope all this lasted just a couple of days and in the end, you enjoyed your trip.

      • Her Travel Therapy
      • January 24, 2018
      Reply

      The thing about living with mental illness is that most things are initially difficult and then they get better. The travel anxiety usually only lasts for a few days, but sometimes it comes back at points on longer trips. Overall it improves my life to travel and I don’t want to let anxiety rule me.

  7. Reply

    This post was an exceptional read and I completely relate to it. Travel anxiety is something everyone experiences and the most difficult for me is leaving a place.

      • Her Travel Therapy
      • February 7, 2018
      Reply

      Thank you!

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