woman in airport looking at flight schedule

Dealing with Travel Anxiety

 March 21, 2019

Do you suffer from travel anxiety? I suspect it is more common than I first thought. As I sat on my flight from LA to Detroit, I noticed a number of fellow travelers ordering drinks, two at a time. That’s one way of dealing with travel anxiety. Not how I handle travel anxiety, though.

I’m not sure if I have always experienced travel anxiety. If so, it never kept me from backpacking through Europe twice while in college, or traveling to the Dominican Republic two years later. Nor did it keep me from packing up my three kids when they were six and five (twins) and driving to Peoria, Illinois, to visit my sister and her family. I don’t know when it started. I just know that now, whenever I travel, especially to a new place, I experience travel anxiety.

What Is Travel Anxiety?

Travel anxiety consists of worries and fears over traveling to any destination. For me, it primarily occurs when I travel significant distances to places I’ve never been before. It entails fear of the unknown, as well as fear of the known dangers and challenges of travel.

Anxiety is free floating fear that is not attached to anything in particular. In the case of travel anxiety, it revolves around impending travel. It can be severe enough to keep sufferers from ever going beyond the boundaries of their home town, or milder, as in my case. Not enough to keep me traveling, just enough to make me uncomfortable weeks before the trip.

Traveling to Guatemala

For months before I went to Guatemala five years ago, I worried about the trip. I even hoped something would happen to keep me from going. It was not any clear fear attached to a particular event, such as flying. One way to deal with anxiety is to locate the fear and attach it to a particular thing which can then be dealt with, but with travel anxiety, this can be difficult.

If I allowed my mind to wonder, I could come up with multiple reasons for fear. What if the plane crashed or was high-jacked? Or what if something unthinkable happened while in this Central American country? There’s so much crime and violence in third world countries, would I be safe? Or what if I lost my passport? The fact that I was staying with a friend who was meeting me at the airport didn’t free me from worries. I found myself imagining something would happen to force me to forego the trip. If that was to happen, I would have been okay with that. It was in God’s hands, I told myself, and if God didn’t want me to go, that was okay.

When God didn’t do anything to keep me from going, I figured, go I must. Still I’d wake up in the middle of the night feeling afraid but with no clear object to attach to my fear. By the time of my departure, having worried about everything that could go wrong, I was calm and ready to make the journey.

Recognizing my Pattern

Because I know this is my pattern, I don’t interpret my anxiety as a premonition of something bad that is about to happen or a reason to not get on that flight or drive in that car. The more times I travel to the same place, the less my anxiety. This free-floating fear is replaced with understanding the realities and challenges of travel to that location. My trip to Ireland this past fall was my third one. I still worried about driving on the left-hand side of the road after being up all night on the flight over, but nowhere near as much as on my first trip there.

I worried about our trip to Belize this January. If we hadn’t bought the tickets months ahead of time, I probably never would have gone. I always worry about flying during the winter months, getting caught in a blizzard or freezing rain. We had no problems.

I’ve never been a fan of flying on small air planes. However, even though the last leg of our journey was a twelve-seater, not only did I not dread the flight, it was one of the highlights of the trip.

Travel to Australia

It was no surprise that I was hit by travel anxiety before my trip to Australia. I only had a few weeks to get ready, which shortened the amount of time I could worry, but worry I did. I woke up in the morning feeling fear related to the trip. But my daughter needed me so nothing short of a direct intervention by God would keep me from getting on that flight. The thought of fifteen hours squeezed into an airplane flying over the Pacific was not one that inspired confidence.

When I told others about my scheduled trip, their reaction was always, “how exciting.” I didn’t feel excitement at that time. There was a time, before the travel anxiety set in, that I was excited, and I knew there would be such a time again, once I got through it.

Dealing with Travel Anxiety

So how do I deal with my travel anxiety?

First – I recognize it for what it is. I know this is just how I deal with travel and that it will pass. It is not a reason for me to cancel a trip or refuse to plan a trip.

Second – as much as possible, I try to assign specific reasons for my fears. Is it fear of flying? Fear of travel in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language? Or fear of being caught in a blizzard or stranded in an airport? Or of being sick away from home?

Rationally Address Fears

Third – Once I assign reason for my fear, I rationally address those fears. As far as planes crashing, I remind myself that plane flight is safer than car travel. I’m more likely to get in a car crash within fifty miles of home than I am to be in a plane crash.

One of the realities of getting older is we are far too aware of all of the negative events that can happen during a life time. However, all of those things are not going to happen to us. We will only get our share of the negatives, not everyone.

Not everyone loses a loved one in a car crash or airplane crash. Some people do, but most don’t. Not everyone experiences injuries, illness or thefts while traveling. Some people do, most don’t. Will things go wrong? Of course. There will be minor mishaps and inconveniences. These happen to everyone. But in the larger scheme of life, they are insignificant, like being assigned a seat by the toilets on a plane, or next to a crying baby. Annoying, but manageable.

This helps me. The problem is there are so many things that could go wrong when you travel that can’t be pinpointed and rationally dealt with. I do the best I can. Anxiety is irrational and thus can be refuted when you pinpoint the issue. With travel anxiety, it is harder to do this.

Fourth – after that I push through, reminding myself that this is just me, just what I do.

Fifth – I put my trust in God to get me through whatever may happen.

By the time I left for Australia, I was relaxed, even about the long flight with a toddler. Others had done such trips, why can’t I? And now, after making the flight to and from Australia, the six hour flight to Ireland seems like nothing.

Making our Final Journey

And I wonder. When it comes time for me to travel to my final destination, will I experience travel anxiety as well? If so, I hope my experiences with dealing with travel anxiety thus far, will help me on this journey. What’s even more, I hope that I will have lived my life in a way that the journey will not seem so foreign. I’ll continue on, knowing loved ones await me at the end of my journey.

What about you? Do you experience travel anxiety? How do you handle it?

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