Medically reviewed by Dr. Neil Slabbert, World Travel Protection’s Regional Chief Medical Officer
There’s a lot to love about travel: Discovering foreign countries, experiencing different cultures, embarking on new adventures, taking a break from your everyday life, and stepping out of your comfort zone are all part of the thrill.
However, all these new experiences can sometimes leave you feeling overwhelmed, and you might find yourself feeling anxiety about traveling, worry about scenarios both in and outside of your control before you’ve even left home.
“From navigating the barrage of security, customs, and passport control at the airport, to the stresses of a cramped plane and unfamiliar environments on landing, there are many stress points for travelers,” explains Emma-Louise Robertson, Registered Nurse and Medical Assistance Team Leader at World Travel Protection, our travel assistance provider.
But don’t let the fear of travel put you off embarking on a wonderful adventure. Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or yet to get your first passport stamp, our helpful guide can show you how to help travel anxiety by helping you understand why anxiety about traveling occurs and helping you understand how to manage this yourself before your next trip.
What is anxiety?
Generalized anxiety is a common mental health condition that can affect the way you think, feel, and behave. “Often related to an event with an uncertain outcome, anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or apprehension, which is the body's physical response to a threat or perceived threat,” explains Emma-Louise.
What is travel anxiety?
Travel anxiety is the feeling of fear or stress caused by travel. It may occur before traveling, during a trip, or after you’ve returned home. Even if you don’t have a history of anxiety or suffer from generalized anxiety, you may still find aspects of travel stressful and experience symptoms of travel anxiety.
What causes travel anxiety?
Travel involves a lot of unknown factors, which can lead to travel anxiety or people feeling anxious on vacation.
“Symptoms often worsen in uncertain situations — and traveling only exacerbates this,” notes Emma-Louise. “But it’s not only generalized anxiety sufferers who will notice increased levels of uneasiness when traveling — general travelers may experience anxiety, too.”
Emma-Louise says the causes of stress during travel can vary from person to person: “Being in a confined space on a plane, crowded airports, unfamiliar environments, or even traveling through non-English speaking countries where signage and communication may be difficult to understand are all potential stressors.”
Six common triggers of travel anxiety
Do you often feel anxiety about traveling? Be mindful of these top six triggers when it comes to traveling.
1. Vacation Planning
Give yourself enough time to plan the various elements of your trip so you’re less likely to feel overwhelmed or panicked when it’s time for takeoff.
2. Medical Emergencies
Before you leave home, research the local emergency number at your destination and locate the hospitals nearest to your accommodations.
3. Travel Incidents
Consider purchasing travel insurance as soon as you book any element of your vacation, as it can help ease financial stress should an unforeseen incident occur before or during your trip.
4. Lost Passport
It’s important to act quickly if you lose your passport while traveling. Before you leave home, take note of the phone number for the U.S. embassy nearest your destination on the U.S. Department of State website.
5. Flight Cancellations
Transportation disruptions may be out of your control, but arriving at your departure airport at least three hours before takeoff and allowing long connections times can help ease airport-related anxiety.
6. Language Barriers
Taking the time to learn common phrases and words in the local language of your destination will not only help ease travel fears, it will impress the locals, too.
How to identify travel anxiety
Everyone experiences stress or anxiety differently. However, there are some common signs to be aware of.
“People suffering from anxiety may notice physical symptoms, like nervousness or restlessness, feelings of panic or ‘impending doom,’ rapid breathing and pulse, difficulty focusing, and increased sweating,” Emma-Louise says.
Five common symptoms of travel anxiety
Feelings of uneasiness
Panic attacks (a sudden onset of intense fear or anxiety)
Rapid heart rate
“If you experience any of these symptoms that you cannot manage before leaving home, speak to your doctor,” Emma-Louise advises. “They will be able to provide expert medical advice and additional support if needed.”
If you’re already traveling and need medical assistance, contact your travel insurance provider’s emergency assistance number. Our Travelex policyholders can contact World Travel Protection, our travel assistance provider, 24/7.
Three stages when travel anxiety may occur
Travel anxiety can strike at any time during your trip — even in the early planning stage.
- Before you go on your trip
As you begin to research your intended destination, the sheer number of options, such as where to go, what to do, and the best places to stay — plus the logistics of getting from Point A to Point B — may be overwhelming and cause travel anxiety symptoms to arise.
- During your trip
There are many moments during your trip when you could feel anxiety on vacation. Regardless of how well you’ve prepared, things may not always go according to plan. Flights can get cancelled or rescheduled, you might miss your tour bus, or you may become unwell and unable to leave your hotel.
- After you return from your trip
You may be home safe and sound, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re immune from travel anxiety. Jet lag, returning to your regular routine, or dealing with the aftermath of things going wrong while traveling all can affect your mental health after returning from a vacation.
How to help travel anxiety
The good news is travel anxiety doesn’t have to get in the way of enjoying your trip.
“The key to reducing anxiety while traveling is spending time preparing for all eventualities,” Emma-Louise says. “Think of what could trigger your anxiety or cause nervousness about an upcoming journey, and write down a plan before your departure to better manage any triggers.”
If you’re feeling anxiety about traveling, try Emma-Louise’s expert tips:
Before you go:
Speak to your doctor or another suitable medical professional to discuss your symptoms and concerns.
Pack at least three days prior to your journey to reduce the dreaded rushed feeling of having forgotten something once you’ve left home.
Check the weather at your destination and your planned activities and make sure you’re organized and have packed accordingly.
Ensure you’re comfortable with the travel plans. For example, if you have a fear of flying, overland journeys or cruises may be a more enticing option for you and allow you to enjoy your adventure.
If you’re traveling away from loved ones, ensure they have a copy of your plans so they’re aware of travel times and where you will be.
Use a prebooked airport transfer service to reduce the stress of traveling to the airport.
Get familiar with your travel itinerary and know which airport terminal — and the check-in and boarding times — to make sure you can arrive at the gate in advance.
Have your full set of documents — passport, travel insurance policy, travel assistance provider contact numbers, credit cards, and copies of your vaccination record, if applicable — easily accessible.
Put medications in your carry-on with a doctor’s letter, and include written instructions, if necessary.
Pack activities to reduce stress (such as a puzzle book), and bring noise-reducing headphones to listen to podcasts, music, etc.
During your trip:
Keep hand sanitizer and/or bacterial wipes with you at all times, as well as a surgical mask if you wish.
Use a guided meditation app when feelings of anxiety start to arise.
Be mindful of your destination’s time zone, and try to sleep at the appropriate times to prevent jet lag.
Make your hotel room feel safer or more comfortable by playing calming music.
Stay in touch with friends and family back home to avoid feeling alone and isolated.
After you’ve returned:
Regulate your sleep to minimize jet lag and excessive fatigue.
Eat healthy foods to help ensure you stay well.
Try to return to your pre-travel activities within a realistic time frame — there’s no need to push yourself.
How we can help travelers with travel anxiety
Like generalized anxiety, travel anxiety can affect people in many ways. When you purchase a Travelex travel insurance policy, you get access to services from World Travel Protection, our 24/7 emergency assistance team.
Our plans don't provide financial coverage for any costs associated with anxiety-related incidents; however, as a Travelex policyholder, you can contact World Travel Protection at any time for nonfinancial anxiety-related support. (For example, if you need a medical referral to make an appointment with a doctor, psychiatrist, or other mental health specialist at your destination.)
“If you know travel might leave you feeling anxious — or if you suffer from generalized anxiety that can be exacerbated by travel — don’t forget to visit your doctor or local medical professional before traveling so you can talk through your symptoms and any concerns to help reduce any on-trip issues,” Emma-Louise says.
Ease your travel anxiety with travel insurance
While you can’t control all the variables that come with traveling, protecting your trip with travel insurance can give you extra peace of mind.
Get a quote online now to discover if our coverage provides the travel insurance you desire for your trip.
Material on this webpage is provided for informational purposes only and is correct at the time of writing on Feb. 14, 2023, but may change at any time or from time to time. It is general information only, and any discussion about medicine, health, and related subjects may not apply to you as an individual and is not a substitute for your own doctor’s medical care or advice. The words and other content provided on this website and in any linked materials are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. If the reader or any other person has a medical concern, they should consult with an appropriately licensed physician or other health care worker. Nothing contained on the website is intended to establish a physician-patient relationship, to replace the services of a trained physician or health care professional, or otherwise to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The views and opinions expressed on this website have no relation to those of any academic, hospital, practice, or other institution with which the authors are affiliated. Never disregard medical advice or delay seeking medical care because of something you have read on or accessed through this website. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or emergency services immediately.