Psychiatry / Travel

Coping With Travel Anxiety

{Miami Beach, Florida}

With the summer season fast approaching, many have upcoming plans for vacation, which may trigger high levels of anxiety related to travel.  Several of my patients request medications to alleviate anxiety to have on hand for their upcoming trips (mostly a small supply of anxiolytics such as benzodiazepines or sleep aids).  Though I travel often, I also experience feeling anxious with each trip and have a routine that I religiously perform a few days before in effort to minimize my anxiety.  My routine seems pretty standard to me, but I’ve traveled with several people who are either much more last-minute and disorganized or plan everything months in advance and arrive at the airport 2-3 hours early.  Long story short — everyone’s different, so find out which techniques/strategies work best for you.

In effort to find the most common causes of anxiety related to travel, I performed a literature search (the number of studies are limited and all of them pretty old before the year 2000) and discovered a research article titled “Anxiety and Health Problems Related to Air Travel,” a study led by Dr. Iain McIntosh which identified frequency of perceived anxiety at certain stages of travel and use of strategies to reduce the anxiety.  The results are summarized as follows:

  • Stages of air travel with highest frequency of perceived anxiety:
    • Take-off and landing
    • Flight delays
    • Customs and baggage reclaim
  • Strong relationship between overall anxiety and frequency of reported health problems
    • Women have slightly more health problems related to air travel than men
  • Most frequently used anxiety-reduction methods:
    • Alcohol use (one third of the surveyed participants)
    • Distraction or relaxation techniques
    • Doctor-prescribed or over-the-counter medication (5%)

Since I’m always on the lookout for resources to provide my patients, I found the following links useful:

And, in conclusion, I personally recommend the following techniques to make sure your anxiety doesn’t get the best of you:

  • Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to have the PERFECT trip.  I used to be guilty of this and would feel bummed if I forgot to do something on my “must-see/must-do” list.  Putting too much pressure on yourself creates more stress rather than being present and fully enjoying each moment of your vacation.
  • Take some time-out to re-energize yourself.  Especially to the introverts out there — visiting the most touristy places means LOTS of people and crowds, which can be manageable, yet in small doses.  If you find yourself feeling exhausted after being around hoards of people, then give yourself permission to take some time for a solo activity right after (ie, chill and watch tv or do some reading once you get back to your hotel, etc).

Thought of the Day:  Does travel make you anxious?  And if so, which strategies help relieve your anxiety/stress?

5 thoughts on “Coping With Travel Anxiety

  1. Wow! This was great to read and at the right moment! I suffer from severe anxiety disorder and bipolar 2 and will be taking my son on a cruise in September for his 18th birthday/Graduation. I’m getting more and more nervous. We are not flying anywhere but still it was nice to read this 🙂 Thank you.

    • Wow, what a wonderful bday/grad gift for your son! Yes, most of the articles out there were on flying, but I think any form of travel is anxiety-provoking! My main goal of this post was to normalize & validate the experience of anxiety that comes with travel, so I’m glad u could relate! Enjoy your trip 🙂

  2. How refreshing! I have never read a publication on travel anxiety, so I found this very enlightening and validating; Thank You :)! I experience travel anxiety during the times you summarized in the research findings: during take offs & landings, and I also have a health concern of getting air sick (I get motion sickness) so I take Dramamine, which helps me sleep through most of a flight, which helps 😉 I also experience anxiety during turbulence, not fun 😦 Any suggestions on what to do if the anxiety is partly caused by the worry of getting sick on the plane? I don’t fly much, but when I do, I’ll keep in mind your tips, along with your helpful links! Thank You for the resources on this topic!

    • Ahh yes, i’ve taken that med for cruises..has been a lifesaver. as for suggestions to help the fear of getting sick on the plane, the range can be anything from meditation, distraction, cognitive behavioral therapy, to meds if the worry is uncontrollable and impairing. A few of the links mention meditation and distraction tips 🙂 and if non-med approaches don’t work, then i rec making an appt with your doc!

  3. Oh, I wish that you were my doctor in April, when I went to Okinawa. I injured my hip-the muscles and tendons, and the first available appointment. was after I returned from Japan. Early on, I was given Prednisone. I was like a very emotional and cranky pregnant woman, crying, snarky, unhappy. I told my PCP that it took 3 days before it started kicking in. . I asked for something that would quickly kill pain-help me to sleep on the 30 hour trip-one way. I told her that I was using wheelchair service, because of my hip. She prescribed Prednisone. I told her that it takes 3 days to work- could I have 2 pills- just two? .

    My brother spent a solid 24 hours at the Naha airport, and I still didn’t show up. In this electronic era, my family couldn’t find me and the other 200 passengers. A 30 hour trip took about 50 hours.

    West of the Aleutian Islands, I tried to stand up, so I could go to the aisle and scream, “Let me out! I can’t take it anymore. Open that door!’ Then I thought that we’d be diverted to Siberia, so I sank into my seat.

    I’ve had accidents, where I ended up in the ER, and they wouldn’t give me anything. I had to spit all over an exam room to show that I didn’t have dry mouth-I had strep for 5 months. Then they wonder why I had excessive Urgent Care, primary care, and ER visits.

    I made an appointment wit a behaviorist. I had great problems because my thyroid wasn’t being managed, and I was called non-compliant. He went over my records of mismanaged care. He told me if I had a problem-see him.

    You gave me a new idea for travel if pain is a factor–I’ll say, I’m anxious and scared after my plane got lost-and they pushed us out in Tokyo rain without any transfers or a place to sleep. I wheeled down a manager and politely explained the situation 3 times. We all showed him our itineraries that we missed transfers to most of Asia and Bali too. We also got a nice hotel and FOOD!

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