11 Tips to Overcome Travel Anxiety

Have you ever experienced travel anxiety before heading out on your vacation? Got a mental checklist of all you need to do before you leave that's keeping you up all night?

You're not alone. Here are some tips for travel anxiety to help you manage and get you off on your vaca with less stress.

Travel Anxiety Tips - airplane flying

Is that mental checklist of all the things you need to do before you leave keeping you up at night?

Vacation anxiety is real since there are so many details to think about.

You also know that I will most likely NOT sleep well, have allergies to deal with (think down pillows and comforters, air fresheners and dryer sheets on linens, etc.) and more.

If you're on a special diet, there's also wondering what on earth you will eat while you're away from your special-diet-stocked pantry.

YIKES! It's enough to make one never want to travel again!!

There are a lot of ways anxiety can creep in and steal the joy from your travels if you don't know how to calm it.

Vacation Anxiety

Anxiety affects about 40 million adults in the United States every year. It’s common for people to feel anxiety when they step out of their comfort zone and do something new, even when that something is fun.

As excited as you are about your vacation, your brain can interpret these new places as a threat and that can lead to increased heart rate, nausea, sleep problems, and panic.

The reasons for having travel anxiety can be different for everyone an it can be sparked by any number of things such as:

  • Fear of flying
  • Fear of interstates/traffic
  • Dwelling on worst case scenarios
  • Missing the comforts of home
  • Worrying about car sickness/nausea
  • Not knowing what to expect
  • Worrying you won't sleep well
  • Concern about not feeling well. If you have chronic illness of any kind, traveling can be especially stressful.

When you're traveling with a family of kids there's the added burden of making sure everyone is safe and that your destination is kid-friendly

Following are some helpful tips I've learned over the years.

Travel Anxiety Tips - airplane flying

11 Travel Anxiety Tips

Mentally Prepare

Mentally preparing is a smart way to reduce anxiety and tell your brain that you're safe.

To set my mind at ease, I always research our destination a few weeks before we leave. This allows my brain to make thought patterns about our vacation and the area we will be staying.

Here are some ways you can mentally prepare to reduce travel anxiety:

  • Read reviews on the hotel/attractions
  • Add the destination to your weather app
  • Use Google Earth to get a visual of the area
  • Check Trip Advisor reviews (you might find some unexpected hidden gems!)
  • Familiarize yourself with the route you will take either by road or flight (you can even take a tour of the airport to reduce some of the unknowns.)
  • Take screenshots of directions or confirmation codes in case you lose internet on the trip.

Take time to mentally envision your trip. By mentally rehearsing the trip you might think of potential problems, and then you can deal with those issues before you leave.

For example, when imagining your stay and going to bed in the hotel, you remember that you will need down-free pillows, so you can call ahead and alert the hotel about your needs.

Physically Prepare

Food can have a huge impact on your mood and emotions. One study found that a long-term diet of unhealthy foods and sugar contributed to depression and anxiety. (source) By cutting out junk foods, sugar, and hydrogenated oils you can calm inflammation and your nervous system.

A study completed on medical students found that a diet of clean foods high in Omega-3s reduced anxiety rates. (source)

This post clearly shows how food affects behavior. Want better behaved kids while traveling? Feed them better food!

When we're traveling I make sure to pack healthy snacks like fresh fruits, vegetables, and lots of low-carb snacks as well (too many carbs can cause blood sugar swings), and bring lots of clean water for the trip. Staying hydrated is crucial for reducing stress on your body.

Some Healthy Snack Ideas:

Having fresh snacks in a cooler reduces the number of fast food stops, saves money, and keep the kids from getting restless.

  • Call ahead about provisions like fridge/restaurants/nearby grocery stores with healthy offerings
  • Inquire about bedding alternatives.

Some hotels are allergy-conscious. They have down alternatives available and will have linens that haven't been washed with fragrances, and you can typically request that your room not be sprayed with an air freshener.

I have personally had a pungent air freshener give me a migraine and ruin the day for our family while we were traveling. It only takes a few minutes for the fumes to do their damage.

If you know you are sensitive to these things, take time to call before you leave so you have peace of mind that things are taken care of.

Side note, if you are going to be going on a cruise, then these tips for staying healthy on a cruise should be a help with these issues and many more.

Calm Travel Anxiety with Herbs

Herbs are great natural anxiety remedies that can help calm you if you are really anxious before a flight or car ride. Using plant remedies is a smarter, safer choice than prescription anxiety meds which can leave you groggy and glazed over, or worse.

Kava Root

Kava is used to improve mood and reduce anxiety by stimulating the dopamine receptors in the brain. In a recent study, it was shown to be very effective for anxiety with minimal side effects. These results support Kava Root extract as an effective and safe alternative to antidepressants and tranquilizers in anxiety disorder without the tolerance problems associated with benzodiazepines. (source)

GABA

This amino acid slows down brain activity and keeps neurons from firing too quickly, which reduces racing thoughts and anxiety. Benzodiazepines work the same way but come with nasty side effects. You can find GABA at your health food store and it's a much safer alternative to prescriptions. You can buy it either in capsules or as a powder.

5-HTP

This is one of my personal favorite supplements for dealing with anxiety. I notice a difference within 10 minutes of taking this. 5-HTP is derived out of an amino acid that works to increase serotonin and regulate mood.

Kava produces a calming sensation since serotonin is that "feel good" neurotransmitter. A note of caution--don't take kava if you are already taking a prescription for anxiety or depression.

Make a Walk Out The Door Checklist

When we are driving down the interstate, I really don't want to wonder if I remembered to turn off the stove or lock the back door. Keep a checklist of vital things that you need to remember to do and tape it to the inside of the door you will leave from.

This habit does a ton to help with vacation stress.

Here are some things that might be on your list: 

  • Turn off the stove
  • Unplug unnecessary appliances
  • Lock all the doors and windows
  • Set the air conditioner
  • Bring phone chargers
  • Turn off lights
  • Pack Supplements
  • Check toilets/water faucets, etc. to make sure they are not running
  • Pack toothbrush, personal care items, white noise machine, sleep mask, mouthguards and retainers, etc.

Do a quick walkthrough of the important things you need to remember right before you drive away. No last minute worries about whether a window was left open or a toilet was left running!

Distract Yourself

Focus on Something Else

It's your brain's job to create chemicals based on what you are seeing and perceiving.

You choose what your brain focuses on by practicing and taking your thoughts captive.

When you feel fearful or anxious, choose to focus on something that tells your brain you're safe.

If you're dealing with anxiety in the car or plane, open up your phone and look at fun pictures or read a good book when you're dealing with anxiety.

Or close your eyes and think about what it feels like to stand on the beach to change your brain chemistry. Think about how the sand feels on your toes, the smell of the salt water, the waves crashing around your ankles.

Chew Chew Chew

Chewing gum can calm your nerves, because who bothers to chew gum while they are in danger? People typically don’t eat when they are being chased by a bear.

Eating and drinking tell your brain you are in a calm situation and safe.

Mental and physical distraction is a great way to force the brain to change directions and reduce travel anxiety.

Bring Your Essential Oils With You

Do certain smells trigger memories for you? Your brain remembers smells and their corresponding emotions.

When you're traveling, bring along your favorite essential oil. Choose an oil that you use during calm, happy times versus an oil that you bust out when people are sick. The smell of that oil reminds your brain of those calm emotions you felt at home.

This can reduce homesickness too, so it's great for kids to add a few drops of oil to their bedding when away from home.

Don't have a favorite oil? Lavender has been shown in multiple studies to reduce anxiety and calm the nervous system. (source)

Breathe Deep

When people are stressed they tend to take short, rapid breaths from their chest. Your brain then gets the signal to turn on the fight-or-flight mode and anxiety can spiral out of control quickly.

Deep breathing keeps your brain in a calm state and the nerves relaxed. You can do this literally anywhere and it's free!

Inhale deeply and slowly through your nose and let your stomach expand. Then exhale through your mouth and let your body relax and your shoulders drop.

Practice this in the car whenever you feel stressed. Just close your eyes and take several rounds of breaths in through your nose and out of your mouth. It does the job and this even works great for kids.

Smother Your Anxiety With a Weighted Blanket

Many people find help with travel anxiety using a weighted blanket. The weighted blanket puts deep touch pressure stimulation on nerves and helps produce serotonin and melatonin. Studies have shown that using a weighted blanket can reduce anxiety by as much as 63%. (source)

Use a weighted blanket in a car, on a flight, or in your hotel to help you get a good night’s sleep.

Having that added weight does wonder for my nerves. Note: choose a blanket that is about 10% of your body weight for best results.

Prepare Motion Sickness Remedies

When motion sickness hits, it can quickly take the joy out of your vacation.

I don't want to start a vacation someone having a belly ache, so here are my go-to remedies:

  • Peppermint oil has been shown to reduce nausea by 57% when inhaled. It's a great, smart choice for kids and very portable. Try adding a few drops (diluted) to the back of your neck and the bottoms of your feet.
  • Eat light if you know you will be taking a long car ride that could bring on nausea.
  • Ginger has been shown to reduce nausea--ginger essential oil is a super convenient option. (source)
  • Chamomile has been used to treat nausea, vomiting, motion sickness, indigestion, and general digestive upset. Use organic chamomile tea or chamomile tablets that dissolve right in your mouth. I used to buy chamomile tablets for our car rides. They do wonders for upset stomach and add are very calming. They're also great for morning sickness during those first few months of pregnancy.

Go With The Flow

When you're on vacation you may feel pressure to hit every destination and activity on your itinerary. Give yourself permission to change your mind or be ok with missing a few stops.

Your trip doesn't have to be perfect. Weather happens and plans change or maybe you just need some downtime.

The point is to spend time together and enjoy something new

Schedule some downtime and if you don't end up needing it, great! At least you know you have the time in case family nap time is needed or the kids want to chill for while.

Eat Some Pickles

A reader chimed in mentioning that pickles and cole slaw help with his anxiety and well, it's true! In this 1995 study, rats were shown to have a preference for salty water when stressed. So--pass the pickles, or the salty water, LOL!

Plan for After the Vacation

You need to plan for some relaxing after you get home from your vacation. Often, the best vacations can leave you the most exhausted.

Have you ever heard the term "I need a vacation from my vacation?"

Anyone vacationing with children knows that when you get home you have laundry, a trashed vehicle, and stacks of mail waiting. All you want to do is rest!

When you're planning your next vacation, schedule some downtime for when you get back to avoid the after-vacation overwhelm.

Conclusion

Even if you're prone to travel anxiety, there are things you can do to make your vacation as stress-free as possible.

Take time to review and plan, make lists, and prepare as many things as possible.

Every step will set your mind at ease more so that when you leave, you'll be able to really relax.

Hopefully these tips will help you embrace the moment and make plenty of memories instead of stress!

How about you? 
What tips have you found helpful for dealing with travel anxiety?

Amanda Patrick from Bliss Health Consulting

Amanda is a health coach and is passionate about healing from the inside out. She blogs at Bliss Health Coaching with a focus on the gut-brain connection and how it impacts our entire body. She loves using plants for health purposes and her love of research puts her in a position to help people feel alive and full of energy.

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12 Comments

  1. Hi,
    Pickles and Cole Slaw reduce anxiety,
    I always make it a point to eat 1 to 2 or sometimes 3 pickles before a job interview to get rid of anxiety,
    Pickles never failed to reduce/ take away my anxiety.

      1. Hi Adrienne,
        1 thing the Salt rat study left out or didn't mention is :
        Rats and humans Sweat , the rats are more Salt when Exposed to other male rats to cover up the easily detectable sweat that comes from nevoursness.
        When I was a real small little kid a brother's friend brought over baby mice just born in summer and you could see them sweating from heat, and lack of food from it's mother,
        He got the baby rats back to the mother rat for feeding and the more they ate the less they sweated.
        It was Kool to watch being a little kid, before this I mostly saw cats chase and kill mice and also seen mother cat's teach their young how to catch mice, that's Kool too to watch also

  2. I like to use Lavender and a blend called Peace and Calming by Young Living when I am traveling. Great tips! I do call ahead and ask hotels for feather free pillows, yet I do always have to check when we get there. They rarely remove them before we check in. Having healthy snacks is a great tip, especially when traveling with kids.

  3. Thank you very much for these helpful tips! I believe that anxiety is a serious problem nowadays. Indeed, a large number of my friends suffer from the fact that they have to leave their comfort zone, try something new and something to which they are not accustomed. The saddest thing is that some of my friends even get depressed. I work as a freelance writer and translator from Japanese. So I have the opportunity to travel a lot, because access to the Internet is all I need to work. I believe that traveling is a great way to deal with anxiety and depression, so I always try to take some of my friends on a trip. Thank you for this type of content, I am sure that this article motivates a large number of people!

    Sam. W.

  4. Thanks so much for all your tips! My 5 year old was terrified of flying when our holiday travels approached. I was concerned he might even freak out enough at the airport that they wouldn’t let us on the plane. What worked marvels was showing him kid-friendly YouTube videos ahead of time explaining the physics of how planes stay up in the sky. (Before watching, he was convinced it was purely a matter of luck). I also tried bringing lavender oil on board but it leaked everywhere... so my belongings smelled nice, but that was about it. For nausea like with motion sickness, the one thing that has worked for me really well is acupressure. I used to use acupressure wrist bands from the drugstore, but never liked how conspicuous they were, so I actually launched my own brand of acupressure jewelry for nausea (site name deleted from comment). I like to carry around a pair in my purse so I know they’re there the moment I need them.

    1. You are so welcome! Glad you have something that works well for you. Sorry but I deleted your company references b/c I don't allow people to use my platform to promote themselves.

  5. Hi Amanda, thanks for such a helpful article. I really have travel because obviously I have to leave the comfort of home. Also I become fearful about any accident may cause or any kind of mot so pleasant surprise.
    This article is really an ultimate guide everyone should follow. You literally mentioned everything you must do before travelling and during travelling. Again that s for the information.