Mental Health Moments: How To Cope With Travel Anxiety

By Kaylin R. Staten

I thoroughly enjoy traveling. I’ve been blessed to travel to beautiful locations around the world, from my favorite city away from home, Paris, to my first tropical trip to Turks and Caicos on my honeymoon.

While traveling nurtures my adventurous spirit, it also elevates my anxious tendencies. I become antsy on the way to the destination. I usually cannot sleep in cars and on airplanes. In cars, I can’t relax by reading or looking down in any fashion because I have motion sickness. I use the bathroom at least 5,000 times before leaving and boarding an airplane or train. I overdo it with coffee, which makes me jittery and contributes to said trips to the restroom.

I’m also one of those people who become anxious until I get to my destination. If something doesn’t work out along the way, I want to curl up in the fetal position and allow someone else to figure out a solution. Alas, I can’t do that, so I face it head on. I may have tension in my neck and jaw, but darn it, I conquered anxiety in the moment!

Over time, I’ve learned to allow the anxiety to happen. After all, panic attacks do not last forever. If I just let one happen when it arises, then it will be over in 30 minutes or so. Of course, those with anxiety know this: sometimes, you don’t have the luxury to have a panic attack. You have to get through the action before you can decompress and allow anxiety (and relief!) take over. When you’re in a safe space, you can cope however you want.

Here are three ways you can cope with your travel anxiety:

Plan ahead.

As a master planner, I like to have my airplane tickets loaded onto my phone or printed before heading to the airport. I tentatively plan an itinerary so I have an idea if I can fit everything I want to see and do into the schedule. I try to give myself enough time to get from Point A to Point B during layovers so I’m not rushing. (Rushing and the fear of missing a flight or a scheduled event fuels the fires of my anxiety.) I take a few snacks to lessen the inevitable hangry episode. I also know I will have a panic or anxiety attack at least once en route to the destination, so I know and accept that up front. The more you resist the notion, the more anxious you will become. The more you plan ahead -- even if you are not normally a planner -- the better you will feel.

Bring comforting items.

Bring at least one thing that comforts you. It could be wearing your favorite necklace, sporting that new cell phone case or passport holder, placing a new travel sticker on your carry-on suitcase or looking at family photos on your phone. Having something from home will help you as you travel, whether you become anxious, homesick or a little bit of both. I also like to write as I wait for my next plane or as I am traveling. Writing eases my mind and allows me to mellow out a bit. I write about the destination and my excitement surrounding the sights I will experience. And a neck pillow is never a bad idea. If you’re taking a road trip, bring pillows, blankets, snacks and your favorite travel playlist. Listening to your favorite music helps tremendously!

Use affirmations and other relaxation methods.

When I am at my most anxious, one of my more successful methods is using affirmations. You can allow positivity to hamper a lot of anxiety by repeating affirmations to yourself -- or even saying them out loud if needed. Repeat things like, “Everything will be OK,” “[The destination] will be so awesome,” etc. Focus on what makes you relaxed, happy and optimistic. Turbulence makes me nervous, so I often have to use breathing exercises to calm myself down. For some reason, my brain reminds me of every movie involving a plane crash in this moment. I close my eyes and slowly breathe in and out. It sometimes takes several tries, but eventually, I do calm down. (It also helps when the plane lands, too.) If you’re the one in the driver’s seat, take your time. Plan ahead and do what makes you comfortable. If you like riding the middle lane on a bigger city’s freeway, do that! I get anxious with a lot of traffic, so do what helps you relax, whether it’s taking deep breaths, turning off the music (or keeping it on), not talking or whatever eases your anxious mind.

Please note: These blog posts are not clinical, although we will provide symptoms and other information. These posts are based on my experiences with anxiety and mental health in general.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit a website like Mental Health America to learn more.

Mental Health Moments blog posts are every other Tuesday of the month. Our CEO and contributors highlight what it's like to live with a mental health disorder and continue to fight the stigma through storytelling.


Kaylin R. Staten, APR, is an award-winning public relations practitioner and writer based in Huntington, WV with nearly 16 years of professional communications experience. As CEO and founder of Hourglass Media, she uses her compassionate spirit and expertise to delve into the heart of clients’ stories. She is a recovering perfectionist, mental health advocate, wife, cat mom and Leia Organa aficionado. Connect with Kaylin on LinkedIn.