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How to Cope With Travel Anxiety This Summer as COVID Restrictions Loosen

travel anxiety illustration

Verywell / Nez Riaz

Key Takeaways

  • More than two-thirds of Americans plan to take a vacation this summer, but travel anxiety is making some people hesitant to book a trip.
  • Setting healthy boundaries with friends and family can help you feel less pressured to travel before you’re ready.
  • Experts also recommend learning your triggers, creating a list of things within your control, and packing support tools to cope with travel anxiety.

With pandemic-era restrictions easing up and newly vaccinated people eager to take a long-overdue vacation, travel is expected to surge this summer. In a recent survey of 2,500 Americans, 67% say they’re planning a summer getaway.

But while the mood in the travel industry is optimistic, not everyone is eager to take a trip. Travel anxiety is making many people hesitant to book that first flight, despite pressure from family and friends to get together in far-flung destinations.

Therapists say it’s understandable to feel some apprehension about jumping on a plane after a year stuck at home, filled with uncertainty. Fortunately, there are ways to address anxiety and feel better about jet-setting—when you’re ready.

Here’s why travel anxiety may be on the rise, and how to cope with it as COVID restrictions loosen and life returns to normal.

Travel Anxiety Spikes

Travel anxiety involves feeling fearful of “visiting new places, losing a sense of control, and the stress of travel plans,” explains Leela Magavi, MD, psychiatrist and regional medical director at Community Psychiatry in Newport Beach, California.

“While it is not a clinical diagnosis, it can cause individuals to avoid travel altogether,” she adds.

Some therapists are seeing a spike in people experiencing travel anxiety as the world starts to open up again. Experts say the trend is understandable, given the trauma of the pandemic and being told for a year or longer that home is the safest place to be.

“Travel—whether out of town, state, or country—was one of the first restrictions put in place during the pandemic to decrease the spread of COVID-19,” says Desreen N. Dudley, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist at Teladoc, which provides virtual healthcare. “Now, as travel restrictions relax and people eagerly await a return to their normal lives, there is a readjustment—a cognitive shift—they must create in their minds.”

Coping With Travel Anxiety

Travel anxiety can be an isolating experience, especially as you see social media posts from friends and family racking up frequent flier miles. However, you’re not alone in feeling wary about taking a trip right now, and the good news is that there are ways to accept and overcome these feelings.

Here are some tips on coping with travel anxiety, according to therapists.

Learn Your Triggers

Figuring out the exact reasons (or triggers) behind your travel anxiety can be the first step in feeling more confident about taking a trip.

“Identifying triggers helps you find coping skills,” says Yasmine Saad, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist and founder and chief executive officer of Madison Park Psychological Services. “Many people can identify their triggers by asking themselves what are they worried about when it comes to traveling”

Travel anxiety is often triggered by lack of control of the journey and fear of the unknown, she says.

Yasmine Saad, PhD

With COVID, the fear of being exposed to the virus and [a] new strain is a new trigger for travel anxiety.

— Yasmine Saad, PhD

“With COVID, the fear of being exposed to the virus and [a] new strain is a new trigger for travel anxiety,” adds Dr. Saad.

Set Healthy Boundaries

If travel anxiety is making you cautious about venturing far from home right now, pressure from family and friends to join them on summer vacations might only add to your stress. Therapists say it’s important to respect your own boundaries—and share them with others.

Desreen N. Dudley, PsyD

Each person holds different levels of comfort and readiness when it comes to travel, especially since the pandemic’s onset.

— Desreen N. Dudley, PsyD

“Each person holds different levels of comfort and readiness when it comes to travel, especially since the pandemic’s onset,” says Dudley. “Keep in mind that if you are not ready to vacation or travel—even when friends and family are—you have a right to tell them about your level of comfort and have it respected.”

You might consider reconnecting with loved ones in local settings for now, which may eventually help you feel more comfortable joining groups on other destinations down the road.

List What’s Within Your Control

By its very nature, travel requires you to let go of some (but not all!) control. Making a list of what’s still within your control on a trip, such as what time you leave for the airport, which hotel you stay in, and the length of your vacation, could help ease some travel anxiety, says Dr. Magavi.

“Reading this list out loud when distressed can alleviate understandable anxiety related to travel,” she explains. “Both children and adults have contended that this activity has helped them feel less helpless and more in control of their travel experience.”

Ease Into It

Getting exposed to travel in a setting you feel is safe (even if that’s simply your imagination!) can help you work through some travel anxiety, says Dr. Magavi.

“Exposure therapy can help individuals assuage their anxiety and combat their fears. I advise individuals to imagine how their traveling experience will fare well,” she says. “I also ask them to write a story about this and share it with me in session. This activity helps reframe individuals’ thinking and decreases ruminative thoughts about COVID-19.”

You can also try exposing yourself to some elements of travel that you’re concerned about (like being around groups of people) at home.

“For example, if they are anxious about crowded places, it may be helpful to visit a grocery store or mall with a friend, and then visit these places independently,” Dr. Magavi suggests.

Pack Tools to Reduce Anxiety

Be mindful about what you pack when you do decide to travel. Stashing a few extra tools and creature comforts in your suitcase can make a difference in your travel anxiety.

“Be sure to travel with everything you need to take care of your physical and mental well-being. These items may include medications, books, music, a journal to write down feelings, and telephone numbers and contact information for supportive people who you can talk to,” says Dr. Dudley.

Focusing your attention on something enjoyable, like a funny movie on your iPad or a captivating novel, could also help distract you from a wave of travel anxiety on a trip, adds Dr. Saad.

Plan Ahead and Stay Healthy

Ready to take that first trip? Dr. Dudley recommends hammering out as many details as you can to feel less anxious while traveling.

“Planning ahead is the best way to cope with travel anxiety. Give yourself enough time to plan to avoid feeling more stressed and fearful due to last-minute planning,” she says. “Plan the travel—selecting the least anxiety-provoking method of travel—and arrange for being away from home, like setting up mail collection and care for a pet.”

The planning should also include ways for you to take care of your body and mind from the moment your trip begins.

“Start with a meditation or breathing exercise to keep you relaxed before going to the airport and find time at the airport to practice the same meditation or breathing exercise,” says Dr. Saad.

Continue to practice self-care throughout your trip to help prevent travel anxiety from creeping in.

Leela Magavi, MD

Exercising and taking mindful walks while traveling helps release healthy endorphins and decrease levels of cortisol.

— Leela Magavi, MD

“Exercising and taking mindful walks while traveling helps release healthy endorphins and decrease levels of cortisol,” says Dr. Magavi. “Decreasing caffeine and alcohol consumption can decrease stress and anxiety levels.”

If you do feel a pang of travel anxiety, acknowledge it and give yourself the space and tools you need to work through it. Keep in mind the reasons you decided to take a trip. 

“Remind yourself that the intention of travel is to have fun and enjoy your time away,” says Dr. Dudley. “Coping with travel anxiety involves not only planning strategies to reduce fears, but also looking forward to fun experiences.”

What This Means For You

Travel is expected to surge this summer amid loosening restrictions, but not everyone is ready to hit the road. Therapists say that many people are experiencing travel anxiety as a result of the trauma of the pandemic.

If you’re experiencing travel anxiety, figuring out the exact things you’re concerned about can help you start to work through it. Therapists recommend slowly exposing yourself to some of those triggers safely and listing out what’s within your control on a journey. When you are ready to hit the road, pack tools to support your emotional wellbeing and practice self-care throughout your trip.

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  1. TripAdvisor. Travel is heating up: two-thirds of Americans planning summer vacations. Published April 20, 2021.