Silhouette on the River Bank, New York
Down on the River Bank, New York © ?ick Perrone

How to Overcome Your Fear of Traveling

Through my travel blog I get a lot of emails from people who would love to travel but say they’re scared of taking the plunge, for all kinds of reasons. Some people are nervous about flying or about getting through immigration, others are scared of not being understood in a foreign country, and still more feel concerned for their safety in a country that may have a higher crime rate than their own.

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I must admit that although I’ve traveled a lot, there are still times when I feel scared of traveling too! This is some of the advice I give people who are feeling afraid of traveling:

Compare Your Fear to the Consequences

The great thing about being afraid of traveling is that it’s not like being afraid of spiders: if you manage to do it, the rewards are massive! You get to experience a new place, see beautiful landscapes, eat delicious new foods and meet fascinating people, and so on. (Whereas if you conquer your fear of spiders, then the consequence is just that you don’t freak out when you see a spider next).

Before big trips or trips that are somehow different — my recent first trip traveling alone with my toddler is a good example — I often feel nervous and a little scared but I remind myself of the positives of what is to come and that helps a great deal.

La Quebrada Cliff Diver, Acapulco, Mexico
Statue Cliff Diver, Acapulco, Mexico © Esparta Palma

Get Realistic and Practical

A lot of people are sure they’ll get mugged or their plane will crash. Especially if you’re headed to what the general public might consider a more “risky” destination, you may well start to hear all kinds of horrible tales from your friends and family.

Before you totally freak out, take a step back and get realistic about the situation. For example, if you check the statistics, often the most dangerous part of your trip will be when your friend, mother or taxi driver takes you from home to the airport.

Other horror stories you might hear about kidnapping incidents, for example in various South American countries, turn out to be nearly one hundred per cent aimed at locals in the drug trade and virtually never at tourists. Don’t let urban legend become fact in your mind and do your research on the actual facts if you start to feel concerned.

Travel Often, Fear Less

If you are able to “exercise your travel muscle” regularly to make it a habit, then you will rarely feel any fear.

For example, in my early twenties I struggled with anxiety and as a result developed a fear of (among other things!) flying. Being terrified of getting in a plane is a bit of a problem for someone who loves to travel. However, I forced myself to do it (with eyes shut tight for takeoff and feeling shaky for most of the flight) and because I was traveling regularly, my fear of flying gradually decreased. Now, although I certainly don’t enjoy it, I rarely ever feel afraid. And if I do, I make sure I check the faces of the flight attendants — if they still look calm, I figure we’re okay.

Make regular trips and you’ll feel more confident each time, no matter what your fear is (and how great to have an excuse to travel regularly!).

summer evening in Visby
Summer Evening in Visby © Per Ola Wiberg

Turn the Unknown Into the Known

It’s easy, and somehow even logical, to fear the unknown. And it’s certainly very normal. When you travel, the unknown is actually what you’re striving to find (otherwise you could just stay home).

However, that doesn’t always make it less frightening. Which is why it’s a good idea to become familiar with your destination before you arrive, so that you feel less concerned or anxious about what might await you. The internet is a powerful place for finding out nearly everything you want to know about a place you’re traveling to, so perhaps pick something you’re particularly worried about and find out as much as you can about it.

If you’re heading off to study abroad, for example, and you’re feeling anxious about getting around between your accommodation and the university, research public transport timetables, Google images for the kinds of buses, trains or trams you’ll find, search for the prices or special card deals and so on. In other words, if you fear something that’s unknown, make it more known and the fear should subside substantially.

Solo Travel Is Powerful, Not Scary

By far the biggest proportion of people who contact me who are feeling scared about traveling is people who are about to travel solo for the first time. I can definitely understand this and felt the same anxiety before I did my first solo travel, but now I must say personally that I love it!

However, if you’re really concerned about traveling on your own but simply don’t have anyone to travel with, there are lots of ways (especially online) to find someone to go with you — perhaps even someone you can meet up with in your hometown first.

Alternatively, you might adjust your travel plans to visit somewhere where a friend lives so you know you won’t be alone the whole time; or stay in hostels where the chances of meeting fellow travelers is high. If all else fails, just take the plunge and go alone and give yourself permission to turn around and go home again if you find you simply can’t deal with solo travel.

You’ll Regret What You Don’t Do …

If you’ve got the travel bug, I have to tell you that it won’t go away. And it’s possible to really want to travel but still be scared of it. Just remember that oft-repeated mantra about regretting the things you didn’t do more than the things you did, and get out there and have a go. I rarely meet anyone who came home from a trip because they were too afraid to go on. Frankly, I don’t think you will, either.

  1. Some great thoughts and observations. A great article for any nervous traveller. It’s true though, you have to let go and just get on and do it – envisaged problems often disappear once you are on the road. But I also check the faces of flight attendants! Deep down I wonder if they haven’t been taught how to act, just a little, to put forward a calm demeanour at all costs, but I tell myself if they’re not sweating, then neither should I be!

  2. Great Points! I hate to hear about fear holding people back from travel. A lot is the unknown and being comfortable with the uncomfortable. Like you said it is practicing travel, starting with small trips and gaining confidence for the bigger ones!

  3. Thanks for this article. I see very little written about the fear of traveling, which I suffer from. My problem is more complex because I often end up with physical problems caused by the stress of travel. These physical problems continue on after the trip is over. So you can see why I very rarely travel. Strangely enough, I sometimes prefer to travel alone, because I feel more in control. I can listen to whatever I want to in the car, and I can de-stress by myself in the hotel room. I do enjoy meeting people when I’m there, but I kind of prefer traveling alone.

    1. Thanks for this blog. Somehow, it calmed me. I hope I can get really relax myself when thinking of traveling abroad..

  4. Thanks for this article. I am someone who has a fear of travelling due to other fears (dealing with personal illness overseas, claustrophobia and tunnels), and I will definitely look into researching these things to see if that is how to get past these fears. I know they are irrational but it doesn’t help when people just say that to you.

    I really like that you put a different spin on it. Thank you :)

  5. Great article! My problem is that – due to a life long feeling of very deep insecurity I also suffer from agrophobia which means that on any trip I am not only afraid of the journey but the distinct possibility of finding myself suddenly in an open space- the thing that so frightens me,
    A pity your article did not cover this.,,,

  6. Thanks Amanda!! I also had fear and excitement while travelling first. But, as you said solo travel is powerful and not scary, i also agree with you. Travelling gives us a lot of experience and it’s an opportunity to know about lifestyles and culture.

  7. I am elderly gentleman life long having a condition of anxiety and panic attacks that prevent me from attempting traveling. How great it would be to overcome this difficulty. The greatest distance from home has been about one hundred miles and thats been fifty four years ago. Am now doing daily activity in an effort to become less anxious living a more relaxed life style practicing leasure activity in everything i do. John C.

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