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How I Cope With Travel Anxiety

Many years ago, after a head-on collision, I developed a fear of travel that seemed to be part of my panic disorder/agoraphobia.

Fear of traveling by train

Fear of traveling by train

If you suffer from generalized anxiety, or another anxiety disorder, you may also suffer with various phobias. A common phobia or fear is that of travel. Whether it is a short journey to do some shopping, or a long journey such as taking a holiday, a travel fear may be stopping you in your tracks.

There may be many reasons why your particular fear of traveling started, but commonly, people with an established anxiety disorder, or those who have had a traumatic experience whilst traveling, might develop this particular fear. Many years ago I had a fear of travel which seemed to be part of my panic disorder/agoraphobia, and I was involved in a head-on collision in a car that was driven by my husband at the time.

I do not drive, but as a passenger, I was prone to have panic attacks and avoided travel wherever I could. This was mostly because I dare not travel alone by coach, car or train. After the car crash, and realizing how unsafe the roads were, my fears reached gigantic proportions. This lasted for around four years and severely disrupted my life.

In this article I want to discuss fear of traveling on public transport in particular.

Agoraphobia and Travel Fear

Having a fear of traveling is often an offshoot of agoraphobia. An agoraphobic typically worries about being outside his comfort zone, being in public places, and fears for his safety. Panic disorder sufferers often have an attached agoraphobic condition, with a great fear of having a panic attack in public. It is easy to see therefore, why in this instance, a fear of travel may develop.

Having a panic attack on a bus for example is an agoraphobic’s worst nightmare. There is a fear of not being able to get off the bus at the precise moment if needed. A person suffering with panic disorder may interpret the actual root problem as a fear of traveling, but actually the reason is typically not being able to escape from the bus, the train, the car. Avoidance becomes an issue, which in turn compounds the problem.

Bridges make travel fear worse

Bridges make travel fear worse

Other common fear of travel factors that aggravate the condition, are such things as:

  • Traveling on busy roads such as motorways
  • Traffic jams
  • High sided vehicles overtaking
  • Hearing about, witnessing, or being involved in an accident
  • Train derailment or crash
  • The fear of being isolated and not getting help
  • Claustrophobia
  • Hot weather
  • Fear of crowded places and people
  • Traveling through tunnels or over bridges

Avoidance and Apprehension

A travel phobia, as with other phobias, is the result of a huge amount of fear and anxiety. It is maintained by avoidance and fearful apprehension. The more a person avoids traveling, the worse the problem seems. The more a person anticipates a negative outcome of traveling, the more he will avoid the situation. It is a vicious cycle that a person feels helpless to control.

I lost count of the number of journeys I had planned and abandoned. The very thought of having to go shopping, because it meant traveling to the shops, terrorized me. The thought of having to take a bus into town scared me greatly, and I would often ask others to do my shopping for me. I couldn’t go on holidays during the years I suffered, simply because I was too scared to travel on roads or use the rail service. The more I didn’t travel, the more apprehension built up, which stopped me from traveling.

Xanax and Valium can help but they are not a cure

Xanax and Valium can help but they are not a cure

How to Deal with Travel Fear

There are various kinds of treatment or therapies to approach a fear of travel. Many people tend to rely on anti-anxiety medications such SSRI antidepressants, or benzodiazepines such as Xanax or Valium. If you have a travel phobia and you go to work for example, you may feel you have little choice but to take a medication. Such drug treatment however, is usually not a cure.

Therapies for Travel Fear or Travel Phobia

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Counseling
  • Emotional freedom technique (EFT)
  • Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP)
  • Self-exposure or desensitization
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CBT looks at your thoughts, feelings and behaviors with regard to the perceived threat. Once you begin to understand why you think and feel as you do, the theory is that this will help you to change those thoughts and thus help with your reactionary behavior. A counselor will use a similar talking therapy, getting to the root of the fear and guiding you to change your thinking and behavior.

EFT is growing in popularity with regards to the treatment of phobias. It is often thought of as a kind of “emotional acupuncture” but instead of using needles, a tapping technique is applied. It is painless and simple to learn.

NLP is also a popular technique, and to understand the nature of this treatment for phobias, I suggest watching the video on the right.

Exposure to the perceived threat of a phobia is probably the most successful. To face the fear slowly over time until you are desensitized to it brings about long lasting results. There are ways you can do this on a self-help basis, but I want to begin by pointing out the following to you:

Phobias or fears will not get resolved until you address them head on.

Facing a fear takes great bravery, consistency and determination.

The longer you take to address the fear, the more time you have to build negative memories and safety behaviors.

Self-Help for Fear of Travel

The first step is to want to be rid of a travel phobia once and for all. The determination you need is vital to face consistently for full effect.

Dealing with Apprehension

The anticipatory thoughts leading up to traveling causes apprehension and anxiety build up. This is often as much of a catalyst for a travel phobia as performing the fearful action itself. I suggest doing the following:

  • Try not to plan travel too far ahead
  • Try spur of the moment journeys to practice facing the fear
  • Try a guided relaxation daily for general anxiety or stress relief

When you find yourself ruminating about any journey, take yourself away from it by humming a specific tune or reciting a couple of lines of a poem. This short distraction may help break the cycle of apprehension, and therefore the build up of pre travel anxiety.

Other Tips for Travel Fear

Guided imagery is good for fear of travel, as is self-hypnosis. Guided hypnosis CDs helped me quite a lot, and they are exceptionally good for leading up to a journey.

Self-Exposure for Fear of Travel

This is the bravest but shortest route to conquering your travel fear. Graded exposure is the way I finally recovered from my fears.

Fear on Buses and Trains

As I suggested, don’t plan too long in advance. On a free day just decide quickly to take a journey on a bus or train. I decided on a short trip by bus, and was out of my front floor in ten minutes flat! Depending upon how fearful you feel, your aim should be to try one or two stops, increasing as you feel able over time.

It is ideal if you can get someone to go with you whilst you practice. I did the facing alone, but I can see how some people would simply find this too much.

If you do take someone with you, for your first trip, sit together. On subsequent trips, you should get that “safe” person to sit further away from you each time. Eventually, you could get that person to wait for you at your destination. This is all graded exposure, and how quickly or slowly you do it depends entirely on your progress. When you can manage a certain journey on your own, you should stretch your capabilities slowly until you can manage longer journeys.

Take a book to read when you fear going on a bus or train

Take a book to read when you fear going on a bus or train

Success is the key to your cure. The more you succeed, the easier it will become, because you will gain confidence as you improve. The more confidence you build, the less likely it is that you will have a fearful time.

You can make your journeys a little more bearable by taking things such as:

  • A book or magazine to read
  • A bottle of water to drink, as the mouth becomes dry when anxious
  • An MP3 player with some soothing, relaxing music
  • A puzzle book
  • A mobile phone or tablet, with or without internet connection

If possible, request a seat on a train that you would feel more comfortable with (by doors, for example). This is easier when booking, but don’t be afraid to ask someone to swap seats with you if it will help. Engage in conversation whilst on the journey wherever possible too.

Your fear will build the more you internalize what you are physically feeling. The adrenaline rush can cause you to feel very strange, and you tend to misinterpret the physical sensations as there being something very wrong with you. When your face buzzes, you get hot, you shake, feel a bit faint, or you feel you can’t breathe, it is your defence mechanism kicking in. You should be running away from that tiger! This is why you feel the need to escape; only there is no tiger.

Remember, it isn’t the bus, the train, or the car you are afraid of. It’s the way you feel inside the transport that you are scared of; that and the feeling of there being no escape. It is the classic fear of fear syndrome.

Travel fear can cause you to miss out on so much in life. Some people see travel as not being a necessity, but I think they may be finding yet another excuse not to address the problem. I aim to write a separate article on the fear of car journeys and roads, but if you have a fear of flying, you can read the article I wrote on that topic.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


meloncauli (author) from UK on March 05, 2013:

Thanks for dropping by Vickiw! One can have a great desire to see many places, but travel phobia can put a halt to those desires. For those who have never suffered, they take the ease of getting from A to B for granted. It can really be a debilitating problem.

Vickiw on March 05, 2013:

One of my neighbours has this phobia. I have noticed it seems to be getting worse . She has to really nerve herself even to drive down to the village, just a couple of minutes away. It really spoils her life, and that of her husband too. Presently they are in Hawaii for their vacation, but she was a basket case before they left! It is just the travelling that makes her so terribly anxious. She was in a car accident once. Very interesting Hub.

meloncauli (author) from UK on January 25, 2013:

Thanks for your comment shuck72! You are most welcome :)

meloncauli (author) from UK on January 23, 2013:

Thanks for your comment gsidley!

Best wishes

Dr. Gary L. Sidley from Lancashire, England on January 22, 2013:

Hi meloncauli

As you rightly say, travel fears can have multiple causes (claustrophobia, fear of losing control, traumatic traveling experience etc) and effective interventions will need to be tailored to each specific case.

Thanks again for another informative hub.

Best wishes

shuck72 from Seattle on January 19, 2013:

Interesting topic, well covered, voted up, thanks for writing it!

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