According to Calm Clinic, a mental health information site, travel anxiety varies greatly in causes and its impacts on people. In an article on travel anxiety, the website states that, “Many people have travel anxiety their entire lives. Others may develop the anxiety because of past experiences relating to travel which were anxiety provoking; and some seem to have travel anxiety for no apparent reason at all.” During high school, my travel anxiety was pretty severe. By now, the summer after my third year of college, I’ve largely been able to overcome my travel anxiety. While I did visit a therapist during high school, and some of college, we spent more time talking about other facets of my mental health journey, like bullying and grief, so I have not analyzed my travel-related anxiety with a therapist.
However, I have noticed that my travel anxiety flared up when I would drive to colleges to tour them with one of my parents. It got so bad that I would vividly imagine graphic “what ifs,” mostly related to the idea of danger or accidents. This was exhausting and would leave me tense, jumpy and cranky anytime I went on a trip (which was frequent because I toured wayyyy too many colleges). My anxiety surrounding cars and driving also affected my day-to-day life; I made excuses and procrastinated learning to drive because it made me so nervous. Because my travel anxiety was so difficult during high school, and has largely gone away during college, I believe that it was connected to a minor car accident that I got into in high school. Even though the no one was hurt, I was not driving, and the accident was little more than a bump at low speed, it was enough to cause me some mental trauma that was elevated by other facets of my anxiety.
In fact, Calm Clinic says that travel anxiety is “very common,” and that it can be driven by things that people are already anxious about but that you might not immediately pinpoint as a source of anxiety related particularly to travel. For example, “some people are influenced by the ‘worst case scenario’ stories they hear on the news…when you access news stories about kidnappings, injuries, and other accidents, it’s easy to subconsciously associate travel with tragedy”. Like many people, I tend to focus on negative stories like these. Also, I experience the most feelings of anxiety during periods when I am transitioning from one place or activity to another. This means that I have the most worries and negative thoughts while packing, moving from place to place, or getting used to something new. Needless to say, these experiences most often occur when I am traveling somewhere or returning from my travels.
Despite my past difficulty with traveling, I decided that spending a semester abroad was something I really wanted to do, so I made the preparations throughout my first years of college to study in Spain during my junior year. By the time I was almost about to leave, I was more excited than nervous. I did feel some tension, but I successfully breathed through it and managed my solo flight from home to New York City without a hitch. I was put even more at ease when I met all the other students in my program and started making friends. Spending time with these friends really helped me enjoy my time in Spain and make the transition in a balanced, happy way. My Spanish host mom was also incredibly supportive and helped me learn about the new culture I was experiencing, as was the program director, who made sure we were comfortable. I also learned strategies to help myself manage other facets of my anxiety in Spain, where I was able to live more slowly without all the extracurricular activities that I had pressured myself into at my own university.
Sadly, we had to evacuate when the coronavirus pandemic started to spread from Italy to Spain. The week in which our program was ordered to evacuate was full of changes and would have been scary to anyone, even those who don’t usually experience much anxiety. Even though my plans were changing by the minute, I knew I had to stay calm in order to make it home. Prior to having to leave, I had done all of my traveling around Spain and Europe with my friends from the program, because traveling with others helps me feel safer and less anxious.
However, everyone was on their own traveling home because tickets were hard to find. I rushed to Spain’s capital via train (which was eerily empty), then caught a flight to Portugal, where I spent a night of layover before finally catching my plane back to New Jersey. Then I had to take another short train ride to Philadelphia. Most of this, I did completely alone. I was nervous and exhausted, but I was lucky to be in constant contact with my program director, host mom, a few of my friends, and of course my parents. Although I had some of the highest anxiety of my life during that scary 48 hours of travel, I know that I behaved well and smartly, and now, I feel prepared to handle almost any travel situation.
Are there specific instances that trigger your anxiety? Do you have travel anxiety?