How to travel stress-free: Your guide to coping with the most common travel fears

Travelling is a joyful and exciting time away from home we’re looking forward to. It allows us to break from the routine and recharge our batteries.

But with ever-changing travel regulations, train strikes, and baggage requirements, this can often leave us fatigued and anxious.

What is travel anxiety?

Travel anxiety is a feeling of worry or fear related to travelling, from planning to transportation to running all the things that can go wrong in your head. 

While travel anxiety isn’t an official diagnosis, it’s common and can further trigger your symptoms. These include agitation or irritability, difficulty focusing, trouble falling or staying asleep, panic attacks, muscle tension, and more. This can make planning or going on a holiday difficult and even turn your vacation into a nightmare.

Bethany Teachman, a psychology professor and director of clinical training at the University of Virginia, said: “Travel involves being willing to expose yourself to new situations and to be able to tolerate some uncertainty because you don’t know exactly how it’s going to go.”

Four of the most common travel fears – and how to cope with them

To help you travel without a worry, we look at four of the most common travel anxieties and how you can cope with them. 

1) Fear of flying

Fear of flying is more common than one might think. In fact, between 33% and 40% of the population experience some form of flight anxiety. This can be related to worries about crashing, fear of heights, claustrophobia, or discomfort when taking off or landing.

60% of sufferers experiencing generalised anxiety during the flight (and leading up to it) can easily manage it on their own, with the help of relaxation techniques such as breathing and meditation or bringing along distractions such as books, games, and movies.

Nevertheless, in its severe form, a genuine fear of flying is classed as aviophobia, and between 2.5% and 5% of the population experience it. In that case, seeking professional help is recommended. The most common way of treating aviophobia is exposure therapy, which, combined with cognitive-behavioural therapy, can be extremely beneficial.

2) Anxiety over luggage allowance and restrictions

Airlines are constantly changing luggage rules and regulations, and travellers often find it hard to keep up with them. This causes anxiety about ensuring the baggage meets the guidelines set out by airlines and avoiding any unexpected fees or restrictions.

The best thing you can do in this case is to plan in advance. Research the airline’s luggage policy and restrictions, as they vary from one to another. Find out weight restrictions, the number of bags allowed, and the dimensions of the luggage.

If you’re bringing sports equipment, such as a mountain bike, skis, or a snowboard, make sure you check what can be accepted on board and what can’t. 

Usually, bikes and winter sports equipment need to be checked in at an additional fee. Electric bikes, however, can only be checked in on board without the battery, so ensure you have made arrangements to rent a battery at your destination or ship it in advance. 

If you’re bringing a mountain bike helmet, the worst spot you can place it is in your bike bag, as helmets crack under pressure. It’s best if you bring it in your carry-on.

3) Fears of lost luggage

The fear of lost luggage is another concern that adds to the stress of travellers, with the possibility of not having their belongings with them during their trip. 

According to data from the Air Travel Consumer Reports, more than 684,000 bags were mishandled in the first quarter of 2022. That means that about seven bags out of every 1,000 handled are classed as lost baggage.

The top reasons for delayed bags include transfer mishandling (37%), failed to load (20%), and ticketing error/bag switch/security/other (19%).

While you can’t prevent your bags from getting delayed or lost, there are certain things you can do to ease your anxiety about it and be as prepared as possible when it happens.

Labelling bags with contact information will ensure airlines can easily identify the bag and return it to the rightful owner. It’s also a good idea to place a copy of your contact details inside the luggage in case the external tag is lost.

In case your checked-in luggage gets lost, packing a carry-on bag with essential items is a smart idea. This includes a change of clothes, toiletries, and any medication that may be required. It’s also a good idea to pack any valuable items in the carry-on bag, as they may not be covered by the airline’s insurance policy.

Airline policies on delayed and lost baggage vary, but as a general rule, bags that don’t arrive with you at your destination are considered delayed. The airline declares them officially lost between five and 14 days after arrival. 

It’s best if you file a baggage complaint with the airline as soon as possible. That way, you will expedite the process of finding your bag or being compensated for any lost items.

4) Worries about getting there and missing a flight

The anxiety of missing a flight is a common concern for many travellers, and this can be compounded by factors such as traffic and recent train strikes.

Whether driving or taking a taxi, traffic congestion can significantly delay your journey and cause you to miss your flight. To avoid this, it is important to plan your journey and factor in extra time for potential delays.

Similarly, train strikes can also create chaos for travellers, leading to delayed or cancelled trains, overcrowded stations, and a lot of frustration. If you are travelling by train, it is important to keep an eye on the news and stay updated on the status of any potential strikes. It may be helpful to book your tickets in advance so you have more options and time to plan your journey if a strike does occur.

Once you get to the airport, you need to navigate yourself to your gate. The earlier you arrive, the more time you will have to find it and relax before your flight. At bigger airports, check the airport map to identify how you need to get to your gate, as some may require taking a shuttle. Also, stay organised while going through security to save time.

Travelling can be a wonderful experience, but it can also be a source of anxiety for many people. By addressing the common causes of anxiety and using the tips and tricks provided in this article, you can overcome your fears and enjoy your travels to the fullest. Keep up the positive attitude, and you’re sure to have an amazing adventure. Bon voyage! 

Photo by Drif Riadh