Travel Anxiety: That feeling in your stomach before you travel

Ta Som Temple, Angkor, CambodiaI’m leaving for Europe in a few days where I’ll spend the better part of three months visiting a whole lot of places I’ve never been before.

Believe it or not, despite four years of traveling and having visited almost 100 countries, I still get a bit of anxiety before I visit someplace new.

It isn’t the same sort of rush I had when I first started out, but there is definitely feeling you have before you visit somewhere new.

Not having been somewhere, no matter how much you talk to people who have been there before you, there are still unknowns that you will not find out until you hit the ground.

  • How will I deal with the local language?
  • How expensive will things be?
  • Will I have good weather?
  • Will my bank hold my credit card?
  • Did I forget to pack something?

Having been through this dozens of times it really isn’t that big of a deal for me, but I’d also be lying to you if I said that it didn’t exist at all.

For people who don’t have much experience traveling, these pre-trip doubts can be debilitating. There is so much worry and doubt that they end up doing nothing and never leave the places they are comfortable with. I’ve had many conversations with people who would love to travel but are so wracked with worry and doubt they never do it.

For me, I can always get over it by rationalizing that I am not the first person to visit anywhere. In the case of some places, millions of people have been there before me and managed just fine.

If you are a traveler, how do you get past the anxiety of visiting a new place?

If you want to travel more, what is holding you back?

33 thoughts on “Travel Anxiety: That feeling in your stomach before you travel”

  1. Leaving tomorrow on my first backpacking trip solo… So nervous! Glad to see I’m not alone in this. I’ve traveled abroad plenty but I’ve never gone at it alone, and to be honest I’m most nervous about whether I’ll be able to befriend anyone in my hostels. AND it’ll be my first time IN a hostel! Love your rational btw- thanks for the post.

  2. Good to read that others feel this.

    The first time I felt that fear feeling I thought it meant I was not cut out for traveling. But then I remembered a scene in a war film – ‘Hell Is For Heroes’ – where they are waiting to go into action – one of them is relaxed, another is pacing about.

    And daft as it may seem, that got me over the hump.

    I still get the feeling – almost a distaste – but I have learned to live with it.

    Bottom line – I love traveling.

  3. This post made me feel so much better, only because I know I’m not alone in this feeling! I put off travelling for SO long, there were places I wanted to go, but with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, just the idea of leaving my home and everything that I know and am comfortable with was enough to say “no” to all the travel opportunities that came my way.

    However I’m happy to say that with the help of a truly amazing guy I now have in my life, I have been to New York City, and even boarded a plane to Cuba (something that seems insignificant, but is a HUGE deal for me – turns out I was afraid of flying for 25 years but i actually LOVE it!)

    So even knowing that I have overcome a lot of obstacles, I still get those anxious “somersaulting butterflies” in my stomach when planning a new trip! In July we are going to Perce, Quebec, and even though I’m super psyched about the idea of seeing a humpback whale in the wild, I still feel a bit anxious about it (especially the 18 hour drive…!)

    This site made me feel not so alone however. There are a ton of things that I can do to relieve the anxiety… and I am going with that super guy I mentioned who by the way makes everything scary seem completely ok.

    Happy travels everyone!

  4. I usually get over travel anxiety by making sure i have my basic essentials, as long as i have those i know i can’t be that in trouble because mostly everything else is replaceable. As far as getting around, i live by the motto of if you can read signs, you can get anywhere. In addition to this i believe that people can also be good sources to you if you are trying to catch a train, find a train or just know where you are going. You can read all the travel books you want but on my recent venture to Miami i found that by google mapping it and the area i was staying at it familiarized me to the point where i actually could navigate within the first few hours and knew the name of streets and nearby places. Familiarizing myself with an area helps me feel more comfortable and prepared so i’m not going in blindly. Although going in blindly may be a little more mysterious and exciting it can set yourself up for some obstacles that may spoil the experience. Throw caution to the wind and let the worries fly away with it, traveling is meant to be carefree and fun, let it be!

  5. I stress about making sure I get everything off my plate at work so I can travel without worrying about someone at work trying to track me down. But that isn’t really stressing about the travel itself. I really don’t get the pre-travel sweats, with one key exception: when traveling internationally, I stress about how I will get around once I get to the country I’m going to. What will be the hurdles? Will directions/signs all be written in another language? How do I find out bus/ferry/train schedules? What is the preferred mode of tourist travel in the country (rental car? bus? train?)?

    Gary, do you stress about any of those things or do you just wing it? How much pre-planning do you do in regarding to transportation?


    • Now days I just wing it.

      I’m typing this at a McDonald’s at the Prague airport where I booked my hotel room. I had nothing set up before I hit the ground here.

  6. Hi there
    Drop me an email if you need travel advice in Germany. I am currently living in Frankfurt :-)
    Have fun.

    • Oh so glad you offered advice! I’ll be going to Germany for the first time in September. From USA to Dusseldorf then train to Cologne (stayingn with a friend 3 days)then I plan to take train to Munich for 2-3 days then to Italy. I’ve been trying to find train fares and itineraries no luck they reply it’s too early.
      Will museums be open in weekend in Munich? Im searching for hostels for that weekend. What would be a neighborhood you recommend? I apologize for asking about munich you mentioned different city but I might luck out!

      • Munich is honestly the one major city in Germany I’ve never really visited. I’ve been to the airport and have driven through it. That’s it.

  7. I don’t really get travel anxiety — which is probably a bad thing because it makes me sort of lazy about the logistics of traveling. All I make myself remember is my passport, really, and some cash. I do get afraid, however, of flying… so I think that absorbs all my anxiety and prevents me from worrying about the actual trip! :)

  8. Oh yeah, I still get anxiety too. But that’s part of the excitement too. I make a checklist and make sure all my stuff’s organized – documents, notes, addresses, numbers. Everything works out in the end :)

  9. I remember the first time I left the country (Canada with my family as a kid doesn’t count) I was stoked and couldn’t wait to get going. But after I left my parents at the security check line and got on the plane for the first leg of the trip the nerves hit me like a wall of bricks. It was all I could do not to cry. The little girl next to me offered some of her chocolate and my nerves were a little calmer. That was my first time on a plane in roughly 10 years and I was 21 years old headed to New Zealand for a semester abroad. It turned out to be one of the greatest things I ever did, but I had a healthy dose of anxiety at the beginning. Once I got settled everything was great. While there I popped over to Australia for two weeks and had another moment of panic when returning because I was an American on a student visa in NZ and shuffling through customs I was terrified they wouldn’t let me back in!
    The nexy year, I had graduated and was an intern. They were taking forever to decide whether to hire me and I was basically homeless because of it so I decided to spend a week or so in London while they figured it out. On that trip I realized how small my world really was. I could just decide to go somewhere and then actually do it. That was an excellent trade for any nerves.
    Traveling to Peru though I about lost it. I was excited but started to have doubts. My Spanish was terrible, I was alone and really didn’t have a clue what I was doing. Landing in Lima and spending a few days there at the start was a terrible idea. I definitely balled my eyes out in my hostel and considered turning around and going home. I didn’t and the rest of the trip was phenomenal and the feeling of accomplishment having survived two weeks in Peru by myself replaced any anxiety.
    I’ve bounced around a few countries and while I still get bouts of anxiety, I power through and the trip is always amazing.

  10. The best thing you can do to ease those feelings is to start a list at least a month before you are ready to leave. Every time you think of something you think you should take or info you think you may want add it to the list. It is much easier to pack when you have a nice big list to look at then it is to stand in front of your luggage and try and think of what to take.

  11. Those nerves before traveling are always there. They do not go away until you get on the airplane and actually begin traveling. I think it is our body just going through a preparation stage.

    The weather is something that you cannot predict even at your hometown. The weather is one of those things that you just have to learn to work around and to make the most out of it.

    Although i am sometimes victim of this, I think stressing over traveling should be avoided. Traveling is supposed to be fun and is supposed to be exciting so why wasting time and energy you could be using in something more productive like…packing. Great post though because as you mention there are people in the world who have gone through this before who would enjoy reading about it.

  12. This post is right on the money. I’ve only traveled outside the country once, but even traveling around the US can cause some anxiety. For example, I just got back from a trip to California (I live in Massachusetts) and found out upon arrival that my cards weren’t working so I wouldn’t be able to rent a car and get to my hotel (two hours away from the airport of course). It all worked out in the end, but you never know when something will go wrong, so I find it best just to take things in stride and stay positive. Things have a way of straightening themselves out!

  13. I’ve got to admit, I get anxiety but it is an anxious kind, excitment. I do always worry the night before that I have not packed something or I can’t sleep well because I am afraid I will miss my flight ( i set 4 alarms! haha) But in the end, I prepare so far in advance that I make sure everything is ready about 2-3 days in advance and read y to go so that throught the next few days if i DID forget something I can throw it in.

    Once I am on my way, the only anxiety I get is about connections and getting to and from places. I don’t worry about getting lost or about money because I have plenty of optinos (cash and multiple cards), I have the international nubmers TO those cards and my bank in case I need to talk to them…lol and in the end, it is only a minor inconvience if something happens like that and I have more days to have it go right.

    So in the end it is all about thinking of worse case senarios ahead of time and knowing they arn’t really important and you can handle it..SOMEONE speaks English, if you can’t get money today, you can get it tomorrow, missing one meal won’t hurt…etc..etc :)

  14. Ahhh…travel anxiety. Without fail, I am always nervous before traveling to another country. It isn’t that I am afraid of flying or nervous about being in an unfamiliar country, it is the fear that something will prevent me from boarding the plane and taking off on my new adventure. Most times I get nervous that I will fall ill or that something will happen at home that will be too important to leave unattended. I try to relax in the last days leading up to my departure and I avoid doing too many activities that would put me at risk of injury. I know that nothing would actually happen to me but what can I say, I am a creature of habit.

    Twitter – I am new to Twitter but I will say that following people who are actually out there seeing the world has given me more confidence to get out and do it myself. It has connected me to a travel community that I would not have known otherwise. It seems like whatever I am thinking about doing, someone is already doing.

  15. Getting on the plane to Europe tonight and totally stressing out. The language barrier is what I am most worried about, especially since I am on a restricted diet. You make a really good point “I am not the first person to visit anywhere.” Also, I know I have done extensive homework about my destinations and I should be just fine.

    It is reassuring to know that I am not alone in my pre-trip freak out, though. :-)

  16. Greetings from China. It will all work out … stress is not a good vibe – unless it’s fight or flight.

    Anxiety is not a issue, for me; rather excessive excitement. New places are addictive. As a traveler – nomadic since 1988 – I occasionally think about difficult customs officials and formalities in Iran, Guinea, etc; but smile, joke and patience gets me by … soon am off to the “Stans” – maybe Afghanistan, also – am excited.

    the candy trail … a nomad across the planet, since 1988

  17. Yay! u beat me to a “travel anxiety” post. I’m stressing big time, 2 days left til Europe, 1st big solo trip!
    Get in touch & lemme know ur itinerary

  18. That’s just fear of the unknown, and travelling in a new place is a big area of uncertainty. But that’s also what is exiting. in travelling, right?

  19. I’m at that point right now! I’m leaving in July for my first solo RTW trip and to say I was anxious would be a complete understatement!

    I guess it’s just fear of the unknown…

  20. I really like that idea of telling myself that others have traveled before me. I am one of those that is constantly making up excuses to stop myself from traveling. I really need to set the goal, set the time line, and pick the destination. Others have traveled before me and have done just fine…I also worry about safety issues when traveling but being aware of dangers and avoiding certain situations will more than likely lower the danger level.

  21. If you are a traveler, how do you get past the anxiety of visiting a new place?
    Well, for me is to be prepared wholefully.Do research.Call people.Note down all the things connected so you won’t forget details.

    If you want to travel more, what is holding you back?MONEY….. of course.

    love your post.Nice!

  22. A little anxiety of the unexpected is a good thing and keeps us from getting jaded.

    Our new thing today was inching over the Tigris towards a Turkish border post while orange rain fell from an apocolyptic looking sky. Super cool.

  23. I get it. I’m there now, too, as I’m heading to Europe for a couple of weeks on Easter. It varies, though, depending on the level of civilization I’ll be enjoying. Parasites in Guatemala are much more problematic (don’t ask) than forgetting my toothpaste in Paris.

    I joke that I know how to find a bathroom and buy chocolate in a number of the worlds languages. (I once had someone write each phrase in Arabic “just in case.”) Sadly, I’ve proven to be remarkably bad at picking up another tongue. I also rely on a big smile and a lot of facial expressions. Gestures, I’ve learned, don’t always translate as I’d hoped.

    Perhaps the biggest change I made a couple of years ago was to keep packing to a minimum. I also keep a travel toiletry bag with a bunch of duplicates so I’m less likely to forget that toothpaste.

  24. I feel your pain! I worry about everything from whether the plane mechanic was hungover and missed a critical screw to will I come down with the wong-tong flu halfway to Europe. After all these years of traveling I realize it’s just my nature, so I’ve learned to laugh at myself and make it all part of my adventure. Wishing You Safe Travels!

  25. I’ve done this so badly before that I’ve actually made myself sick on the plane and my first couple of days at my destination.

    To combat it, I usually keep the planning of activities to a minimum on those first few days. I often try to schedule my first stop somewhere as close to what home is like as I can. I also am willing to play a little more for a hotel in this first stop- risking an unpleasant hotel experience is probably not a good idea when fighting nerves.

  26. I am pleased that I am not the only person to get travel anxiety. I always start to worry about things that are totally out of my control just before I go away, even though I have never encountered any serious issues before and the smaller issues are always resolved in the end. I have just booked a flight for my next journey and I can already feel the nerves kicking in!

  27. Still happens to me too. But I think it’s that feeling that makes travel (or the transition to traveling) so addicting. Let’s face it, getting a pastrami sandwich at your favorite deli is nice but it certainly doesn’t compare to locking your apartment door for the last time in 3 months.

    I think smart travelers know that that feeling, good or bad, is a temporary byproduct of a moment of transition and something to be celebrated.

  28. Generally I honestly have little (if any) anxiety about visiting a new destination. I guess I’ve traveled solo long enough now that I know that it will all work out one way or another. Indeed, it is precisely the challenge of NOT having all the answers that I like best about traveling.

    That said, I must say – while I seldom am anxious about VISITING some strange new land, my present plans to MOVE to a completely new corner of the globe (Southeast Asia/Vietnam) come October, is a whole ‘nuther story. The thought of leaving behind most everything and everybody here in the U.S. – perhaps/likely indefinitely/forever… Suffice I vacillate HOURLY between giddy joy and excitement and… utter terror!

  29. Yes! And here we were thinking we were the only ones who’d traveled a lot and still felt this way! You would think we’d packed enough times to know that there are really only a very few things that you can’t replace when you get there, but somehow… For us, the nerves disappear as soon as we’re on board the plane.

    I have to say, the language issue has never worried us. Of course, given that we speak French and Spanish, quite often there is no language issue. But charades work so well that really we’ve never had a problem, or worried about it.

    We’ve given up worrying about the weather. Basically, we seem incapable of planning a beach trip that doesn’t get rained out! LOL. Aruba was a nice exception to that rule.

    As for how to get over the stress, chocolate! On a more productive note, I think it’s a good suggestion to remember that many before you have been there and done just fine. People all over the world need to do the same things you do. So, if you’ve forgotten something, chances are very good you will find it at your destination. In fact, thanks to globalization you can most often even find the same brand you’re used to. And who knows, maybe you’ll come home with a new favorite!

    Ok, off to finish packing…

Comments are closed.