11 Ways to Beat Your Fear of Travel
Maybe you've dreamed of an internship or summer experience abroad — but your fear of the unknown keeps you grounded at home.
Perhaps you watch stories of conflict around the world and think, "No place is safe." Whatever excuses might keep you from hopping on a plane, staying tucked in your little corner of the world deprives you of all the opportunities the world has to offer.
How can you overcome your fear of traveling alone or heading abroad? If you do experience anxiety about globetrotting, what coping mechanisms can you employ? You’re certainly not the first to experience such feelings and you won’t be the last.
It takes patience, but with a plan, you can overcome your fears and free yourself to see the world.
1. Do your research
When you imagine your journey, do you picture yourself having a blast in the place you most want to visit? Or do you envision wandering lost for hours, which is what adds to your fear of travel? Reduce your fear of the unknown by doing your homework before you depart.
How will you get from point A to point B? Study street maps until your destination feels as familiar as your neighborhood. Where is the nearest embassy, and how can you contact them? What should you avoid saying or doing to not offend the locals? Find out in advance with the help of your friend, Google.
2. Get your paperwork sorted
Whatever country you land in and whatever program you embark on, you’ll need the necessary paperwork to enter — so make sure you do your research and meet the proper requirements before you travel. If you’re off to explore China, for example, you’ll need a visa or residence permit. If you’re pursuing studies at an American university, you’ll need to fill out an I-20 form along with obtaining a visa.
Make sure all your papers are in order before your flight. Once you arrive at a port of entry, officials will ask to see your passport and your visa — so invest in a secure locking belt to carry these vital documents on your person. If you lose your passport on your journey, you'll need to apply for a replacement. This process proves easier if you have a copy.
You should also make photocopies of your identification and insurance cards. Write down your credit and debit card numbers and upload all documentation to a secure cloud server. That way, should the unspeakable happen — you get robbed or lose your wallet — you have the information you need to order replacements.
3. Phone - or take - a friend
Maybe you have to travel solo — if you've accepted a position as an au pair, for example, your host family might not appreciate you bringing a buddy.
However, if you have the option, invite a close friend along on your journey. You won't experience fear of traveling alone when you're with someone. Certain Smaller Earth programmes, such as Adventure China, will happily place a couple, or a couple of friends, together in the same area, allowing you to both have the summer of a lifetime.
Traveling with a partner offers many advantages. If you get lost, you can cover twice the territory until you find your way. You feel more secure walking to nighttime events, which saves you money on cab and Uber fare. If one of you runs out of cash or gets hurt, the other can jump in and help. The great thing about participating on programmes, though, is that even if you do travel solo, you’ll meet so many people in the same scenario as you, so there’s absolutely nothing to worry about.
4. Give yourself a support (and exit) strategy
Ensuring that you have the right support structure around you can make things so much easier whilst travelling. Agencies, for example, provide a level of support unmatched from elsewhere. They’ve been there and got the proverbial t-shirt, so to speak. They’re used to sending thousands of people every year, all of which will have similar situations and problems that you’ll encounter as well. By having them there if you need them, you’re ensuring that you’ve got an ear to listen or a shoulder to cry on, should you ever need it.
If all else fails, having a contingency plan helps. Think about the last time you went on a blind date. If you're like many people, you had a friend lined up to text you at a predetermined time. That way, if you needed to bail out for any reason, you had a convenient excuse.
Do the same to ease your anxiety about traveling by creating an exit plan in case things go south. When you book your plane fare, make sure you can change your return flight for a minimal fee. Instead of signing a year-long lease, rent a room on Airbnb until you know if you're going to enjoy your work-study abroad experience. Yes, you'll need to resist the urge to flee at the slightest discomfort. However, knowing you have a way out can lower your stress levels exponentially.
5. Network through social media first
You'll look forward to your adventure abroad more if a friend — or three — awaits you on distant shores. Join social media groups for residents and travelers to the region you're visiting. You can even join an internet penpal group to correspond with your new bestie months in advance. You'll feel much less alone if at least one friendly face awaits you at your destination. If, for example, you choose to go to summer camp in America, you’ll have an opportunity to join a Facebook group, which will put you in contact with all your fellow staff members ahead of starting for the summer.
6. Learn mind-body relaxation techniques
What happens if you have a panic attack overseas? While many countries offer free international health care to travelers, you don't want to spend your summer internship on the therapist's couch. Before you depart, spend some time learning mind-body relaxation techniques. If you've never practiced yoga or meditation, sign up for a class at the YMCA or pay drop-in rates at a nearby studio. Study how to reframe your thoughts using methods like journaling. Get in the habit of taking several slow, deep breaths whenever you feel yourself getting stressed. We’ve even got an article where we discuss why a travel journal is a great idea and one which can really help your fear of travel.
7. Take mini-excursions closer to home
Maybe you're not ready to spend a year in Asia teaching English. But taking a quick weekend getaway to a nearby country could be a less daunting, less long-term way to experience a different culture. When you've had enough, you can return home in a jiffy. But chances are you'll have so much fun exploring a new place, you'll linger for a while.
8. Develop basic language fluency
Are you traveling somewhere where the locals rarely speak English? If so, you might feel anxious about how to order food in restaurants or ask where you can find the restroom. Hesitancy to speak the language is one of the most common fears of travel.. Fortunately, you can quickly build fluency with the help of an app — before your plane takes off.
9. Give yourself time to acclimate
Many people suffer from a fear of travel because they don't give themselves adequate time to adjust to their surroundings. Jet lag can leave you exhausted, especially if you've flown halfway around the globe. Following a rapid-fire itinerary of Belgium one day and Italy the next, you may feel your head reeling.
If your budget and schedule permit you to do so, add buffer days to your trip. Use these extra days to stroll the neighborhood where you're staying. Chat with local shopkeepers. Observe how people customarily dress and greet each other. You'll feel more comfortable in a foreign city if you give it time to stop seeming strange.
10. Master some self-defense moves
Do you think you have to earn your black belt in martial arts to defend yourself? Nonsense. All that training can lead to overconfidence, which gets you into trouble in real-world situations. The same moves that score you points in the dojo won't usually disable an attacker, anyway — if they did, karate schools everywhere would hurt for sparring partners.
Instead, focus on learning the vulnerable areas of a would-be mugger's body. Don't obsess over possible confrontations — but do visualize yourself elbow-striking a miscreant's Adam's apple. Remember, your bodily safety matters more than any material objects — if someone says, "your money or your life," fork over the cash if doing so allows you to walk away. But don’t fret too much, as long as you’re aware and streetwise, you shouldn’t encounter any problems at all.
11. Avoid the bad stuff
OK, no trip to the Champagne region of France feels complete without trying the vintage that wins the area such renown. However, for the most part, lay off the sauce — and say no if anyone offers you illicit substances. You could end up feeling worse — too much of the hard stuff increases anxiety. You could also make poor decisions you live to regret. If you struggle to say no, inform those who push you to party that you have an allergy or take medications that interact poorly with alcohol.
You can overcome your fear of travel
If your fear of travel stops you from travelling abroad, you can calm your nerves and ease your mind by following these tips. And once you’ve gotten out there to see the world, you'll become so hooked on the adventure, your fears will fade into the past.
About the Author
Alyssa Abel is a student life writer whose passions include travel inspiration, study abroad and self-development. Read more of her work on her blog, Syllabusy.