I don’t know what is in the air these days, but it seems everyone is anxious about traveling. Worried they might forget something. Concerned that best laid plans won’t work out. Imagining dying in a fiery plane crash. I’ll tell you, there is a lot to worry about these days, but your trip isn’t one of them. Travel anxiety is real and I am here to talk you down.

Packing Anxiety

Let’s start with packing. I’m going to be straight with you, you’re going to forget something. Right when you get on the plane, it will flash like a lightning bolt along with realizing that you forgot to feed the cat. Be calm. There’s nothing you can do once you’re on the plane. You can buy virtually everything at your destination, I promise. And the cat will be fine, although it may pee on your favorite sweater.

To ease your worry, before you pack you can consult my expert packing list, or download my packing assistant app, Packupine. Most things you’ll need are listed in those places and you can even print a list and cross it off as you pack.

Even so, you may forget something. I forgot my wristwatch so many times that I don’t even own one anymore. I’ve adapted to using my phone. And that’s what you’ll do too, you will adapt no matter what you’ve forgotten. To ease your mind, here is a list of things you can easily buy at ANY destination, maybe excepting Antarctica:

  • Clothes and shoes in almost any size. Yes, they may not fit fabulously or be your style, but you CAN buy clothes anywhere.
  • Toiletries of all kinds. They may not be your brand, but you may find something new that you love, like spray deodorant or nice-smelling shampoo.
  • Electronics, even a cell phone. I smashed my iPhone in my rental car door this spring, and it is the nerve center of my working life. BIG freak out in rural Sicily. But I had a new one up and running two hours later.
  • Medications, yes, even medications. I have helped clients on numerous occasions with this. Your doctor can contact a pharmacy at your destination. Some places like Mexico and Cambodia will sell you just about anything without a prescription.
  • Luggage can be bought anywhere to replace broken suitcases or provide extra room for goodies.
  • Snacks for people with dietary restrictions are widely available these days, including bread or pasta without gluten.

All you really need is a passport and a credit card, although even those can be replaced. Oh, and clothes. Nudity isn’t socially acceptable in most places.

Travel Mishap Anxiety

Getting from your home to an exotic destination can be complex with lots of room for error. What if you miss your plane? What if you accidentally booked the wrong dates? What if you booked in or out of the wrong city? I have dealt with all of these things with my tour clients and let me ease your mind–it all works out in the end.

To ease your concerns about plane connections and problems, you may want to book with a travel agent rather than online. A good agent can solve problems for you while you do other things. It’s not cheap–some can charge up to $100 per ticket for their service. However, travel agents can offset that fee by finding cheaper tickets for you.

I’ve been impressed with Expedia’s customer service, which came as a surprise to me. I recently had to make a change to a ticket on short notice and the representative stayed on the phone with me for four hours to sort it out. It all worked out.

What about missing a connection? That’s the most common problem and it’s happened to me, and more often than I’d like. First thing, don’t panic. Second thing, find someone to help you. You’ll need to rebook your connection, and the airline may have already done it for you. Staff will often be looking for you and waiting to direct you, but if not, go to the help desk at the airport. If the line is long, call the airline while you’re waiting or go to the airline website to see the status and rebook. I promise it will work out, it always does. It might be messy, but you’ll get where you’re going. Nobody wants you to live at the airport!

Travel Sickness Anxiety

Getting sick happens, and when you’re way from home it sucks. Big time. I’ve seen just about everything. Broken limbs, detaching retinas, deep leg thromboses, mysterious rashes. My son got an intestinal infection in Thailand and it made for a miserable few days, even for a sunshiny person like him. What will happen if you get sick?

First thing, don’t panic (see a pattern here?). Call your health provider and tell them what’s going on. If you need to see a doctor, talk with your hotel or tour guide. They will likely know an English speaking doctor somewhere in the area. Get help sooner rather than later. If you’re not needing a hospital, go to the local pharmacy. Outside of the US, pharmacies act as mini doctor’s offices and can usually prescribe something for you. When Lu was sick in Cambodia, I went to a local pharmacy and described the problem with charades. After lots of awkward laughter, the pharmacist gave me something that cured him within 24 hours. I was wishing we’d gone much earlier.

I’ve seen the inside of more foreign hospitals than anyone should, but hey, that’s my job. And I’ll tell you, I haven’t lost anyone yet. It is going to be ok, even if it doesn’t seem like it.

Not Understanding Anxiety

People in other countries speak other languages, and we in the US are not so good at making foreign language a part of our education. You may be worried about not understanding anything in a foreign language and having your trip go down in flames because you’ll never find your hotel or locate a toilet. I speak several languages, but I totally understand that feeling. My first trip to Greece was a shock, I just didn’t expect to be so clueless, and not be able to read a thing or understand the language.

One of the skills I acquired early in my travel days was non-verbal communication. Gestures can go a long way. People want to understand you and will play along. Everyone everywhere understands the potty dance. I carry a small notebook and pen. If all else fails, I’ll draw what I want (a toilet is one I am good at).

The reality is, though, that the world is much smaller than in my early travel days. Most people speak a word or two of English almost everywhere. I even expect the penguins in Antarctica do. And if not, you’ve always got technology. Google Translate is a wondrous thing that can even, roughly, translate signs and menus. I’d bet it even knows penguin.

Fear of the Unknown Travel Anxiety

In the end, I’ll bet that the most common anxiety is one you can’t really put your finger on. Travel is forging out of your comfort zone and into the unknown. Anything can happen. That’s scary, but also exhilarating. Seeing new cultures, hearing new languages, not being in control of your surroundings. I understand, I really do. That is why we travel. This world is a bright and complex place, and diving into a very different culture feels like jumping off a cliff. My first visit to Thailand made me feel like I was on acid for the first few days. It was scary, but so colorful and smelly and delicious.

You can mitigate this fear but empowering yourself with knowledge. Invest in a good guidebook or hire a local guide. Read before you go, not just internet top ten lists, Pinterest beauty boards and blogs, but actual literature from the country you’re going to. It helps to understand the mentality of the locals and will ease your fears. People are people, even if we eat different things and have different habits. We all love and fear and struggle.

You’re Going to be FINE

Now, take a deep breath. You’re going to be ok, even if it doesn’t feel like it. Everything will work out…somehow. Put your travel anxiety on a shelf. Bring a cellphone with the number of your smartest friend on speed dial. You have a network beneath you that you don’t even realize: embassies, airlines, friends, hoteliers, tour guides. We are all here and can help when you need it. Just ask.

I’ve been traveling for several months every year for more than 20 years. I’m more or less ok (although the jury may be out on that one). I’ve never encountered a problem that couldn’t be solved. Just relax, think things through logically. One foot in front of the other and you’ll walk down a magical path that will open your mind. It’s worth it.

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Sarah Murdoch is a tour guide and guidebook writer for Rick Steves Europe. Her blog, Adventures with Sarah, focuses on packing tips, travel stories and advice for planning the best trip possible.

14 replies on “Travel Anxiety: Yes, You’ll Be OK”

  1. Hi Sarah – Glad you are back. Would it be possible for you to post about how to obtain/establish, etc. cell phone service in Europe? Sim card , basic info – what it is and where to buy? Contacting your American carrier – overseas plans? Or purchasing a phone overseas, cost, establishing service?
    Thank you!

  2. This article couldn’t have come at a better time for me! I’m traveling to the UK with my elderly (although very active) parents who have never been out of the U.S. It’s definitely made me feel more secure, as well. Thanks again for the great words of wisdom! I’m forwarding it to them as we speak!

  3. Pearls, absolute pearls, Sarah. Count me among the grateful for your sage advice. I thrill to making my travel anxieties burst into joyful, if not perfect, adventures. Travel on!

  4. I enjoy your blogs but this one was extra relevant. It brings comfort to read that seasoned travelers have they anxieties but push through it!

  5. I’m very much appreciating this particular post, Sarah. I have experienced one or more of these anxieties before or during my many trips. You are absolutely correct, things do work out. I’m living proof!! Thanks for a very comforting and perceptive post. Andi

  6. Your article is spot on! I talk to so many people that follow my travels on facebook, but say they are afraid to go anywhere. We spent 2 months in Ecuador and Panama last winter. We even changed our flights using just the cell phone when we decided it was too cold to go home yet. I am possessed with the idea of packing light, mostly because I am short and can’t carry a lot of weight on my back. We are headed to South America for 4 months in December, and I will be only using a small backpack and a under the seat wheeled bag. We are both in our 60’s and don’t speak a lot of spanish, but people are friendly and helpful everywhere we have visited.

  7. Great article, Sarah! I travel a fair bit, and am not anxious about it; but my friend who usually comes with me is. We’ve had a few “moments”, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed, and now those are just great travel stories to be remembered.

  8. Hello Sarah. This is an excellent blog! I am a seasoned traveler and all you addressed here is on point. Many people around me have asked how I have the courage to visit a country where I cannot speak their language….My reply…It is an exciting challenge! They fail to understand that even I have ALL of the anxieties you addressed in this blog and yet, I go anyway.
    I love that you encourage, and encourage, and keep encouraging people to travel. Keep it up! I tell people that I am richer, eat better and have more tolerance than I could have ever been able to be, do or develop if it had not been for travel to foreign countries. I am obsessed with travel and have been so since my first visit to Paris in April of 1986. It rained all week. I froze my feet. My beautiful pink raincoat looked like a muddy rag but, it was the most exciting place I had ever been.
    So, thank you for your articles and tales of adventures. Keep them coming! Happy travels!

  9. I am leaving on a wonderful adventure in 3 days and I’ve begun worrying about just about everything you covered. Your advice couldn’t have arrived at a better time. Thanks, Sarah!

  10. You hit my nail straight on the head. I try to travel alone once a year and every year I have gotten sick ! Broken bone, pulled ligaments, serious asthma, and motion sickness ! HOWEVER you are absolutely correct ! The hospitals and clinics and pharmacies saved me even when my German was nil!
    I am going in a trip with my sister in law next week and have your packing list on front of me with my list! Now to take the rest of your advice and embrace the unknown. I am sure you meet all your challenges head on with gusto and humour ! Take care ! Andiamo!!! Cheers!

  11. This came at the perfect time – I leave on Thursday for my first overseas trip in almost 20 years. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

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