Travel Anxiety

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAIn our culture that upholds the extrovert ideal as the pinnacle of a life fully lived, I often hear from clients who share that they often feel shame when they don’t fit the mold. I hear from clients in their 20s who feel like they “should” enjoy going to parties and drinking alcohol; clients in their 30s who feel like they “should” have unequivocal clarity about wanting to have a child; and clients of all ages who fall into the belief that they “should” enjoy traveling.

While traveling can be exciting and eye-opening, it can also be quite grueling, especially for the highly sensitive and introverted temperaments. One of the hallmarks of highly sensitive people is having difficulty with change, and there are few experiences more disruptive than leaving the comfort zone of home, the familiarity of your bed and routines, the place where your roots extend down into the earth, and by extension, your soul finds rest. Highly sensitive people thrive when they know what to expect and struggle in the face of uncertainty. Travel can put this challenge right in your face.

If you’re traveling across many time zones, you’ll also be dealing with the often-unnerving experience of jet lag. Your physical self will be disrupted in all ways, food, exercise, and sleep all turned on their heads. The typical person can easily roll with the punches and find her/his flow. But for the highly sensitive person, these disruptions can create such disequilibrium inside that a state of anxiety often follows.

Traveling can also stir up old abandonment trauma. When you travel, you pull yourself out of your comfort zone and plop yourself into completely unfamiliar territory. As such, it can trigger visceral, preverbal reminders of early birth trauma, sleep trauma, and separation anxiety. Who talks about this layer of travel? It’s certainly not discussed in the guidebooks.

Similarly, if you’re an introvert the common sightseeing model of “go go go” won’t work for you. You need time every day to turn inward, time to be alone (if possible), time to be, to lie by the pool or curl up with a good book in your hotel room. I’ve noticed that alongside the more commonly understood temperaments of  extroverts and introverts, there are also “do-ers” and “be-ers”: people who enjoy being on the move and staying busy and those who prefer to sit in the grass and smell the flowers. Neither is worse or better than the other, but the challenges arise when you don’t honor your rhythm and/or when you’re partnered with someone with the opposite rhythm. And, as life is designed to help us grow our inferior functions, I’ve noticed that do-ers and be-ers often partner up. So the challenge with travel – and, at times, with a shared life – is to find that middle ground where your need to be is balanced by your partner’s need to do.

A significant portion of the healing process is undoing the beliefs you absorbed regarding what defines worthiness. Well-meaning teachers and parents, in their attempt to create a well-oiled machine of school or family life, are quick to overlook a particular child’s needs and rhythm because it causes an inconvenience to the whole. As a result, most kids are squished into a box that doesn’t meet their needs and transmits the belief that they’re not okay as they are. They’re pushed into activities, sleep patterns, or social situations, a subtle form of trauma can occur. It’s not the trauma of a car accident or an abusive parent, but it’s a slow-building, daily trauma that, over the eighteen years of dependency, create a pervasive running commentary that says, “I’m not right in some way and my needs don’t matter.”

The good news is that this belief can be reversed and healed when you learn to show up for yourself as the loving inner parent that you never had. A loving inner parent slows down long enough to listen closely to feelings, thoughts, and needs. A loving inner parent takes time each day to listen carefully and watch closely for symptoms and signs that something is awry in their child – or in your inner self. So if you are traveling, be sure to take time both before the trip and during it to ask yourself what you’ll need to feel safe on the trip. And keep in mind that travel isn’t necessarily something to be avoided. In fact, like all transitions, when approached consciously and with a great deal of self-compassion it can offer profound opportunities to heal.

Before you leave for a trip, ask yourself the following questions:

1. How can I prepare physically so that I feel safe inside? Do I need to make sure we have a kitchen? What food can I bring with me? Do I need to make sure the exercise is part of the experience? Is the quality of the mattress essential to a successful trip?

2. How can I attend emotionally so that I feel safe inside? Do I need to take time each day to find a quiet space and turn inward? How can I make sure that I allow myself to cry if that’s what emerges?

3. How can I attend spiritually so that I feel safe inside? What can I bring with me to create a “home away from home”? Candles? Prayer books? Music?

When you can meet your uncomfortable places with compassion, you may find that habitual negative experience of travel transforms into greater resiliency. Again, the path of self-acceptance doesn’t mean that you avoid uncomfortable situations and only live within your comfort zone. It means that you push yourself slightly beyond your comfort zone and meet whatever you find there with love.

38 comments to Travel Anxiety

  • Lalalove

    LOVE THIS. I have just recently noticed so much of this about myself. And it’s amplified of course when I’m going through transitional times in my life. Thank you for this!

  • Betsy

    This is perfect right now as I am in Ecuador for a month (by myself) doing dissertation work. I am about halfway through and I found myself out touring today and had moments where I just wanted to break down and cry because it was very lonely. I still struggle with not wanting to cry in public but needing to honor that part of me that needs to cry. When I have the alone time, the tears don’t really come. I find it to be such a difficult place, because I don’t feel that extreme loneliness when I am by myself, but I do sometimes feel it when I am traveling alone but surrounded by people. I’m trying to find the balance in the lonelliness that I dislike but the moments of solitude that I do like. Anyway, thanks for the article, as always!

    • I, too, never feel lonely when I’m alone but I find nothing lonelier than being in a crowd of people alone. Yes, let yourself cry when you can. It’s truly the best medicine.

    • Kelsey

      Thank you for putting that feeling into words- A feeling it seems most people don’t understand…”feeling lonely when surrounded by people, but not feeling lonely when you are alone”

      I feel that way too and most of the people in my life feel the opposite and always want to be with others in order to not feel lonely. It is difficult to not feel like an outcast, or that something is “wrong with you”.

      Thank you for sharing, Betsy

  • sarah

    I love this, especially as I’m transitioning back into “real life” after spending a whole week away from home in a setting very different than my usual city life. I often notice before a travel adventure there’s a belief that the trip will be extraordinary, that I’m going to be carefree, worry-free, and it will all just be effortless (fantasy, fantasy, and more fantasy). It’s an effort to stay present, to remind myself that I’m still going to be me. Transitioning back into routine is always the hardest part for me – I think this is why we reminisce so much when something special has come to an end. I love the questions you offered to help on the front end of traveling, and I’m going to try to apply these to even just leaving home each morning for work. 😉 thank you.

    • Oh, yes, the fantasy piece about travel: thank you for bringing that up. I think it’s so common to trick yourself into believing that “getting away” is the panacea for whatever is difficult in life, and it’s a hard crash to reality when you do get away and – lo and behold – there you are with the same mind!

      I love the idea of asking these questions before going to work, or perhaps even before going out into the world for any reason. We’re going through transitions all the time, and for those of us for whom home is the safe haven, it’s important to honor these smaller transitions and the effect they can have on psyche.

  • Hey Sheryl great post 🙂
    Quick question tho , I seem to hit a wall and I feel very numb and emotionless
    ( long distance relationship he leaves for a month every other month ) I feel when he calls now I feel very numb , I don’t feel like I do not want to talk to him or annoyed with him , I just don’t feel happy and I was just wondering if starting a new stressful job with a lot of hours of labour and always feeling exhausted and unhappy with anything really could be the cause of it ?
    Me and my partner are really like any other couple , ups and downs , connected , disconnected
    When he’s home i do enjoy he company and we laugh we get along well and he’s a very smart nice man that’s also very wakie and weird kinda reminds me of my brother lol
    I also feel sad and frustrated when I think of my job because I feel like I work so many hours that when he does come home I’ll never get a chance to spend some time with him ,
    Now I just feel soo disconnected to him ,
    My question is , is this normal and should I be trying to treat it as a loving adult to my inner child ?
    Right now i just feel like I’m lost at sea not knowing witch way to go
    To be honest I just want someone to treat my like a hurt little child and tell me everything is okay / normal , keep pushing
    Also I show love and like to receive love with touch idk if that would help

    • Oh and I know when he’s home we laugh and do things together but right now I feel so outta whack and disconnected that I can’t be a 100% or even 80% positive of anything right now , when I think about the good times , I see them for a few seconds and smile for a second and then they go away just like that , like I feel good and almost happy and then this cloud of anxiety and emptiness hugs me tightly , to be honest it kinda feel like the world was just dropped right back onto my shoulders and I can physically feel my shoulders droop down again ,
      So if anyone has had the experience before please , let me know how you dealt with it and got thru the weird feelings
      Because I’m very high % sure I do not want to leave this relation ship and I want to learn the real love laws with him because even thru all this I feel like if I put my mind and heart it to this relation ship we can make it work
      ( to be honest something in me just keeps pushing me because that parts really wants tome make it work idk where it’s coming from , but it’s there )

  • it’s gotten to the point where I keep asking other couples how long thieve been together and keep thinking about my aunts and ulcers who’ve been with their partners sense the ages of teens to now 40s and 50 and it give me a little glimpse of light and hope
    I’m in my early 20s and I just want to be 50 right now with my partner , kinda just want to skip ahead and make sure we are still together then I guess ( I’m not 100% sure I want skip ahead , but when I think about it , I guess it’s because I want it to last and want to know we can do it , and I’m very scared of the future )
    Promise I’m all done now lol feeling alittle bit better after just writing it down ,
    Thank you for your beautiful site 🙂 and sorry for the rant

  • Lydia

    Sheryl, thank you so much for this post! I’m in the middle of a marathon five-week trip right now. I’d been building it up in my head as my “dream trip” for over a year beforehand – that adds a dynamic of very high expectations to the travel anxiety!

    To top it all off, my boyfriend proposed the first week of the trip, and while support poured in from virtually everyone, my mother’s reaction was crushingly negative… And a couple of days later, I got sick.

    It was only through staying open to ALL the feelings (about everything!) – and finding a day-to-day food/exercise/sightseeing routine that works for both of us – that I’ve been able to find my groove and relax into each place we’ve visited.

    I’m so proud of how we’ve continued to celebrate and find joy in each place, in spite of my mother and in spite of the difficulties of being away from home. I don’t know what shape I’d be in without the coping tools I’ve learned from you! Many thanks!

    • Blessings to you, Lydia! Congratulations on your engagement and, more importantly, on being able to find your center despite the difficulties with your mother. Your self-care and self-compassion shine through in your comment.

  • MIS84

    Wow – it appears that many of us are on the road right now! I have been out of the country for nearly three weeks (without my boyfriend) for two weddings, and I am really feeling a lot of angst bubble to the surface. Thanks for helping me to process this!

  • Tina

    I identify with this. I’ve found that if I can leave my house and beloved cats in the care of a trusted sitter, my anxiety calms considerably. She is worth every penny we pay her because I know she cares for and protects my left-behind soul parts fiercely. She gets how important her job is. Thank you, Sheryl. I’m sharing this on Facebook. <3

  • Gen

    Hi Sheryl,

    This article really spoke to me this week. I’ve been traveling with my boyfriend for close to 7mths now and we’re planning to travel for a further 7mths! As a highly sensitive person, I definitely feel the daily urge to have some alone and quiet time where I can just breath and be alone. I also find myself becoming very attached to any place that slightly feels like a “home” and feeling that uneasy feeling when it is time to move on again.

    Throughout this trip I’ve often found myself making comparisons to some other friends and my boyfriend, thinking why aren’t I such a go-getter, and full of energy like they are? I know this comes back to me developing my own sense of worthiness, appreciating and accepting myself for who I am. My need to control and predict the future has also come up a lot, but I’m slowly relaxing into the feeling of uncertainty- even finding it exciting at times. Overall, I’d say that this trip has been the best thing I’ve done for myself- I’m learning to sit with myself and let the anxiety wash over me when it arise, without the distractions of everyday life.

    Thank you Sherly, I’ve been reading your blogs every week now for 2yrs and have also done your e-course. Without your work I know I wouldn’t be where I am today. X

  • runawaybride

    Thank you for this. I have suffered from panic attacks my whole life. Mostly brought on by traveling (flying specifically) and being far away from home. I have felt many times like a prisoner because I want to travel but I just can’t. I recently went on a trip to Los Angeles (from Oregon) with my fiancé’ and actually had a great time with minimal anxiety. I feel more optimistic about travelling than I ever have so this is perfectly timed right on the heels of this experience. Thanks again.

  • I needed this a couple weeks ago 😀 I travel each year for a work conference and this year it was in Vancouver (and I’m from NYS) I knew it was going to be beautiful but I was somewhat dreading it at the same time. I was fortunately able to travel better than I expected, even when I missed a connecting flight! While there, I made sure to take time each day to do something that had nothing to do with work or the conference – times where I would be away from people to recharge (particularly since my profession is very keen on networking) So my recharge activities included walking around, sitting on a bench by the water, going in a couple stores and even on one day – just going back to my hotel to watch TV before the evening of dinners and parties started. It helped a lot and plus it made me work better because I had those few moments to regroup.

    All in all, I love traveling. When I was in college, I took my first plane ride EVER – I had never done so because my parents wouldn’t fly and I recognized how limiting that could be in my life if I let that fear keep hold of me. It was one of the best decisions I had ever made because I’ve been able to go to many places as a result, both for work and pleasure. I was fortunate that my fear was just basic fear of the unknown and not a paralyzing phobia (I realize many MANY people have this and can’t just get on a plane like I did). My parents are in sheer awe that I can get myself to an airport, navigate the whole system and arrive somewhere on the other end of the continent in a matter of hours.

  • ColoradoGirl

    Sheryl- I can’t thank you enough for this post. It is SO incredibly timely and honestly brought tears to my eyes after spending four of the last five weekends on travel. I do love to travel but it’s a double shed sword as it leaves me feeling emotionally and physically exhausted. I’m connecting a lot with this idea that I need to bring my ‘home’ with me on these trips. Often, my headaches flair up upon return due to the stress of travel and getting off the routine that keeps me feeling healthy and happy. It can be a tough thing to balance. There’s also the acute experience of feeling anxious about leaving home, I had a bit of that flare up as well prior to our trip to Bali last year. I began to feel dizzy and quite scared before that trip. It was a challenging/growth experience for sure. Couple that with a slight fear of flying after losing a brother to a plane crash and it can make for a tumultuous experience. I remind myself often of the thing I feel I gain on these international trips which is always perspective and a deeping of gratitude. I come home so thankful for all the conveniences we are offered here in America… And always an appreciation for the ability to see how others live. Thank you again for touching on this topic! With love!

  • stephanie

    Ah, this post reminds me that I am not alone! I LOVE to travel, but it takes a few days for me to feel settled and at peace inside, and it’s much harder when I’m traveling with a big group. To create my home away from home, I always bring along my comfy house shoes and a few bags of my favorite tea. (Tea is always comforting… ALWAYS!) I also bring a journal or journal on my phone. By the way, I have friends and family who travel almost every other month. Whew! Going somewhere two or three times a year is enough for me. I find that traveling (or even having people visit/stay at my home) can disrupt my inner sense of peace. They’re both things I enjoy, but I’m also aware of how they effect me. I deeply cherish my quiet time at home. 🙂 I often daydream about moving overseas. The move would be a big change for sure, but then it would be a long-term home that I could grow into instead of a short 1-week stay. Interesting topic to post on, and so relevant for us who are highly sensitive. Thanks!

  • Rebecca

    We were lucky enough to go on a honeymoon in Spain after our wedding, and I struggled with such guilt for wanting to stay in the room and watch Modern Family! I felt terrible, ungrateful, and almost bratty for not fully embracing the experience. Reading this makes me feel so understood, and looking back and thinking, well heck engagement was a hard time, marriage was a big scary leap of faith, and then the cherry on top was 15 hours of travel across the Atlantic to a foreign place immediately following said scary leap of faith? It makes sense now why I felt all the things you describe. I wish that we’d waited to take our honeymoon now, two years in when things have settled down!

  • Jessicabythebay

    OH yes! This is so true for me. I have major wanderlust but am VERY uneasy traveling. My relationship anxiety ALWAYS spikes when my partner and I travel and it makes me really sad because I want to enjoy that time with him and feel pressure to make the most of the time away and financial investment. Ugh! Such a vicious cycle. I think I need to take better care of myself and my anxiety when I travel instead of just trying to be “up for anything” girl. My partner is a do-er, for sure, and I am more of a be-er (though I do like some doing). It’s reassuring to know that this is a common arrangement in couples. I hope if I take better care of my anxiety when I travel that my relationship anxiety won’t spike as much. I want to enjoy our trips!

    Thank you so much, Sheryl. 🙂

  • Ticha

    Thank you so much for this piece and your wonderful work. As a parent, I was wondering how to prepare my 5 year old introvert for our next trip. The questions helped me think of how I can prepare myself and my daughter. I would love any other tips on helping our young children trust themselves and their rhythms. I work hard to not repeat my well-meaning and loving parents’ ways, but struggle to find the line between responsive parenting and permissiveness with my 5 & 2 year olds. Thank you!!

  • Ingrid

    Thank you Sheryl. This is so helpful. In recent years I always struggle when travelling, resisting it because I know much of what you’ve listed will happen, insomnia being the biggest problem. I love what you say about pushing beyond our comfort zone with awareness and compassion which will lead to greater resilience. I so long for that. Thank you for your wonderful wisdom, as always, and new subjects which are so important to bring. x

  • sonakshi

    I haven’t read this post yet but I need help.I think I am slowly losing faith in everything and everyone..in my spiritual guidance,my family,friends,boyfriend,and most painfully in me.My wounded self is telling me that the only way out is leave him and that there is no love in this world.It’s telling me that maybe even all of you are wrong(SORRY!!)and maybe suicide is the only option.I actually need someone to talk to when I am feeling the worst and nobody knows all this is going on with me and I can’t tell them too.If anyone here can help me out it would the lifeline for me.PLEASE SOMEONE!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Sonakshi: I strongly urge you to seek local support from a crisis center or therapist. Do you have anyone you can go to for support? If not, please email me and I will direct you to resources.

      • sonakshi

        I have no one to go to.After typing that comment yesterday I told my bf what I was going through.I told him to read your article’The initiation of relationship anxiety’and he seems to get it a bit but I want him to be tension-free.My parents know am depressed about something and want me to divert my mind but they just don’t understand.Thanks Sheryl..only you understand.I have e-mailed you.Please read it.PLEASE!!

  • Embie

    Once again your wisdom shines through your articles Sheryl! My partner is a be-er and I am most certainly a do-er. There have been times that we’ve been conflicted, especially about travel, because as an introvert it is much harder for him to leave his comfort zone. Your words speak to a place where I want to be — working to find the middle ground and grow the inferior parts of myself!

  • Amy

    I love this post Sheryl! What a wonderful combination-my favorite, soothing spiritual blog and my life’s passion, travel! As “digital nomads” my boyfriend and I travel extensively, working online as we go. It’s very important for people to realise how their temperament must be honored while they travel, and those of their travel partners! I’m definitely an HSP, and my boyfriend is very introverted, so we’ve learned to travel more slowly, plan well ahead if needed, and roll with the punches. Recognizing that travel has its ups and downs is vital, good days and bad days will happen in your life, whether you’re living day to day life at home or adventuring in paradise. It’s about finding that equanimity. Appreciating the balance. We try to make sure we’re not pushing ourselves to do too much, striking a good balance with our alone time and just “being” ( as you said), and our “doing.” It has worked well so far, as we work on making travel part of our lifestyle…..Awesome article!!

  • Watermoon

    Hi sonakshi. Sorry to know that you are in so much pain. I have frequently visited those realms of despair. In the last ten years it’s very rare for me to get those thoughts about suicide but they came often to me when I was young and distressed. I came to see them as a sign I needed more support and care. I think it’s very important to reach out for help directly, in the form of a professional therapist. When I was feeling so bad I also found help in religious counsel, healing rituals, friends, and massage. You might find some comfort in the Befrienders, an international organization dedicated to suicide prevention. They are on the internet and also have a hotline. http://www.befrienders.org.

    If it helps, know that many of us have struggled with terror and dark thoughts and desperation and wishes to escape or end. That doesn’t mean those thoughts are correct. They are a sign of distress and a wish to escape from pain. But know that even when facing such intense struggle, healing is not just possible but probable. We are designed to heal and grow. I have been blessed in the last ten years and while I still struggle with anxiety, all the support I found and healing I did have helped me let of of those dark thoughts. I married my loving partner even though some friends counseled me he was not right for me (basically because of differences in class and education background). I still feel scared a lot but also feel tremendous joy.

    Healing is not just possible – it’s the course we are designed to take. It just can feel so scary. It’s so important to get the right support. Get connected to therapist and maybe support group and have a hotline number handy. And if you feel awful, call The befrienders or another support line. It’s important to help the wounded self know that they are not alone with overwhelming pain but that comfort is available. And if the first person you reach out to doesn’t help, keep reaching out til you find support. And Sheryl’s work of going within will be a tremendous aid as well.

    Sending healing wishes to you.

    • sonakshi

      Thanks Watermoon:)Your words are really motivating.THANK YOU!!I just hope all of this ends..thanks again!!

  • Ashley Chapman

    Hello,

    So I am constantly wanting to cry all the time but I hold back cuz I just cant. I want to break up with my boyfriend all the time but I have no reason to leave. I know I love him so where but the last several days all I feel is a disconnect from him. I wanna feel close to him again. I feel like confessing wanting to break up and crying it out. But i dnt know why. I love him why do I want to break up. I know I am not happy with myself or love myself. But I just dont know what to do. I dont want to lose him but i cant seem to hold. He is away at military school. Im supposed to be flying to see him soon but Im scared cuz apart of me fantasizes about the trip and is happy but the other part just wants to break up for no reason and just leave. I just want to get those loving feelings back again. How do I get through this transition. I want to be with him and everything go right but the other just wants to leave for no reason. It makes me so sad I dont know what to do.

  • Jennifer

    Sheryl, thank you for this post. It was a really interesting take on the travel experience. I am a highly sensitive person who experiences a lot of anxiety and self-esteem issues around if people like and approve of me in work and my personal life. I -love- to travel alone. I’m not sure what it is that is about solo travel that frees me from the anxiety that is so crushing in day to day life. Of course I worry about being harmed, losing my passport, going into a restaurant where I can’t read the menu and ordering something (I’m a typical HSP picky eater). But traveling alone is such a release from the day to day anxiety and fears I feel in work and social life around if people like me, if I said the right thing, shouldn’t I enjoy socialising with co-workers more, should I have really said that in the meeting at work, etc. There are just no expectations, it’s totally my own experience. There is no one else around to say the wrong thing to or worry about. It is a bit lonely at times but I love to immerse myself in the richness of the new surroundings and just feel it, without worrying about if I am disappointing another person. People have commented to me they are surprised an anxious, worrying person like me travels alone, but something about the release from the pressures of disappointing others in daily life is just so soothing and empowering for me.

    Anyway, if you read my comment, I hope you have a wonderful day, thank you for your work! I signed up for the Conscious Weddings e-course, I’ve only gone through half of the readings but know the rest are there when I need them. Take care <3