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My Battle with Travel Anxiety

I spent my first day in Paris dry heaving and watching MTV dubbed in French in my Quartier Latin hotel room. While the rest of my family was out exploring the city, my dad patiently sat with me while I tried to keep down the medicine I picked up from the local pharmacy. What the hell is wrong with me?

This wasn’t the first time my anxiety prevented me from living a normal life. I remember my first panic attack when I was in 4th grade. I came downstairs crying, but I didn’t know why. I was so overcome with anxiety that I didn’t know what to do except for cry.

It came and went over the years, cropping up mostly when I was put in new situations. My anxiety was at its worst the summer before my freshman year of high school, when this trip to Paris occurred.

That summer I went to every type of doctor, getting diagnosed with an ovarian cyst, acid reflux disease and eventually anxiety. I took medication, but I never felt like it worked. My solution was to stop eating whenever I was feeling anxious, which yielded disastrous results. At one point I was less than 100 pounds. I just had to be able to control something, since my anxiety was controlling me.

I more or less got it under control in high school and college, with only a few incidents, including getting sick on my first day in Amsterdam and spending my first day in London sleeping. And many times I would drink to feel less anxious. Another bad idea.

When it comes to traveling, my anxiety is always the worst on the first day. Time zone changes and new environments make that day difficult, so I tend not to eat much. But since I went to Australia, the episodes have been minor.

Only a few people outside my family have seen me in the midst of a panic attack, but once I read Chris of Aussie on the Road’s post about his battle with depression, I knew it was important to talk about it. I briefly talked about it in a post about why I travel. Most people see me traveling constantly and doing crazy things like bungy jumping, but I will always have a problem with anxiety. Like alcoholism, like depression, like eating disorders, anxiety is always there, right below the surface, even when you think you’ve overcome it. It sits there, waiting for you to be at your weakest.

But I’m committed to not letting anxiety get in the way of my love for travel anymore. I just keep moving, not giving anxiety any time to creep up on me as I’m jet lagged and stressed about travel plans. I’m taking steps to become more healthy and cut down on my caffeine intake, which only makes me more jittery and anxious.

Have you ever struggled with anxiety?

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17 Responses to My Battle with Travel Anxiety

  1. Bess March 6, 2012 at 1:07 am #

    I think it’s really interesting–and cool–that travel provokes your anxiety but you love to travel anyway. I struggle with anxiety, so I totally know what you mean. I think when I get in new situations, it calms me because it gives me something to focus on outside myself. But my anxiety also crops up in those situations, making me act irritable or distracted. Besides being physically healthy and avoiding stimulants, I think you just live with it, like you said. Maybe the more we live life, the more we trust that we can handle whatever comes our way, and maybe then we won’t feel so nervous anymore. I hope!

    • carolineinthecityblog March 6, 2012 at 3:24 am #

      Thanks for the positivity, Bess! It’s definitely a struggle, but travel makes it worth it.

  2. peach March 6, 2012 at 6:17 am #

    thank you so much for sharing!
    as a fellow lifelong anxiety sufferer, i’m always interested to hear other stories. moreover, i often read travel bloggers in awe that they seem so anxiety free so it’s nice to hear the other side :)

    • carolineinthecityblog March 7, 2012 at 7:25 pm #

      Thanks for commenting! I wanted to write this for a long time and I’m glad so many people can relate!

  3. Chris (Aussie on the Road) March 7, 2012 at 5:52 am #

    Thanks for sharing the story of your own battle with anxieties. I’ve had a few panic attacks of my own in the past, but I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to experience them the way you do. My brother suffers from near crippling social anxieties, and reading this gave me some insight into what it must feel like for him.

    Glad my post could inspire you to share your own story :-)

    • carolineinthecityblog March 7, 2012 at 7:26 pm #

      Thanks, Chris! Hope you are doing well. I can’t wait to hear about your China adventures!

  4. Tash March 7, 2012 at 10:25 am #

    Great post, it’s so, so important to share these stories, to help break down the stigma, but also to educate people. Well done!

    Sounds like you are getting to know the triggers, and are taking care to work through your anxiety when you need to. Good for you.

    • carolineinthecityblog March 7, 2012 at 7:26 pm #

      Thanks Tash! Knowing the triggers definitely helps.

  5. Amanda @ Not A Ballerina March 7, 2012 at 11:57 am #

    Great post, Caroline. I suffered badly from an anxiety disorder in my late teens/early 20s and strangely enough, travelling long-term (and getting away from everyday triggers, perhaps) seemed to solve it rather well and these days I very rarely have even a mild episode (in mid 30s now!). But very important to talk about it. And good on you for continuing to travel despite it. Proud of you!

    • carolineinthecityblog March 7, 2012 at 7:26 pm #

      Thanks Amanda! I love your blog. I appreciate your kind words!

  6. Annemarie March 8, 2012 at 5:36 pm #

    Great post. I think it’s interesting that depression is one of those afflictions that seems to hit a lot of travelers but is so unspoken about. I wonder if the same anxiety that drives us to be down is the anxiety that drives our antsy feet into traveling. To me, it was the only option to get out of my own personal madness.

    • carolineinthecityblog March 8, 2012 at 6:35 pm #

      Yes I wonder the same thing. I feel anxious when I’m home, just waiting to go traveling again, but I have it when I’m actually on the road as well!

  7. alexis March 19, 2012 at 7:46 pm #

    I’m so sorry about your anxiety. I can’t imagine having uncomfortable health issues while being at a place that you barely know. I get a little upset when I get sick while traveling, so I give you props for not letting the anxiety stop you from adventuring. I’m hoping that the more you travel, the less it happens (which seems to be the case). Hopefully, it goes away completely!

  8. Hayley March 20, 2013 at 12:53 pm #

    Thank you for this post. I struggle with anxiety, too, and I think that’s held me back in the past from potential “adventures” in life. I’m finally attacking it head-on, though (like FINALLY seeing a therapist) and trying to face down those things that terrify me (like the thought of traveling alone). It sounds like you have an amazing, proactive, healthy attitude toward your anxiety (which, at the end of the day, is all we can do, right?) and I wish you all the best in dealing with it in your future travels.

  9. Amy September 2, 2014 at 6:45 am #

    Hi Caroline,

    I know you wrote this post a while ago, but it was a great read to stumble across on my googling adventures :)

    We are about to start our own adventure and it is good to know that I am not the only one experiencing some anxiety related to travel!

    Despite feeling nervous and anxious we are still moving full steam ahead with our big adventure!! :)


    • Caroline September 2, 2014 at 10:30 am #

      Thanks for reading, Amy!


  1. How to Ease Travel Anxiety | Venere Travel Blog - July 10, 2014

    […] Traveling is unsettling, even if you’re looking forward to your trip. Time zone and environmental changes, unfamiliar territory, a different cuisine, and adjusting your daily routine can send shock waves through your system. The shock is real. Your body actually reacts to the changes you experience during travel, so it is no wonder why anxiety can easily take hold of any person; they are already compromised by the shocks to their system. […]

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