How to Conquer Your Travel Fears

Christine Sarkis, January 23, 2015
Fares from Washington DC:

    The New Year is a good time to take a step back and be honest about the issues that are standing between you and great travel. Travel fears may start small, but they can take over and quash the very spirit that inspires us to explore the world. Here are ways to manage some of the most common fears associated with travel, from flight phobias to the specter of food poisoning.

    Fear of Not Knowing the Language

    Imagine this: You're totally out of your element, in a new place, and suddenly someone is in your face yelling at you in a language you don't understand with an alarming urgency. It's a scenario that, quite rightly, fills many travelers with panicky dread. But by shifting the focus from helplessness to problem solving, these inevitable communication challenges can become part of the sweet adventure of travel.

    To tackle this fear, you're going to need tools—some mental, some physical. Patience and the ability to not take these situations too personally will serve you well. Add to your arsenal Google Translate, a phrase book, and a few polite key phrases memorized in your host language and you'll have everything you need to make it through these tense moments.

    More: 5 Translation Apps Put to the Test

    Fear of Traveling Alone

    Loneliness is a powerful emotion on its own, so when you pair it with homesickness and the sense of unfamiliarity in a new place, the thought of traveling alone can feel impossible. But it doesn't have to be lonely. In fact, solo travel can open you up to a new culture and its locals in ways that people traveling with companions miss entirely.

    The rise of the sharing economy, in particular, is a boon for solo travelers. It's easier than ever before to find locals with whom to explore a city or enjoy a meal. Choosing accommodations such as hostels (the trend of upscale hostels adds appeal) that foster community can be another great tool for solo travelers. And if going totally solo and independent seems too daunting, there are always group tours, many of which help solo travelers dodge single-supplement fees by pairing them in rooms.

    More: How the Sharing Economy Opens New Doors for Travelers

    Fear of Flying

    It's unsurprising that so many people fear flying—on a very primal level, strapping yourself into a metal tube hurtling through the air at 35,000 feet seems crazy. But flying is among the safest forms of transportation, and air transport empowers us to get around the world quickly and efficiently, so the fear of flying is definitely worth working through.

    If your fear of flying is truly debilitating, you should consider enlisting professional help. There are therapists who use cognitive behavioral techniques, meditation and relaxation, and even hypnosis to help people manage their fear of planes. Travelers with less intense flying phobias may find small rituals, such as doing breathing exercises or reading a celeb-gossip magazine during takeoff, help to ease those first fearful minutes of a flight.

    More: 10 Tips for Nervous Flyers

    Fear of Not Being Connected

    If a tree falls in a forest and you don't tweet, blog, or email about it, does it make a sound? Yes! Near-constant connectivity is the norm for many travelers at home, so it can be a pretty big existential shift to be even partly disconnected from the digital world while having real-life experiences. But we, like our forebearers, can bravely explore the world in real time and share it with our friends and followers after the fact.

    Allow your relationship to your phone to shift while you're traveling. It can remain invaluable for maps, apps, and pics, but by letting go of some of the day-to-day stuff—the emails, the social media streams, the filling-in-downtime-with-other-screen-time-wasters—you're creating more time and more space to live in the present of the destination you've come so far to see. If you can't do that, though, take heart: In much of the world, you don't have to sacrifice connectivity even when you're far from home. Most carriers have international plans. We're fans of T-Mobile, because free and affordable international coverage is built into most of its plans.

    More: 2 More Reasons Why T-Mobile Is Good for Travelers

    Fear of Food Poisoning

    Unfamiliar ingredients, lax food safety, water-quality issues: The more you educate yourself on food risks in any given destination, the higher the chance you're going to find yourself with a pronounced fear of food poisoning. That's not to say that you shouldn't know the risks of certain foods—for instance, raw vegetables in places where water quality is an issue or street food in destinations where the local population has developed a resistance to certain common bacteria. But there are ways to reduce risk without turning every meal into a breeding ground for anxiety.

    Do your research before you go, and come up with a short list of foods and drinks to avoid. This is a great way to focus your fear instead of letting it color every meal. It's also helpful to keep basic food-safety rules in mind (hot food needs to stay hot, cold food needs to stay cold; flies on food is bad; etc.) and let them help steer your restaurant choices.

    More: 7 Risky Foods to Avoid While Traveling

    Fear of Germs

    From news of pandemics to the reality of airplane tray tables (they're crawling with bacteria and viruses), it's no wonder many travelers have a highly honed fear of germs. But germophobia is a slippery slope, one that can turn both the big, wide world and your own home into danger zones.

    Keeping a fear of germs in check enough to still enjoy travel takes equal measures of awareness, acceptance, and agency. Yes, you know that pretty much every surface on the plane, at the airport, and in your hotel room is dirtier than would be ideal. But unless you're going to be janitor to the world, you can't change the larger issue. You can, however, make small changes that will positively impact your health. Bring disinfecting wipes and clean off the tray table on your flight. Wash your hands often, with plenty of soap and warm water. And travel with hand sanitizer for those times when you can't get to a sink to wash your hands.

    More: The 10 Germiest Places You Encounter While Traveling

    Fear of Personal Safety

    There's a vulnerability to travel. Neighborhoods are unfamiliar, crowds seem denser, and body language is different enough that you may not always recognize an unsafe situation right away. That's all pretty unnerving, especially when you're trying to balance the opposing forces of safety and adventure.

    If a fear for personal safety is causing you to stay home, it's time to empower yourself. Take a self-defense class or read up on personal-safety tactics. When you're traveling, trust your gut. If a situation doesn't feel right, move away from it, and never be afraid to be loud and make a scene. And learning to make physical and verbal boundaries is a skill that's great for travel but also handy at home.

    More: Self-Defense Skills for Every Traveler

    (Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

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    This article was published by SmarterTravel under the title Top Travel Fears and How to Conquer Them.  Follow Christine Sarkis on Google+ or email her at