Therapist explains how to deal with panic attacks when traveling alone

Time for a confession: During my most recent solo travel experience, I had a panic attack so severe that the flight attendant sat next to me and held my hand . Although I'm a little ashamed, similar incidents are common. Luckily, traveling alone can cause anxiety, but therapists tell Bustle there are ways to manage those emotions.

For me, actually being in a strange place doesn't bring up much anxiety, but traveling there does. Flying is the most stressful part of any trip. The anxiety gets worse if I go alone because I don't have a companion with me to provide distracting conversation or comfort when the turbulence gets severe. If you are prone to anxiety and/or panic attacks while flying, I recommend trying some grounding techniques such as breathing exercises or journaling. My anxiety can always be alleviated by downloading a movie on my laptop during a flight, working on a crochet project, enjoying a glass of wine, or taking a stress-relieving herbal supplement.

I also recommend telling someone who can help you with your anxiety, like I did with the flight attendant. It may feel embarrassing, but anyone who works in the travel industry experiences anxiety and often witnesses others experiencing it. Their expertise may be useful to you in those difficult moments.

Once you arrive at your destination, you can also feel overwhelmed by being alone. I find that scheduling phone calls with my loved ones helps ease this feeling. I don't have to worry about the anxiety of waiting for them to answer the phone because they know I'm on the phone. During a phone call, I can talk about my anxieties or get advice about a specific situation. Once, I got very sick while traveling. It was helpful to call my dad (who is a doctor) to talk about my symptoms and decide if I should go to urgent care.

Jasmine Crane, a therapist in Denver, Colorado, says being prepared can also help ease travel anxiety. "Get to the airport on time, make sure to check your flight information, and make sure you have everything you need." Crane also noted that some people find comfort in special items like religious texts or jewelry, especially if the items remind them of People left behind when traveling. Crane tells Bustle that "anything that makes you feel safe" can help relieve anxiety.


Crane also said anxiety can be "heightened" for travelers of color — particularly Black and Latinx travelers, or those whose Muslim identities are racialized. She noted that for those who have been convicted because of their status, "the process of going through security at an airport (feels) similar to that of going to jail."

Traveling alone can be a rewarding experience, but it can take you far out of your comfort zone. This strangeness can bring anxiety. But Crane says traveling alone can be a very rewarding adventure, especially for a black woman like herself. Crane, who first traveled alone 10 years ago, tells Bustle: "I actually recommend that women try to take a solo vacation once in their life. I think it's one of the most inspiring and empowering things I've ever done for myself. "

Crane said that while travel may initially cause anxiety, it can provide many mental health benefits, helping people become "more open-minded, more open-minded or flexible." Crane added that it also allows travelers to "feel more connected to a different culture...and [reach] self-transcendence, which is a feeling of being connected to something greater than yourself."


But Crane acknowledges that being alone in an unfamiliar city or country can feel dangerous, especially for women and non-binary people. A 2018 study by Stop Street Harassment found that 81% of women had experienced sexual harassment. Faced with this reality, it’s no surprise that traveling alone can feel unsafe. But the truth is, visiting another place doesn't mean you're in greater danger.

No matter where you go, there are steps you can take to keep you safe or at least feel safer. Hustle writer Emily Matras recommends starting a buddy system with the women at your hostel or hotel, or opting to join an organized tour. Busy writer Suzannah Weiss recommends knowing where you're going so you can be prepared and avoid misunderstandings. She also recommends taking photos of important documents, such as passports and insurance cards, so they never get lost. Crane recommends using tools like a "Find My Friends"-style app to let your loved ones know your location.

Traveling alone can be really scary when you're venturing out on your own for the first time, especially if you're like me and feel vulnerable because of some aspect of your identity. But it’s almost always a valuable experience for me and makes me feel more confident and more established in myself. And it can also be really fun.

Crane recommends talking to a therapist about any fears you may have and getting their recommendations on specific grounding activities you can use right now. But she warns not to let anxiety stop you from traveling. “I would probably travel every weekend if I could,” she said. "Traveling is always a little stressful, but I've always found it to be beneficial. We can get over it and take care of ourselves in those moments. Then, the good will outweigh the bad."

If you or someone you know is seeking help for a mental health issue, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) website or call 1-800-950-NAMI (6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration ( SAMHSA ) website or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). In an emergency, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or 911.