Counseling Center


  • Counseling Center
    Fax: 202-885-1397
    Mary Graydon, Room 214

    Mon and Thurs: 9am-6pm
    Tues, Wed, and Fri: 9am-5pm

    Summer hours: M-F 9am-5pm

    Closed Saturday and Sunday

Mailing Address

Special Topics - Travel Anxiety

Resource Page


Do you have…

With the school break approaching, you may be planning a trip for a vacation, for an internship or academic event, or for a family visit.

Travel can be stressful:

  • visiting home or a new place can be difficult as well as fun
  • your destination may be a very long way away
  • you may be coping with culture adjustment and language challenges as well as the trip itself
  • recent national and world events may have heightened your anxieties about travel

Beyond the normal feelings of stress that travel can arouse, some students have more specific or acute concerns. You may be afraid to fly, or you may get claustrophobic in a car, or you may feel anxious about being scrutinized by security personnel.

This booklet contains tips to help reduce your travel anxiety. To meet with a Counseling Center counselor to discuss your concerns privately, call x3500.

(can be applied to other modes of transportation as well)

• Get to the airport in plenty of time to check in, find your gate, clear security, etc.

• Don’t pack anything that might not clear security, such as weapons or unlabelled substances. Be sure medications are labeled and bring your prescription if you have it.

• Don’t “check” anything you can’t do without if your flight is delayed or your luggage is lost: carry medications, eyeglasses, etc. with you.

• Select an aisle seat or emergency row seat to allow freedom of movement.

• Call the airport ahead of time to be sure your flight is on time.

• Let the flight attendants know you are a fearful flier, so they will check in on you periodically.

• Cut back on sugar and caffeine before and during your trip. They will exacerbate your anxiety.

• Bring some music, something to read, or something to eat to pass the time on the trip. Be sure to turn off any electronic instruments such as laptop or CD player when instructed by the crew.

• On long trips in enclosed spaces, or trips to a different time zone, drink plenty of water to help your body adjust (be sure you have access to facilities along the way!).

• Remember that air travel is by far the safest form of travel.


• Plan ahead: Leave time to pack. Make arrangements in advance for plant-watering, pet-care, mail/newspaper suspension, etc. Check to be sure you have your ticket, wallet/bag, and passport before you leave the house.

• Put your own back-up systems in place: Use two alarm clocks to wake up! Safety-pin your ticket to your pocket! Make an extra copy of important phone numbers and travel information and put it in a different bag or pocket!

• When you feel anxious, practice “four square breathing.” For the count of four, each: breathe in deeply; hold; let breath all the way out through pursed lips; and take a cleansing breath. You’ll find that each time you breath all the way out, you will be breathing out some of your anxiety, and feeling more relaxed.

• Another reliable anxiety-reduction technique is “thought-stopping.” Sometimes when people feel anxious, they think about everything that could go wrong, and find themselves reacting emotionally to things that aren’t actually happening. If you notice yourself doing this, tell yourself, “Stop!” -- and then focus on more positive and realistic thoughts: “Nothing is happening to me now.” “Everything is going well.” “I can see that other people are quite calm.” “I have fun things I can do right now (eat a treat, read a book, listen to music).”

• Exercise whatever control over your environment you can, however small: in a car, roll your window up or down; in a plane, fiddle with the fan; in a train, take a walk to the club car, etc.


• If you are concerned that your anxiety is severe or unmanageable, you might consider counseling and/or medication. Because your evaluation and treatment may take some time, contact a counselor or health professional as far as possible in advance of your travel.

• Local treatment resources include:

(301) 469-8542

(202) 363-2383.



• For information about anxiety disorders:

• For information about AU counseling resources:

Happy Travels !

©2001 Abigail Lipson, Ph.D. American University Counseling Center