6 most common travel phobias – and how to tackle them

Don't let your fears stop you travelling – face them with this useful advice

7 mins

Travel is a tonic – but it can be stressful too. The planning, the journey, even the trip itself: all can make you anxious. Also, any background concerns you may have can seem more significant when you’re in an unfamiliar environment, especially if you're feeling tired or down.

But in addition to stressors that might make most of us feel fraught, some travellers have specific fears and phobias. Here’s some advice for coping with a few common travel terrors.

Facing phobias

Phobias can be manifestations of half-forgotten traumatic experiences, or they might suggest the sufferer has an underlying high level of anxiety.

In either situation a chat with a GP should start the process of accessing the right kind of therapy – be it counselling or particular management strategies. Often specific phobias will respond to self-help techniques (there are lots of books) or to formal cognitive behavioural therapy. Equally, talking to your GP might offer reassurance that symptoms are not so abnormal.

As with all medical concerns, address any issues well in advance of departure.

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Flying at sunset (Shutterstock)
Flying at sunset (Shutterstock)

Aviophobia: fear of flying

Fear of flying is more common than you might think. Add in worries about getting to and through the airport in time, and the stresses that delays and cancellations cause, and many of us will be far from relaxed when we get around to checking-in.

Having distractions to hand, such as audiobooks, novels or even medicines, can help – different approaches suit different people. Your GP can prescribe a small supply of diazepam; you’ll also need a note confirming that it’s for you. Learning relaxation techniques at yoga classes can be useful too.

Courses are available. Try Virgin's Flying Without Fear or BA's Flying With Confidence – they're one-day courses which include a short flight. There are also counselling options, which offer therapy without leaving the ground. Self-help books can help you to identify the source of your fear and confront it – consult your local bookshop for recommendations.

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Arachnophobia: fear of spiders

Fear of spiders is a primeval dread, which can be constraining and debilitating. Perhaps this is why London Zoo’s Friendly Spider Programme has been so popular: for £130 arachnophobics can spend an afternoon ‘treating’ their fear; courses run about once a month. Other phobias may be amenable to cognitive behavioural therapy so talk to your usual doctor.

Attacking mangrove snake (Shutterstock)
Attacking mangrove snake (Shutterstock)

Ophidiophobia: fear of snakes

Less-experienced travellers might imagine that visiting a tropical destination means heading into snake country. But it’s astonishing just how rarely most travellers encounter snakes.

True phobia isn’t often usefully countered with logic so counselling may be the answer. Even so, it might be comforting to know that most snakes are non-venomous and, of those that are venomous and equipped to bite, few will do so (it’s a waste of venom to use it on something as inedible as a person).

Even if they do bite, around 50% of venomous snakes will withhold venom, giving a so-called dry bite.

Emetophobia: fear of vomiting

Fear of vomiting can be a huge handicap for people travelling to destinations where there is a substantial risk of gastroenteritis. Such people might consider acquiring a supply of a prescription anti-emetic.

They might also try one of the antibiotics that are effective against ‘traveller's tummy’. These can be started at the first sign of quease and should then stop most diarrhoea and vomiting before the microbe can establish itself.

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Man standing on cliff (Shutterstock)
Man standing on cliff (Shutterstock)

Vertigo: fear of heights

Vertigo is the sensation that the world is spinning. It could be a medical problem (such as an ear disorder like viral labyrinthitis or Ménière’s disease) or it might be precipitated by fear of falling from high buildings, steps or cliff paths – so making the feared event more likely to happen.

The latter isn’t so easy to cope with as balustrades and railings may not be as substantial abroad as we’re used to at home.

Although there are treatments for the vertigo caused by ear disorders, the symptoms that are caused by looking over a precipice are not remediable with pills. ‘Treatment’ will be about counselling, or avoiding precipitous situations.

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Dr Jane Wilson-Howarth has dealt with all manner of fears and phobias; her goldmine of travellers tips, How to Shit Around the World, is available in Kindle format.

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