How to Overcome Travel Fears

Don't let worries about pickpockets, language barriers or money ruin your trip.
Sascha Shuermann / Getty Images Europe / Getty Images

Travel is supposed to be a wonderful, life-changing experience, but the truth is that even experienced travelers worry that something could go wrong during their trip. Overcoming the fears that come with travel, particularly international travel, can be very challenging. Let's take a closer look at common travel fears and ways to overcome them.

Leaving Home

Some travelers worry that things at home won't be properly taken care of while they are away, particularly if they have stressful jobs or high-maintenance pets. Leaving everything behind and allowing someone else to take charge during your absence can be extremely difficult.

To overcome this travel fear, focus on the positive aspects of your trip. Perhaps you are traveling to a place you have always wanted to visit or visiting with people you have not seen in a very long time. You may be taking a volunteer vacation or researching family history. No matter what type of trip you are taking, you will learn something new or have an experience you could not have at home.

Running Out of Money

Money worries are common among travelers; all the careful planning in the world can't prevent unexpected expenses from popping up.

Carefully research the costs of your trip, using travel guidebooks, travel websites and friends' experiences to help you figure out how much your trip will actually cost. Once you have that estimate in hand, add 20 to 25 percent to that amount so that you will have a cushion to cover unanticipated expenses. To further set your mind at ease, you can leave some money with a trusted relative or friend who would be willing to send funds to you via Western Union if you run into money problems.

Getting Sick During Your Trip

It's never fun to be ill, especially when you are far from home.

Before you travel, visit your doctor and make sure you have received all the immunizations and boosters you need for travel to your chosen destination. Talk with your doctor about "hospital-worthy" symptoms you should monitor if you feel unwell while you are away. Purchase a travel medical insurance policy, and, if you would prefer to be treated at home if you become ill, a medical evacuation policy, when you book your trip. This is especially important if your only health care coverage is provided by Medicare and you are traveling outside the United States; Medicare only covers treatment provided within the US.

Getting Lost

Almost everyone has driven or walked into unfamiliar territory, and it's not a fun experience. Throw in a language barrier, jet lag and different laws and getting lost suddenly becomes an enormous disaster.

There's no fool-proof way to avoid getting lost, but bringing a GPS unit and good maps on your trip can help you find your way around most of the time. If you find yourself in a place with no street signs, rendering your map useless, call your hotel or find a police station and ask for advice.

Encountering Thieves and Pickpockets

We've all read horror stories about pickpockets, thieves and gypsy children, any of whom are, supposedly, more than ready to relieve you of your travel money, camera, passport and credit cards.

Pickpockets and thieves do target tourists, but you can avoid pickpockets by hiding your money and travel documents in a money belt or pouch, finding out where pickpockets congregate (at Notre Dame in Paris, for example) and blending in with locals rather than dressing as a tourist. Leave a sum of money with trusted relatives or friends in case the worst happens, so they can send you funds via Western Union.

Having Something Go Wrong at Home

It's difficult to leave home when family members are ill or in distress, even if there are plenty of people around to help out.

If you feel you must get home immediately if a problem occurs, choose transportation, hotel and tour options that allow for changes and refunds. You will pay a premium for this flexibility, but you will be able to rearrange your trip on short notice. Registering your trip with the US Department of State or your local equivalent will help officials contact you in the case of a true emergency. You may also want to look at communications options, such as Skype, that will allow you to stay in touch with family and friends.

Disliking the Food

Food can truly make or break a trip.

If you have very specific dietary requirements, take some time to research food options in your destination country. Similarly, if you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, you will want to find out about restaurant choices. If you are taking a tour or going on a cruise, be aware that following an allergy-related, vegan or vegetarian diet may mean you will eat the same thing, or variations on a basic theme, every day. If your itinerary will take you to a place where the food is unfamiliar to you (e.g. India or Ethiopia), take the time to visit a restaurant in your area that serves the food of your destination country. Ask your waiter to recommend a sampling of traditional dishes, and write down the names of the foods you most enjoy.

Being Unable to Communicate

There's nothing more terrifying than realizing that you can't ask for help if you need it because you don't speak the local language.

There are many ways you can learn the Important Words of Politeness ("Yes," No," "Please," Thank you," "May I?" and "Where is?") before your trip begins. To these basic phrases, consider adding "Help," "Bathroom," "I don't know," and the words for all the foods and medicines to which you are allergic. You can learn these important words and phrases from phrasebooks, language learning software, dictionaries, language websites and travel guidebooks.

Encountering Terrorism or Violence

No traveler wants to be involved in a terrorist attack, sectarian violence or police activity.

While no one can predict a terrorist attack, it is relatively simple to stay out of harm's way under normal conditions. Take the time to research prospective destinations, whether through the US Department of State or your own country's Foreign Office, and create an itinerary that avoids potential danger spots. Stay alert once your trip begins, and avoid strikes and demonstrations.

Having a Bad Experience

I've lived through some "interesting" travel experiences, including flying home from the USSR with dog smugglers and dealing with tax-evading restaurateurs in Sicily. While coping with puppy peddlers wasn't my best moment, it did not ruin my trip to the Soviet Union, nor did the lies our handlers told us about opening days and times at Lenin's Tomb prevent me from joining the line and seeing the Soviet leader's glass tomb and black marble mausoleum for myself. Sometimes – actually, most of the time – the less-than-stellar experiences turn into the best stories.

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