Traveling With Claustrophobia

How to Manage a Long Trip with Claustrophobia

Business woman reading news in plane.
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Taking a vacation is one of life’s simple pleasures. If you suffer from phobias, however, an upcoming trip may be fraught with anxiety rather than anticipation. Claustrophobia can be particularly difficult to manage while traveling, due to the often confined spaces of cars, busses, trains and airplanes. Here are some tips to help you cope.

Overcoming Your Claustrophobia Triggers While Traveling

  • Flying: Air travel can be difficult if you have claustrophobia. To make yourself feel more comfortable. Accommodate your fear by making smart choices. For example, if you have a fear of heights (acrophobia) choose an aisle seat, if you have a fear of being stuck on the plane choose a seat towards the front so you can disembark quickly. Anti-anxiety medications may help.

  • Driving: If you have claustrophobia long road trips can be uncomfortable. Nonetheless, driving gives you the opportunity to stop and get out of the car when needed. Taking frequent stretch breaks, dividing long drives into shorter segments and carefully choosing your traveling companions can help you relax while on the road.

  • Train travel: Although the Golden Age of the railroad is long gone in the United States, it is still a primary mode of transport, especially for those with aviophobia, a fear of flying. Train travel affords many luxuries to accommodate your fear that flights do not, including more leg room, larger seats and the ability to walk around at will.

  • On a cruise ship: If you have claustrophobia, you might worry about being confined in the small cabins on a ship. However, modern ships are virtual floating cities, filled with an endless array of both active and sedentary pursuits and a great deal of open space. Choosing a comfortable cabin and learning your way around the ship are keys to avoiding claustrophobia at sea.

  • Bus travel: Many people rely on long-distance bus companies such as Greyhound for a low-cost alternative to flights or trains. However, buses can be quite challenging for those who suffer from phobias. Small seats, minimal leg room and the prospect of spending hours in close contact with strangers are among the challenges of bus travel. Traveling on less popular routes and at odd times can help you cope with a long-distance bus ride.

    Taking Medication to Cope with Claustrophobia while Traveling

    Before embarking on a long trip, see your doctor or therapist for guidance. Even if you do not normally take medications for your claustrophobia, your doctor may prescribe a low dose anti-anxiety medication for you to take during the trip.

    Pay close attention to his instructions, as you may need to start taking the pills several days before you travel, avoid alcohol or follow other procedures.

    Other Coping Methods for Claustrophobia while Traveling

    A health professional can offer much more than medication to help alleviate your irrational reaction. She can teach you guided visualization and other relaxation techniques to use while in your seat, and can help you prevent a possible panic attack. Be sure to practice your new skills before your trip, as some exercises take several days to master.

    If possible, travel with a supportive friend or relative. He or she can talk you down, help you work through a relaxation exercise or simply keep you distracted during the trip.

    Your companion can also manage details such as checking luggage, which you may be too nervous to feel comfortable handling.

    Claustrophobia can impact travel in a variety of ways. With a bit of advance planning, however, there is no reason that your claustrophobia should prevent you from having the time of your life.


    American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

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