Solo Travel

Biggest Life Lessons: Don’t Let Your Fear Stop You From Travelling

I wasn’t sure I was going to write about this. I had written about this particular topic in some form or another. It is usually in a personal journal, either hand-written or online (but not published).

Even as I am thinking about writing this, my heart is racing, and tears are welling up in my eyes. Writing and talking about this makes me really uncomfortable.

I am talking about my fear and anxiety relating to travelling.

We all have fears. Not all of them are the same. But we all live with something that we are afraid of and probably limit certain life opportunities. But don’t allow fear to stop you from living the life of your dreams.

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My fear

I have a fear of being stuck in a confined space with heat and no air movement.

Even though I haven’t been clinically diagnosed with claustrophobia, I recognize the definition in myself. Claustrophobia: “abnormal and persistent fear of closed spaces, of being closed in or being shut in, as in elevators, tunnels, or any other confined space.”

However, I can still be in an enclosed space if there is sufficient air movement and if the air is cold enough. My hypersensitivity to air temperature and airflow significantly impacts how I react in a small space.

I’m not even sure if there is a name for my phobia. Between my claustrophobic characteristics and hypersensitivity to air, this is the closest thing I can find.

Ultimately, I fear suffocation in a small space.

Confined space + still air = panic attacks

My panic attacks can happen in a lot of places. My heart will race whenever I have to get into a car, bus, train, subway, elevator and so on.

It is most prominent in an airplane. I know what you are thinking, how can I be a solo traveller and be afraid to fly? Most of my panic attacks happen on a plane.

For a few short moments between closing the door to take off, the pilot turns off the air supply (or at least I think they do) to start the engine. In that short period, I panicked. My thoughts go from “Oh, they turned off the air” to “I’m going to die because there is no oxygen!”. It happens within a split second.

I’m unsure why my brain switches from a normal thought to a disturbing one so quickly. It will not happen, but the mind will go into a fight-or-flight situation.

Where did my fear come from?

To be honest, I don’t even know how it started. One day I just noticed a little bit of nervousness. Then that feeling grew more and more. And over the last few years, it has just become something I am living with.

My first memory of this fear is around 2008. I was interning at a design firm in Shanghai, China, then, and I would fly to Hong Kong on long weekends to see my family. Something happened on one of the flights back to Shanghai, and the plane had to be re-routed from Pudong Airport to Hongqiao Airport. Because it was such a last-minute decision, Hongqiao Airport didn’t allow anyone to get off the plane until customs had cleared it. We sat on the plane with minimal airflow for an hour. It was the most excruciating experience.

But my worst experience was around 2016. I just started a new position, and travelling to client sites was part of my responsibilities. The monthly business trip was a norm; sometimes, I would be on a plane up to six times a month. The time when I travelled from Toronto to Indianapolis, Indiana, was by far the worst experience in my life. Between hot summer weather and plane engine issues, the small plane was not where I wanted to be.

As soon as the door closed, my mind was racing. So much so that I couldn’t be in that space any longer. I told my colleague that I could not be there and asked to leave the plane. And so I did. My fear was overpowering, and I just couldn’t fight it anymore.

As much as I felt the physical relief from exiting the plane, I felt defeated. I felt that my fear had taken over my life. And I lost.

Learning to cope with my fear and anxiety

I knew I just had to deal with my fear and anxiety. I knew I had to get over my fear, and I had to do it quickly. I wasn’t going to let my fear win. Travel is part of my life! So I will have to cope with whatever fear I have.

I have to admit that this is something I have to face. Brushing it off further is no longer an option. I saw a therapist for a few months when I lived in Toronto, and she taught me how to cope whenever I am in these situations. Even though talking to her once a week was helpful, I wanted to work on it more outside of therapy; I wanted her to assign “homework” for me to do.

Taking the lessons I learned from my therapist and my own experience, I’ve developed a routine that I always do every time I get on a plane.

First, It starts with planning. I always pick an aisle seat closest to the front of the aircraft. Visually, I feel better if I do not see a lot of people sitting in front of me. Secondly, I always bring a bottle of cold water, mints or these Chinese cough candies I like, and a small portable fan (it’s small, and you plug it into your phone). Third, I distract myself by counting. Whenever the engine starts, which means the air is turned off, then I start counting. Somehow it distracts me, and those seconds and minutes go by faster.

There are days when these techniques work really well. Then there are days when none of the tricks work, and I just sit there and cope. But I’m determined to do whatever it takes to make my travel life a better experience.

Am I the only one who is going through this?

Probably not, because I googled and found other people with similar issues. But there aren’t a lot of us.

To this day, I have no idea how it started. I don’t have any memories of major trauma in my life that can explain this. The only possible theory I have is that I may have died in a small space through suffocation in my past life. Ha! If I can even call it a theory, but I digress.

Don’t let your fear stop you from living the life that you want

Whatever it is that I have, the point is to move forward. There is no point in dwelling on the issue. Yes, it is super annoying that I have this phobia, but it is not the end of the world. I’m choosing to live the life I want to live, which means I will travel as much as I can. I’m going to do whatever it takes to cope with it and get over it. I’m still going to travel because there are a lot of places I haven’t been to!

I hope whatever you are going through, whatever fears you have or social anxiety, don’t let your fear stop you from living the life that you want.

The reason why I wanted to share this is that I am just like you. I am a human who desires to travel but will not allow fear to stop me from doing something I love. Life is too short to dwell on things we are afraid of.

If you like to share your story, comment below, or you can contact me privately.

Thanks for reading.

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About Author

Hi, my name is Queenie, and I've been a solo traveller for 20+ years and currently based in Hong Kong. Follow me on my adventures through Instagram and my blog!


  • Anna
    August 4, 2018 at 4:45 pm

    You’re so brave to admit to this and working on it! I have so much anxiety linked to Travel but am slowly getting through it. I like your idea of counting to pass the time. I’ll try that next time I fly!

    • queenie mak
      August 5, 2018 at 7:09 am

      Thank you so much for your comment. Sometimes I don’t feel brave. I just feel I have to work on it because I don’t want to deny myself from any experiences. Yes, try counting. It works for me and distracts me. Hope it works for you! 🙂

  • tracycollins2016
    August 4, 2018 at 6:35 pm

    I too suffer from a fear of small spaces. I also can’t be strapped in for rollercoasters or rides as it makes me panic. I can’t go to the toilet if the room is small with no window – train toilets are a nightmare for me (and airplane too) I try to sit near the window when i fly (but do panic if the person in front puts their seat back!)

    Like you I keep going. I love to travel.

    • queenie mak
      August 5, 2018 at 7:11 am

      I totally understand what you mean. I do have a bit of that fear especially when there is no air flow. I strategize a lot in my mind of where I should sit on the bus/train/plane, times of the day where the subway is not as busy, etc. But these are all coping mechanisms. For some reasons I have this anxiety but I’m not going to stop living because of it. Thanks for sharing your story as well 🙂

  • lifeafter9to5
    August 4, 2018 at 10:15 pm

    I feel anxious when I travel too, but it comes and goes. The worst was on my flight from NYC to Bali. The flight wasn’t even packed, but for some reason my heart rate started going up and i couldn’t get it under control. I feel like i was going to have a panic attack.

    • queenie mak
      August 5, 2018 at 7:13 am

      Thank you for your comment!! I didn’t always have anxiety about flying – it came and kind of stayed?! Well which is why I have coping mechanisms now to deal with it. I hope you are working on it too and hope it is working well for you 🙂

  • Natasha Lequepeys
    August 5, 2018 at 2:27 am

    Thank you for sharing! While I haven’t gone through this specific fear I have a fear of water, coupled with motion sickness so I’m pretty miserable on a boat. The last time I tried to face this fear I was terrified, but I ended up closing my eyes, and focusing on my breathing, in through my nose and out through my mouth, and it seemed to help calm me down. I find when my mind is able to wander is when it’s worse. But we have to conquer these fears if we want to enjoy our travels, right?!

    • queenie mak
      August 5, 2018 at 7:15 am

      Thank you for your comment! I also have motion sickness lol omg I’m a nightmare when it comes to travel. BUT none of these things have really stopped me from travelling. I want to keep on going for as long as I can! Yes, concentrate on breathing is one of the best things you can do. Focus on the breathing in and breathing out. The worse is when the mind wanders. I’m glad you are able to cope with your situation and still enjoy life. 🙂

  • Travel Fairie
    August 5, 2018 at 2:52 am

    You’re so brave for admitting this and working on it! A lot of people would let it defeat them and just give up on their dreams of traveling!

    • queenie mak
      August 5, 2018 at 7:16 am

      I feel like that’s why I want to share my story – so others will know they are not alone and that it is ok to feel the way you do. We all have different fears but it is a matter of coping with it. Thank you for your comment 🙂

  • thatanxioustraveller
    August 5, 2018 at 3:21 am

    hugs I definitely feel your pain on this one – I know exactly what you go through. I get something very similar, and it takes all of my concentration to remember how far I’ve come, and the techniques I’ve learnt.

    But we’ll get there: just as we’ll get to our travel destinations, we’ll get to our anxiety-less happy place! 🙂

    • queenie mak
      August 5, 2018 at 7:17 am

      Totally agreed! We are all in working progress and will do anything to travel! lol by the way, love your blog!!! xo 🙂

  • Amanda Williams
    August 6, 2018 at 7:03 am

    Travel anxiety (and anxiety in general) takes on all sorts of different forms, and you definitely aren’t the only one who suffers from it. I’ve been a travel blogger for 8 years and travel frequently, and yet I still get anxiety before big trips. The good news is that I’ve never regretted pushing past the fear and actually going, even if I sometimes have to force myself to do it!

    • queenie mak
      August 6, 2018 at 1:07 pm

      Thank you for your comment! Most people don’t talk about anxiety and how it affects our daily lives. But it is real, it is part of (some of) our lives. I agree with you – I’ve never regret for pushing myself to do things I’m afraid of. Cheers to us! 🙂


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