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Traveling With Claustrophobia

How to Manage a Long Trip


Updated June 18, 2014

For many people, taking a well-deserved 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. Here are some tips to help you cope.

Claustrophobia Triggers

  • FlyingAir travel can be difficult if you have claustrophobia, but it has the advantage of being quick. If you will travel by air, there are several ways to make yourself more comfortable. Carefully choosing your seat is critical. It is also important to manage your diet and get enough sleep in the days leading up to your flight. Anti-anxiety medications may help, but self-medicating with alcohol can actually make the problem worse.

  • Driving – Many people with claustrophobia become uncomfortable on long road trips. 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 stay relaxed while on the road.

  • Train Travel – Although the Golden Age of the railroad is long gone in the United States, in many countries it is still a primary mode of transport. Even in the U.S., it is still possible to travel many routes by train. Train travel affords many luxuries that flights do not, including vastly increased leg room, large and comfortable seats and the ability to walk around at will. However, traveling by train takes a great deal of time and is not always the best choice.

  • Cruising – Many people with claustrophobia worry that they will feel confined by 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.

General Coping Strategies

Before embarking on a long trip, see your doctor or therapist. Even if you do not normally take medications for your claustrophobia, your doctor can 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.

Your therapist can teach you guided visualization and other relaxation techniques. These techniques can be used 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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