What Is Fear of Traveling (Hodophobia)?

Learn more about hodophobia and how to seek treatment

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Fear of travel, or hodophobia, is a specific type of phobia that occurs when a person has an extreme fear of traveling. Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder that is characterized by an excessive or irrational fear of an object or experience. Hodophobia can include the anticipation of a trip, the trip itself, or recollecting the experience.

Read on to learn more about hodophobia and how to treat it.

Cropped shot of a female traveller checking her boarding pass & passport at the boarding gate in the airport

Tang Ming Tung / Getty Images

What Is Hodophobia?

Specific phobias are a type of anxiety disorder. It's estimated that 12.5% of adults in the United States will experience a specific phobia at some time in their lives.

With hodophobia, the fear occurs in several different ways and at different stages during the travel experience.

For some people, the anticipation of the trip triggers their fear. For others, it may be the actual travel experience and going from one place to the next. The phobic response can also occur on the trip home or after the trip is over, when the individual is now safe at home but recollecting the trip experience.

Hodophobia can be limiting, as a fear of travel may prevent people from seeing new places, attending special events, or visiting loved ones.

Related Phobias

Phobias that are related to hodophobia include:

  • Aviophobia: Fear of flying
  • Claustrophobia: Fear of enclosed or tight spaces
  • Amaxophobia: Fear of driving or riding in a car
  • Siderodromophobia: Fear of trains
  • Gephyrophobia: Fear of traveling over bridges
  • Thalassophobia: Fear of sea travel

Fear of Travel Phobia vs. Travel Anxiety

What makes travel phobia different from travel anxiety is that specific phobias interfere with an individual's day-to-day functioning and limit their life in some way.

With a phobia, the fear experienced is out of proportion to the actual danger. People with phobias are usually aware their fear seems irrational. It's important to understand that the phobia triggers their fight, flight, or freeze stress response, so the danger feels very real to them.

People who are not phobic about traveling may still experience travel anxiety. This can be due to fear-inducing events, including natural disasters, epidemics, terrorist attacks, or the COVID-19 pandemic, that impact a person's fear of traveling.

Travel Anxiety with COVID-19

The travel experience has changed dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic. With high levels of uncertainty, concerns about flight delays and cancellations, viral screenings both coming and going, fear of contracting the virus, and quarantines upon arrival, researchers note there has been an additional burden of travel anxiety for all travelers.

Fear of becoming ill while traveling, particularly in another country, takes on new levels of concern during a pandemic. So, while there may not be an uptick in hodophobia, the pandemic has added new layers of fear to any travel experience, even for the non-phobic.

Symptoms of Hodophobia

The body has a hypersensitive, active, and physical response to the phobia trigger.

When a person is stimulated by a phobia, biological changes occur in the body. These include changes in stress hormones, along with increases in heart rate and blood pressure, and changes in brain activity.

Hodophobia affects people much like any phobia or extreme anxiety response. Physical and psychological symptoms include:

  • Feelings of doom and danger regarding the trip
  • Feeling overwhelmed or confused by travel details
  • Pounding heart, increased heart rate, or palpitations
  • Feeling dizzy, light-headed, or faint
  • Chest pain or tightness in the chest
  • Sweating or sweaty palms
  • Hot and cold flashes
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Shaking or trembling

If the fear and the response to the fear becomes overwhelming, a person may experience a panic attack, which is an episode of extreme fear or anxiety accompanied by physical symptoms.

Diagnosis of Hodophobia

To be diagnosed with any type of specific phobia, a mental health clinician or medical provider will typically use the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the American Psychiatric Association's official handbook to diagnose mental health conditions.

Specific phobias are considered a mental health condition. The diagnostic criteria for a specific phobia include:

  • Fear or anxiety about a specific object or situation such as traveling, flying, or riding in trains.
  • Being faced with traveling almost always causes immediate anxiety and fear.
  • The phobia is typically avoided or endured with very intense fear and anxiety the entire time.
  • Anxiety and fear are out of proportion to the actual danger being faced.
  • The fear about the phobia is consistent and lasts for six months or more.
  • The phobia is causing impairment in a person's social, occupational, and day-to-day functioning.

Causes of Hodophobia

Specific phobias are caused by a few different factors, including:

  • Trauma experience: If a person had a direct experience of travel-related trauma, it may impact their ability to travel and cause a phobia to develop.
  • Learning from others: Some people develop a phobia, such as fear of traveling, from others. So, if a parent is afraid to fly, a child may grow up fearing flying as well.
  • Others' experiences: People can develop phobias from reading or learning about dangerous situations that happen to others. For example, a person might fear travel after reading about someone else's fearful travel experience.
  • Genetic: Risks for developing phobias may also be genetically determined.

Treatment for Hodophobia

Treatments for other anxiety disorders are sometimes helpful as a treatment for specific phobias.

Medication is a common treatment option for anxiety. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and selective serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are recommended as first-line drugs.

These can include:

Often medication alone won't treat the phobia, in which case a person may want to consider psychotherapy.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that helps people identify and change destructive thought patterns that negatively affect their behavior or well-being.

In one study, a man who became ill when he traveled more than 10 miles from home was treated effectively with 14 sessions of CBT therapy. These sessions included education about his gastrointestinal reactivity, which included nausea and vomiting, and specific exercises to reduce his reactivity and anxiety. He was subsequently able to travel on vacations and business trips without experiencing symptoms.

Certain types of behavioral exposure therapy are often used effectively in the treatment of phobias.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

One study examined the usefulness of taking a trauma-focused approach for hodophobia treatment using eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).

EDMR is a trauma-based treatment method that was designed to help people overcome the emotional distress of traumatic memories. In the study, EMDR was found to be effective as an intervention for both hodophobia and travel anxiety.

Coping

There are a few strategies to cope with hodophobia in the event travel is necessary. These can include:

  • Ease into travel by taking small, short trips close to home. Slowly work up to going farther distances.
  • Prepare ahead of time and know exactly where you're going to reduce anxiety.
  • If possible, choose a low-stress destination.
  • Map out your schedule and itinerary in detail so you know ahead of time what to expect.
  • Travel with a friend or loved one for comfort.
  • When flying, take direct flights as often as possible.
  • Virtual reality and GoPro Tours found online may help with viewing the destination ahead of time.

Summary

Hodophobia is a fear of traveling that causes a person extreme anxiety. It can affect the periods before, during, and following a trip. There are treatment and coping methods available to help overcome this phobia.

A Word From Verywell

To friends, family, and acquaintances, a person's phobia may seem excessive or even irrational. However, it's very real to the person experiencing the phobia and should be taken seriously. When a phobia is so debilitating that it's causing you to isolate yourself or restrict your daily functioning, help may be needed. Contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline online or call 800-662-4357 for more information on how to find support and treatment options specific to your geographic area.

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11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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