My Embarassing Travel Secret (But maybe it can help you)

Piglet in the passenger seat.
It is no secret that I love to travel. It is one of my favorite things and I am so fortunate that I can experience new places and things all the time.

In February, Matt and I are exploring location independent living even further than we have before. We decided to travel for the entire month spending one week at a time in a different location.

Our itinerary is as follows:
  1. St. Augustine, Florida
  2. Savannah, Georgia
  3. Charleston, South Carolina
  4. Wilmington, North Carolina
Since our tiny home is stationary we obviously can't take it with us so we will be taking advantage of Air BnB during this trip. We will be driving, of course, so we can take all of our essentials as well as our Sphynx cat, Piglet.

So, here is the embarassing travel secret:

I have extreme anxiety while riding as a passenger in a car.

It is literally a flight or fight response. I feel absolute panic, I don't trust any other driver on the road, and I feel trapped. I scream at the slightest indication that something could go wrong. My brain simply won't let me sit back and enjoy the ride.

This is crippling for someone who really loves to travel. (And, as you might imagine, difficult on a relationship.)

I simply had to find a solution.

It turns out passenger anxiety is extremely common. I talked to my doctor about it and he prescribed a few anxiety medications. None of them really helped. Stronger medications completely knock me out and depending on the length of the trip overall that can actually be a problem since I might not be entirely conscious when we arrive to our destination.

So I read a lot about how other people cope with it. 

Some people solve this problem by always driving. It can be a control issue so that makes sense. However, I am not really any more confident behind the wheel than I am as a passenger so it isn't really the best solution for me. I get even more anxious if I am not familiar with where I am going.

Others try to distract themselves with a book or games on their smart phones. I, however, get car sick immediately as soon as I try to read something so that wasn't going to be an option either.

I was not making this very easy on myself.

I also read about people who try some form of sensory deprivation in the car. Many would build themselves a nest in the back seat surrounded by comfy blankets and pillows and restrict their field of vision as much as possible. Now I was on to something.

Since Matt and I downsized in everything, our car is also small. If we have to take suitcases, computers, guitars, and all of Piglet's accessories we usually have to fold the seats down in our Nissan Juke to fit things in. I can't take up valuable cargo space in our small car just to avoid a complete meltdown. So I had to find a way to stay in the front seat.

Enter: the sleep mask. 

Yes, that's right. Just a regular, every day sleep mask. I bought a cheap one at the drug store and later replaced it with a better one I got for free on the flight to London last year. I was able to entirely solve my panic in the car problem with this tiny accessory rather than expensive medications.

I have field tested it many times over the last year. We have driven as far as Minnesota and Michigan and it works perfectly. I don't use around the city here in Asheville but if I am riding in the car for more than an hour, I take the mask.

It keeps me from seeing what other cars on the road are doing so I don't exclaim out loud and distract Matt or make him nervous. I am still completely conscious and I can have a conversation with no problem. And, if I do fall asleep I am less likely to be woken up by small distractions. I can also take off the mask for parts of the drive where there isn't much traffic if I want to and just put it back on when I feel the panic coming back.

I thought I might share this insight because I know a lot of other people suffer from passenger anxiety. If your problems are similar to mine, this may help.

Over the next couple of months I am going to be concentrating on the travel aspect of our lives. I'll post about working remotely, the cities we're staying in, and how our tiny life has allowed us to do these types of things.


  1. Can't wait to hear about your adventures! We visited Wilmington in September and loved it. The ghost tours are *really* fun if that's up your alley. We also couldn't get enough of Flaming Amy's burritos. Hope you have a great time!

  2. I hate being a passenger. I think your idea will help many people! I love when a simple answer can be found...awesome!
    Blessings, Joanne

  3. I too have suffered from fear when others are driving but I learned that I am mostly effected when the speed limit is more then 50 miles and hour. One thing I noticed was that when the speed is to great, my eyes are not able to focus on the passing scenery. It appears in my minds eye as a blur. Not being able to pick up quickly enough causes fear of the unknown and triggers the flight or fight syndrome. Therefore I only travel back roads whenever possible, causing me much less stress. My problem began when I suffered a bruised brain stem after falling off a chair and hitting the back of my head. I didn't realize it at the time, but the symptoms kept getting worse. Thanks to an Osteopathic Doctor who performed many manipulations, I am now less painful, but knowing now why I am not able to handle speed makes it easier to handle when necessary. I hope this helps someone else to understand ;)

  4. I love this post. I appreciate your honesty about your anxiety, and love that you walked us through all the things you tried in order to overcome it. How awesome that it ended up being a simple, non-medical solution that you don't have to recover from when you arrive.

  5. My husband's driving scares the crap out of me. I may try this!

    1. It has really changed my life. I love to travel but was having such a hard time with it. It was a super easy solution, too!


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