OCD and Travel: 3 tips

“My partner and I had been planning our trip to Europe for months. We were both excited about the adventure, and I was hopeful that my OCD wouldn’t interfere too much with our plans. I had been managing my symptoms well with therapy and medication, but the unpredictability of travel was a concern for both of us.

Our first few days in Paris were magical. We visited the Louvre, strolled along the Seine, and enjoyed delicious French cuisine. However, my OCD began to assert itself more forcefully as we moved on to our next destination, Rome.

The disruption of my routine was the first challenge. I usually have a specific morning routine that helps me start my day on a positive note. But in Rome, with the time difference and the unfamiliar environment, I found it difficult to stick to my routine. This caused me a lot of anxiety and made it harder for me to enjoy our sightseeing.

Then there were the unexpected situations. One day, our train was delayed for several hours. I felt a wave of panic wash over me as I realized we were not in control of the situation. My partner tried to reassure me, suggesting we use the time to explore the local area, but I couldn’t shake off the anxiety. I spent the entire delay obsessively checking the train schedule and worrying about our plans for the rest of the day.

The unfamiliar environments were also a challenge. I have certain rituals related to navigating spaces, and the unfamiliar streets and buildings of Rome made it difficult for me to perform these rituals. I found myself becoming increasingly anxious and irritable, which put a strain on my relationship with my partner.

The final straw came when we arrived at our hotel in Venice. I have specific needs when it comes to accommodation, and the hotel room didn’t meet these needs. I spent hours trying to rearrange the room to make it feel more comfortable, but it was never quite right. My partner was patient and understanding, but I could tell that my OCD was taking a toll on our vacation.

In the end, what was supposed to be a dream vacation turned into a stressful ordeal. My OCD, which I had hoped to keep in check, ended up dominating our trip. It was a stark reminder of how much my disorder can impact not just my life, but the lives of those around me.

Looking back, I realize that I should have prepared better for the challenges of traveling with OCD. I should have worked with my therapist to develop strategies for managing my symptoms in unfamiliar environments and unexpected situations. I should have communicated more openly with my partner about my fears and concerns. But most importantly, I should have been more forgiving of myself. OCD is a part of who I am, and while it can make things difficult, it doesn’t have to ruin everything. I’m determined to learn from this experience and make our next vacation a more positive one.”


Why OCD and travel often don’t go hand in hand

Traveling can present unique challenges for individuals with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), as it often involves changes in routine, unfamiliar environments, and unexpected situations. Here are some potential challenges that are not typically associated with the stereotypical understanding of OCD:

  1. Disruption of Routine: Many people with OCD find comfort in maintaining a consistent routine. Traveling often disrupts this routine, which can cause significant stress and anxiety. This could include changes in eating habits, sleep schedules, and daily activities.
  2. Unfamiliar Environments: Traveling often means being in new and unfamiliar places. This can be challenging for someone with OCD, as they may have specific rituals or compulsions related to familiar environments. For example, they may have a particular way of navigating their home or workplace that is disrupted in a new environment.
  3. Lack of Control: Travel often involves situations that are outside of one’s control, such as flight delays, lost luggage, or changes in plans. This lack of control can be particularly stressful for individuals with OCD, who may use their rituals or compulsions as a way of managing anxiety related to uncertainty or lack of control.
  4. Cultural Differences: Traveling to different countries or regions can involve exposure to different cultural norms and practices. This can be challenging for individuals with OCD, especially if they have obsessions or compulsions related to cleanliness, order, or specific rituals.
  5. Access to Healthcare: If an individual with OCD is in treatment, traveling can disrupt their access to their healthcare provider. This could include missing therapy sessions or having difficulty accessing medication.
  6. Increased Stress: Travel can be stressful for anyone, but for someone with OCD, this stress can exacerbate symptoms. This could include increased frequency or intensity of obsessions or compulsions.
  7. Accommodation Concerns: Depending on the nature of their OCD, some individuals may have specific needs or preferences when it comes to accommodation. For example, they may prefer to stay in a hotel room on a specific floor, or they may need to have certain cleaning or organizational procedures followed.
  8. Communication Challenges: If traveling to a place where the individual doesn’t speak the local language, they may struggle to communicate their needs or concerns, which can increase anxiety and potentially exacerbate OCD symptoms.

It’s important to note that everyone’s experience with OCD is unique, and not everyone will face these challenges when traveling. However, understanding these potential issues can help individuals with OCD and their loved ones plan for travel in a way that minimizes stress and supports their mental health.

3 tips for traveling with OCD

Here are three tips that focus on cognitive attitudes towards travel, embracing change, and managing uncertainty:

  1. Reframe Your Perspective: Try to view travel as an opportunity for growth rather than a threat to your routine. Yes, it involves change and uncertainty, but these can also lead to new experiences, learning, and personal development. When you find yourself worrying about what might go wrong, try to shift your focus to what might go right or what you might gain from the experience.
  2. Practice Acceptance: Acceptance is a key component of many cognitive therapies, including Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). The idea is to acknowledge and accept your thoughts and feelings without judging them or trying to push them away. If you’re feeling anxious about travel, instead of trying to suppress or control these feelings, acknowledge them and remind yourself that it’s okay to feel this way. This can help reduce the power that these feelings have over you and make them easier to manage.
  3. Embrace Uncertainty: Uncertainty is a part of life, and it’s often amplified when we travel. Instead of fearing uncertainty, try to embrace it. This doesn’t mean you have to like it or feel comfortable with it, but simply acknowledging that uncertainty exists can be a powerful step. You can do this by practicing mindfulness, which involves focusing on the present moment without judgment. When you notice yourself worrying about the future, gently bring your focus back to the present. This can help you stay grounded and reduce anxiety.

Remember, these strategies take practice and it’s okay if you don’t get it right all the time. Be patient with yourself and celebrate your progress, no matter how small. And if you’re finding it difficult to manage your thoughts and feelings, don’t hesitate to seek support from a mental health professional.