There are mornings when I just wince to open up my favorite news sites. A bomb in a market, a plane missing, a train crash; terrorist this, unexplained that, tragic accident or meticulously planned murder and mayhem.
It’s enough to make you want to hole up in your room and do all your traveling on Google Earth.
I’ve said it before, facts are great. Statistics are great. They tell a very rational and sensible picture. We could, all of us, spend hours looking at the statistics and the facts and the reports and the white papers. And at the end of all that research? We would most likely still be anxious. Really, really anxious.
Travel anxiety. It’s like tomato sauce on your favorite white shirt. You are pretty sure that you are never going to get rid of it. The stain that is. You are pretty sure that you are going to have to just abandon that shirt, no matter how much you love it, no matter how much it means to you.
Except that shirt is actually your dream of going somewhere. And it sucks. Because deep down, this isn’t us asking for an adventure of a life time. This isn’t us asking for something, well, unusual. This is us abandoning our dreams of London, of Santiago, of Melbourne, or wherever it is we have always wanted to go.
We abandon it because of something that might happen. Not even something that will probably happen, or is likely to happen. Just something, that might, just maybe, could possibly happen.
Travel anxiety. Honestly? Just saying the words make me somewhat anxious.
Look, I’ve been to Europe several times now. Nothing of note has happened. Nothing of note that was dangerous or scary or threatening happened.
Sure, yeah, I was on a bus that was evacuated because of a scare of some sort. But even that? Nothing happened. The bus was examined and then trundled on its way – without passengers on it, thanks. But other than the start of a blister on my heel? Nothing happened.
And yet – I am not the greatest flier in the world. I admit I say a little prayer every single time I am on a plane. The moment we start that taxi towards the runway, I’m anxious. I hide it well, but yeah, I’m anxious.
I admit that there have been moments when I let my brain play insidious little tricks on me. I admit that I don’t generally sleep well the night before a trip. I would love to tell you that it was because I was so freaking excited that I was about to go someplace wonderful that I just couldn’t contain myself. But that would be a lie.
I worry about things. I worry about a lot of things. I worry about a lot of things a lot of the time. I worried that my train between London and Paris would get stuck in the tunnel under the channel. I worried that my ferry over the channel would have problems. I have panicked over silly stuff.
Except that at the moment I was panicking? Nothing about it was silly. It was just scary.
I say all of this because I want you to know that if you have travel anxiety you are not alone. You aren’t the only one out there thinking about who might shoot down your plane, or how you might get mugged or kidnapped or lost or hurt or worse.
I say all of this because I am proof that you can get past it.
Note that I didn’t say get over it. Past it. That beast named travel anxiety can be tamed, but for me at least, it does seem to lurk – always looking for a chance to sneak back in. I’m not sure I will ever vanquish it all together.
So how do we tame our travel anxiety when it often feels like the entire globe is conspiring against us? How do we stop ourselves from picturing that future, seemingly inevitable horribleness?
What works is different for all of us. For me it was figuring out what it was that really scared me. Someone who has dealt with this much more than I have, calls it unpacking.
In some ways it has to do with control. I am giving up control to someone else when I step on a plane. Not just because I’m not flying the plane. It is about trusting the pilot, the people who built that plane, who designed that plane and the physics of how it all comes together. It is about trusting computers and weather equipment and the maintenance people.
When I get to a foreign country, it is more about fear of failing. Fear that I will say or do the wrong thing. Fear that I will make a mistake, offend someone. How crazy is that? I’m anxious about failing at being a tourist. Except that it isn’t crazy at all. I’m not crazy at all. I’m just anxious.
I’m fortunate. My passion to travel was stronger than my travel anxiety was. Not by much. Only by a smidgen. But it was enough to get me traveling. Honestly though? It could have gone either way.
Even now, even just today? I can read about a plane crash, read about a tragedy, and I feel that old familiar knot in my stomach. That little voice that loves to tell me how dangerous it is, how scary it is, how much safer home is whispers in my ear as I look at far away places.
In the end, we have to make a decision. Do we let the fear, the anxiety, control us or do we follow our dreams. I will be forever grateful to all those who pushed, cajoled, wheedled and coaxed me into following mine. I would be honored to do the same for you.