I love traveling, but I hate traveling. The whole infrastructure for international travel is laden with bureaucracy, delays, and confusion in the best of times. (Post) Pandemic times are not the best of times.
You may have heard about the mayhem at the Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam over the summer. Five hour security lines, delayed and cancelled flights galore, travelers trying to sleep on uncomfortable chairs to avoid going back through security.
Though the worst of the problems seem to be in the past, the airport is still struggling to handle all of the people and flights passing through it. And that’s where I will be landing on Saturday morning before catching a flight to Lisbon in the afternoon.
I am a nervous flyer, to put it mildly. I spend most flights hiding a low level anxiety attack and/or necking small bottles of wine to try to calm myself down. It’s not as bad as it used to be, when my limbs would go semi-numb and I would feel like a mean elephant was sitting on my chest. Now, it’s more in the low-level anxiety zone, unless we hit turbulence.
No one would know that I’m panicking internally. I’m very good at maintaining a calm exterior. I know my breathing techniques, and I am good at distracting myself with iPhone games or dumb movies.
It’s worse when I have to fly solo. For the past seven years, I’ve had my husband with me for international flights. But this time he is already in Europe, and I’m going to meet him in Lisbon. That means I have to sit through all of my anxiety sitting too close to some random stranger.
I know flying is relatively safe. Less dangerous than getting in a car (which, incidentally, also causes me a lot of anxiety). So, in theory, there’s not much to be afraid of. But it is an inherently unsettling to be in a small cylinder full of people 30,000 feet above the ground. My primitive nervous system was not prepared for this possibility.
And then there’s the social anxiety. The airport security dance. The customs officials. The language barriers. The confusing signage and inscrutable train timetables. It’s a lot of stress! It’s no wonder some people want to buy these all-inclusive vacations where everything is planned and decided for them.
Vacations are hard work, but I realize this is the definition of a first world problem. I am lucky and very privileged to be able to get on a plane and go to Europe. I have a job that pays well enough and allows me enough vacation time to do this. To complain about it seems silly, but at the same time it is important to remember that travel goes what beyond what you see in the curated Instagram photos. For me at least, it is often more stressful than stay home.
But now I have to go get on a plane. Remembering that travel is stressful helps me enjoy my travel more, because I’m not going into thinking it will all be relaxing and easy. I know it won’t.