Jon Johnston

Travel Anxiety – A Practical Approach

air travel

I am traveling to Texas this week. It’s making me feel like being a kid all over again.

It’s not what you think.

It’s not the childlike experience of adventure and joy of discovering new things I’m talking about. Give a child a phone or a laptop and they play with it. They don’t worry about breaking it. They don’t worry about pushing the wrong buttons, they just play. It’s pretty cool to watch. Give an adult a laptop and they’re convinced they’ll push the wrong button, end up talking to a guy named Sven who will convince them to take off their clothes and give him all their money. Adults are wary of the unfamiliar.
I have become unfamiliar with travel. I’ve been stuck at home most of this pandemic. I’ve been living in one room that serves as both a bedroom and an office. I’ve been to one customer site two times in the last six months. I drove from Minneapolis to Lincoln ,Nebraska a couple of weeks ago to see the Nebraska football spring game and a baseball series with Rutgers. That’s it recently.
Now I’m traveling to Dallas over Memorial Day weekend.
It’s making me anxious. My wife had to book the flight. I sat on the couch trying to think up reasons not to go.
Why am I apprehensive? I’ve always been anxious about getting on a plane. I have no fear of flying. I love airplanes. It’s the idea of getting to the airport, checking in, getting through security, going to the right gate and getting on the correct plane that always bothers me.

What if I’m on a no fly list? Some other Jon Johnston has been wreaking havoc throughout the universe and I’ll be the one to take the blame. What if I miss my flight? How do I get another one? What if they’ve all left without me? What if I’m at the airport when a giant cyber security attack happens, or an EMP, the world we know comes to an end and I’m stuck at the airport IN HOUSTON, one of the last cities I would want to be stuck in during an apocalyptic event. What if I get on the wrong flight, fall asleep and in end up in Borneo with no way of returning home ever again. Is Borneo nice this time of year? Where the hell is Borneo anyway?

What happens every time I travel is this. I go to airport security, I don’t have a problem, because I’m over prepared. I get there 18 hours ahead of time. I get on my plane, I get to my destination. I get picked up by someone and I arrive. Everything goes without a hitch.
I have a great time wherever I’m at. I enjoy talking to people. I see the sites. I’m around the unfamiliar. I love it.
Then I don’t want to leave. This is where it’s like feeling like a kid all over again, because that is exactly how kids respond to you taking them someplace they’d never been.
I don’t want to go.
I don’t want to go.
I don’t want to go.
Scream, cry, throw themselves on the floor.
I don’t want to go.
We put them in the car, or whatever mode of travel. We take them to the place. They spend a minute getting familiar. They notice there are no monsters. They start playing with whomever or whatever is available. They have fun. Enormous amounts of fun.
When we tell them it’s time to go, we get the same thing we had when we started.

I don’t want to go.
I don’t want to go.
I don’t want to go.
Scream, cry, throw themselves on the floor.
I don’t want to go.

I don’t get as far as throwing myself on the floor, but that’s only because I’m old and it hurts, otherwise I’d damned sure do it for effect.

I have to fight myself to go. I know that I’m going to have fun, but I have to force myself to get up off the couch first. I know I will get anxious about getting to wherever I’m going.
What’s odd is that I’ve taught myself to overcome anxiety in a lot of situations, but I know I’m still going to be anxious about this. I recently spent an hour getting a cardiac MRI and it was the most Stanley Kubrick moment of my life. I have trained myself to go to sleep when I get a MRI, but this time I had to hold my breath about 40 times – not an exaggeration. I had a plate on my chest, which made the tube more claustrophobic than normal. MRI scan sounds banged around me.
I was unfazed… okay, at the beginning I admit I had the same thought I’ve had with every MRI. The moment I’m shoved into the tube, I think “there’s going to be an earthquake, the building will collapse, everyone will die but me, and I won’t be mercifully crushed, I’ll just be stuck here in this tube, and this is how I will die.” Never mind there aren’t earthquakes in Minnesota.
The second thought I have is “a killer will walk into the room, shoot everyone doing the MRI and then leave. The police will come in, investigate, clean up the crime scene and block it off while I’m still suck in the tube forgotten and this is how I will die”.
It’s the same every time. I accept the terrible thoughts; they wash over me, then they go away and I am free to deal with the rest of the MRI.

Also Read: When Faced With Uncertainty, Remember The Serenity Prayer

I have taught myself to be calm in many different situations so the headaches that come with my brain injury don’t overwhelm me with stress. Perhaps the key to dealing with travel anxiety to accept it’s going to happen, let it happen and pass over, just like I do with the MRI.

I could focus on myself as the child who’s already arrived at my destination, found there are no monsters, and think about having fun. Next time I’m headed to the airport, I’m going to try this approach. I’ll let you know how it goes.

What anxiety do you never seem to get over?