Travel Anxiety – A Personal Journey.
By now, you will be aware that ‘worrying’ is my thing. I worry about everything but, over the years, I have developed some particular areas of fretting specialisms. One of these is ‘travel anxiety’; a complex combination of fear which can manifest itself in all manner of ways. With that in mind, I intend to cover this vast subject during the next few diary entries.
So yes – Travel Anxiety is one of my more complicated fears because there are so many aspects to it. I’m never sure whether the anxiety is about being away from home; or about embarking on a journey; or whether it is linked to being in unfamiliar territory. No doubt it is a strange mix of them all.
Despite a lifelong battle with anxiety, my travel fears were a late addition to the mix. When I was growing up, people didn’t travel as much as they do today. In other words, I didn’t suffer from travel anxiety because I never really went anywhere.
And then one day I stepped onto a plane and flew to Peru to visit an old school friend who was teaching there. I was twenty-seven and it was the first year that I had ever travelled by air – or travelled beyond the North of France. It was an epic journey for me.
It all started so well. I booked the flights and counted the weeks until departure. I was hopping with excitement on the day of travel. I enjoyed the flight and I was glued to the live flight map which charted my Atlantic crossing, the skirting of the Caribbean and, finally, the descent into deepest South America.
On arrival in Lima, I felt like the coolest, most adventurous person in the world. I was on the other side of the world! My friend Julia was waiting for me and, after much hugging and shrieking, we made our way to the overnight accommodation – a rooftop room in someone’s house. It was dark; it was the end of the day and I fell into a happy, exhausted sleep.
So far so good. Until I woke up in the morning and staggered out into the open. It was 5am and a hazy sun was rising across the half-built roofs of the city. From nowhere came an all-consuming, electrifying terror. My knees buckled; my stomach churned and I started shaking. When Julia asked what was wrong I lied. I told her it was jet lag. I didn’t know how to explain this new emotion; an acute distress about being too far away from home.
And therein lay the birth of my Travel Anxiety. For two weeks I was plagued by irrational emotion and fear. Until then, I had no idea that familiarity, security and routine were so important to me. Without them I quickly lost my bearings – and my mind.
I loved Peru but, amidst the cloud forests and the Inca ruins, I was on edge the entire time. I cried and lost my appetite; I quaked in my bed and eyed everyone with suspicion. I was desperate to get back home and assure myself that my family was OK and that my dog had not been run over. I was convinced that I might never see them again and I watched every minute passing until it was time to fly back home again.
I was overjoyed when I touched down in the UK. I collected my luggage and found my loved ones in the arrivals hall. My family were surprised to find me hysterical with relief. They expected tales of far off lands but there was none of that. Just me, wailing and declaring that I would never leave the country again.
It was days before I could look at my holiday photographs.
But, when I did, I could only see evidence of an amazing trip. There I was – on top of the world at Maccu Piccu, snoozing on a bus to Chiclayo; perched on a bench in the Plaza de Armas. It was hard to remember the terror that had ensnarled me during those moments. In fact, I could almost convince myself that it had all been in my head. According to these photographs I had a great time.
Which is why I was more than happy to repeat the trip to Peru the following year. No way did I suffer from Travel Anxiety. Next time I would be an oasis of calm.
But of course I wasn’t! Next time I was much, much worse…..
Next Week: Travel Anxiety – Part Two of a Personal Journey