TRAVEL ANXIETY – HOW DO WE BEAT THAT?

I have always been quite relaxed about travelling. Living abroad somehow turns travelling into kind of a casual act. Or at least, flying regularly to your birth country is soon not even considered as travelling. Even if it means couple of flights back and forth.

I have never been too worried about flying or natural catastrophes or something like that (at least not in the context of travelling). I have always felt enormous lightness when leaving behind the daily responsibilities and hitting the road (read: catching a flight) as so far it has only meant positive experiences.  When choosing to travel with small children, you inevitably sign up for more vulnerability and bigger need for security, stability and certainty. However, none of these things can really be guaranteed. The best one can do is to plan carefully the itinerary, opting for calmer, simpler and safer activities. For example, this time, we chose to rent a car with a driver, we made sure our kids washed their teeth with bottled water, we kept our monkey forest trip short, we avoided any contact with stray dogs. Also a good preparation at home helps to decrease the risks and increase your sense of calm and safety. Before our trip we went for pre-travel doctor visit to make sure our vacines were updated. We got a stock of medicines. We prepared for our daughters some bracelets and necklaces with QR codes showing our contact details.

However, last March I developed sort of an anxiety or higher degree of worry. We bought our tickets back in autumn 2015, which gave me enough time to go a  bit pre-trip crazy. It all started with the news of Paris terrorist attacks and from then onwards all kinds of worries appeared. As if I was given a cooking dough of worries to roll out on every direction. Travel anxiety is a common phenomenon that many people experience at some point to certain degree. The more anxious one is in their daily life, the higher are the chances to feel more stress regarding travel. And, of course, there are people who develop serious travel phobias, requiring professional interference. To be clear, when speaking about my travel anxiety, I am not referring to a clinical condition, but rather to experiencing excessive worrying, common to many of us in different situations of life. Below comes the list of worst case scenarios I was (unintentionally) running through my head this time:

  • Concern nº 1: Terrorist Attack – Due to increasing number of terrorist attacks during the last months, this was obviously one of my biggest worries. The biggest drop to my “worry grail” was the attack in Jakarta in January, followed by threats to Bali police. Could not hit closer to “home” than that! We were going to travel to Bali and all this happened in Indonesia.
  • Concern nº 2: My daughter´s Health – The second worry was a real worry due to some ongoing issues and treatments with one of my daughter´s ears and hearing. Flying was not that recommended, however time at the beach was considered to be beneficial.
  • Concern nº 3: Disappearing (read: falling) Airplanes – Due to our last trip to Thailand (Phuket) – Singapore and Malaysia back in 2015, I happened to be very aware of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight and the crash of the AirAsia Flight (both from 2014). And since we were going to travel again to that direction, it was an obvious course of action for my mind to go catch all this disturbing info.
  • Concern nº 4: Earthquakes and Tsunamis – There happens to be a number of active volcanos in Indonesia, which every now and then give quite a lively sign of their existence and of course earthquakes happen in that area frequently. The last one just happened to take place off the western coast of Indonesia, about ten days before our trip.
  • Concern nº5: Rabies & illnesses carried by mosquitos – Each year numerous people die in Bali because of rabies virus that can be present in saliva of animals. This risk is high due to high number of monkeys and stray dogs around.
  • Concern nº6: Imprisonment due to narcotic substances found in medicine – The night before our flight in the middle of packing, somehow I decided to search for something like “travelling to Bali with medicine” and found out that it would be best to have papers from doctors and to declare them in customs as some of the medicine and ingredients might be forbidden in Indonesia, which could result in imprisonment. Boy, that sounded serious worry to be processed in one day only! Fortunately, we were not planning to take any complex medicines with us, only something to lower fever and help with possible digestive issues, but even like that I stayed with some concerns. “Should we declare our Ben-u-ron?” “What if any of our medicines contains drug-like substances forbidden in Indonesia?” And few other embarrassing last minute “what-ifs”.

So.. I am sure if going through this list of concerns (which is not even complete as it could include much more “juice”) it is obvious that any of us would want to quit the trip immediately. Just imagine all this. Almost sounds like the best case scenario could only be that

“after managing to survive from an almost-a-plane -crash, you are on your way to the hotel, while sought after by the local police because of your undeclared ben-u-ron, and you have to stop for a toilet because of your upcoming diarrhea -attack caused by the fact of drinking some water from public tap, but… when entering the coffee-shop, you immediately notice that a terrorist is about to show off a shiny suicidal-vest, which you see, but you cannot think much further because suddenly you feel the earth shaking under your feet and you run, you run towards the beach, only to see in the background a formation of a wall, wall of water, a giant tsunami wave; while admiring this natural phenomenon you happen to get bitten by a monkey who has found from your pocket your hidden cookies, the bite is like a wake-up call, you start running, running in the direction of the arrows, arrows pointing up the hill, to the safe-area.. and all this, with a 15 kilo toddler on your lap..”

Uhh. Well all this went through my head in different orders and with all or some of the fears manifesting quite vividly in my thoughts. (I imagined seeing a tsunami, I imagined seeing a terrorist nearby, I imagined running with my kids. Once at the gym I even told to myself that I have to be strong in order to be able to run with a child if needed…) The truth is that we did try to cancel our flights about six weeks before the trip, using our daughter´s health as excuse. (Un)fortunately despite our special insurance, it was not possible. Our presented reasons were not serious enough. So we were left with the choice to give in to our fears and loose a fair amount of money. Or to suck it up, be brave and to go! We chose to go! And trust me, this was a great decision! However, these weeks of indecision were not only difficult for me, but also to the others by my side. I like to solve problems by talking about them, discussing them back and forth, often without even expecting the answer but waiting for the answer to arrive to me. It was no different this time, only that nobody seemed to enjoy the topic! I realised how badly people avoid talking about negative things, as if it increases the probabilities immediately. And maybe it does.

In order to take this decision, we had to force rationalising our fears, at least I had to. Even if all the explanations that I came up with in order to calm my mind, were not always the most logical and rational ones, they did work enough for me to make my fears manageable. I worked with (imaginary) probabilities. Despite terrorism acts being a real and growing threat in Indonesia, my conclusion was that one has to have quite a bit of bad luck to end up at the right moment at the right spot to get blown up. I assumed that the probability of this happening here at home, in Europe was at least as high or even higher. The same with flights. They say it is way more likelier to get into fatal car accident than into plane accident, so this was my first contra-argument. Followed by, whatever happens, it is the four of us together. And believe me, this ideas felt calming. Somehow also the earthquakes and tsunamis surrendered to the likelihood theories. Rabies-risk seemed to be the most controllable concern of them all. I probably overtired my husband with the anti-monkey-anti-stray-dog talk, but somehow it helped. And taking a conscious decision to risk it with fever medicine sounded reasonable too :)! When it comes to our daughter and her ear-issues we chose to believe that the beneficial impact of the beach and warm weather were stronger than any temporary discomfort and this ended up to be the truth.

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The Monkey Forest

So how did it go? Quite well I would say! After the initial pre-trip worrying and fear-rationalising phase was over, we thoroughly enjoyed the experience. We chose not to surrender to the fears, we chose to be brave and this ended up to be very rewarding. And this happens very much with everything in life. Our mind is able to come up with the most horrible scenarios, which majority of times never happen but when we give in to them, we might loose incredible opportunities of seeing, feeling, living. But obviously, at least myself, I will do this worrying process over and over again, I just can´t see yet myself googling instead “risks of travelling to …” something like “everything that can go well when traveling to …”. And this tendency is the proven way of how human nature works. The well known “negativity bias” of human brain, the tendency to give much more importance to the negative compared to the positive. It has been related to the human fight for survival, which surely has had a lot of importance from the very beginning. It is just that positive things rarely threaten our survival. And therefore so often we still downplay their importance, we do it automatically, almost unintentionally. Said all this, I am not suggesting not to worry about your trip. Instead, I believe it is very important to worry enough when planning a trip and to take good care of everything that helps us to prevent or be prepared for different situations. However, the ones that have to do merely with probabilities and bad luck, one should leave in the hands of universe. Like we do with many things every day, in our daily lives.

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Many hotels are equipped with mosquito nets (Blue Karma Resort)

The only scary thing we actually experienced (besides the Monkey Forest) was to see from the distance, above the ocean, a hurricane. First of all, it is scary to see something like this in real life, even if from the distance. Secondly, it was not possible to understand how far it was or what direction it was planning to take. We were at that moment resting by the infinity pool of the hotel in Padang Padang. I was secretly wondering if our hotel room would be strong enough to face such storm or if our hotel had a special plan for such situations. Luckily, we did not have to find it out. In a while the “spiral of wind” started fading from the bottom and eventually disappeared. Luckily I was not able to anticipate this moment in my pre-trip- scary-scenarios-creating-process!

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The hurricane..

To conclude, such scenario-creating has clearly nothing to do with mindful ways of being. Instead of focusing on the present and controllable, I let my “creative” mind to craft in total freedom bunch of “what-ifs”. But I sure know that next time when I have some pre-travel craziness approaching I will try to focus more on washing dishes, playing with my kids or smelling the roses. I am still new to this. Still new to balancing my emotional and rational brain. But as with everything, the beauty lies also this time in the step by step learning, in the journey…

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If we had given in to our fears, we would have missed many breathtaking views

 

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