If you’re far from home right now, or en route to a holiday destination, there’s a decent likelihood of onboard stress. Frustrating, too, as the holiday journey has such good intent: reconnecting with loved ones; replenishing our spirits on a ski slope or at a festive table; getting away, away, away. It would be a shame for the angst of holiday travel to intrude.
Those who carry true phobias about travel need lots of support. Those who struggle with fear of flying, fear of strangers wearing ethnic garb, or fear of catching life-threatening germs, will have a rough ride. Some people I meet in the airport will perhaps be braving agoraphobia, the fear of being away from a safe environment when a crisis occurs. May they have kind travel companions.
For most of us, travel angst is an intrusion on the inner peace we have been cultivating, on the benign thoughts we want to bring to the holiday season, and on dignity itself. We don’t doubt these assaults are survivable; but we prefer to rise above them if we can. Let’s try.
What have I forgotten? This thought comes to me as soon as I merge into highway traffic en route to the airport. Ticket and login ID, check. Toothbrush, check. Gifts, unwrapped, with wrapping stuff, check. Phone charger, check. I did forget the phone charger one year, long ago, and the anxiety about dwindling minutes of access to the universe never left me. Imagine how magnified that anxiety would be, now that I have bonded with my smartphone. Perhaps there is a hidden gift here: an opportunity for reflection on what we would miss most, in an unplanned electronic retreat, a day or two offline. Where to find peace in this: know that you get to choose your apps, in this life journey.
Leaving pets behind. Adult human loved ones presumably understand that you are not abandoning them, and will return. But part of the opportunity for self-torture that travel provides, is the lingering worry that our furry (or feathered or finned) loved ones are miserable without us, or rearranging the living room, or that they will not recognize us when we return. We can remind ourselves that this ritual has played out more or less successfully in past years, but then again, this is not a rational worry. We miss our critters. They miss us. To find peace while traveling, it is necessary to tolerate being apart, and also, at times, disappointing loved ones. We can find peace by confirming, in our quiet moments, that our bonds are strong.
Loss of dignity in the airport is not a small thing. I have witnessed a public suitcase search, in which some poor traveler’s lingerie was held up for close inspection. I have been scanned by uniformed personnel bearing wands, and ushered through a booth that sniffs for explosives. Once I even left behind a set of keys that had been set aside in preparation for the walk through the metal detector. That will not happen again. I have noticed, though, the benign relationship between strangers making their way through this awkward process we call airport security. We do not stare, as others are scanned. We empathize, as others repack and rebuckle and verify that keys are in place. If there is peace to be found in this experience, it is that this indignity has a sane purpose. And that we are capable of showing maturity in airports that would be welcome in, say, city traffic.
Coping with fellow travelers is not always pleasant. That five minutes between the time the plane lands and the time the door opens, is subjectively longer than the entire rest of the journey. It would be easy to succumb to anger with the passengers who stuff the overhead bins with their worldly possessions, hogging shared space and flinging precious sporting equipment they do not wish to check. Of course they want to avoid baggage claim, and extra fees. But they invoke irritation by presuming about who gets space, and whose stuff is important. The reality is that the journey causes some people to prioritize their own convenience over yours. It is essential to find peace here, by reminding yourself that their insensitivity does not have to be contagious. We can all continue to be generous of spirit, in a time that others do not. That is the nature of the journey.
May it be peaceful and stimulating, each at the right time, and may you come home safe, the same person and a new one, each in the ways that matter most.