August is here, and many of us are experiencing the summer months, a time we often look forward to as a chance to take vacation and to travel. With travel restrictions due to the pandemic easing, you may feel competing urges: one, to grab your passport and head just about anywhere; and two, to hang back and worry.
After all, for two-plus years of a global pandemic, going “out there” was a nerve-wracking and risky endeavor. Even though we’re beginning to emerge, fears don’t flip on and off quite so easily. And for some people, anxiety around travel existed even before the pandemic, with concerns about “what if this or that happens” clouding their thoughts.
So while the excitement of exploring new places may be calling, traveling beyond a 20-mile radius of your home also may require confronting the fears, real and imagined, that await us when we do. Here are three common concerns about travel, and how to reframe them so you can enjoy your vacation.
Fear: The trip won’t go according to plan
A buttoned-up itinerary is not a guarantee. According to choreographer Twyla Tharp, overplanning is just as bad as not planning at all. In her book “The Creative Habit,” she writes: “There’s an emotional lie to overplanning; it creates a security blanket that lets you assume you have things under control, that you are further along than you really are.”
While Tharp is talking about the creative process, the same applies to travel. Itinerary is just a fancy word for plan, and plans aren’t real or guaranteed. They’re ideas about what you might do. Flights get delayed, weather turns, life happens. You show up at the museum to find it’s closed on Mondays.
Solution: Plan the outset, not the ending
The belief that a trip will be “good” or “worth it” only if it adheres to your idea of what a trip should be is the sign of a fixed mindset. For example, you believe that the sun has to be out for you to relax, or that you have to check this off your list to consider the trip a success. At meQ, we think of these as Iceberg Beliefs, or deeply entrenched rules that lie beneath the surface of our awareness about how we believe the world should be.
But you can learn to steer around these Icebergs by developing a growth mindset, which means giving yourself room to pivot and adapt as the trip unfolds. What if you had just enough plans in place to provide options? What if a successful trip wasn’t how well it adhered to your idea of how it should go, but how much it surprised you?
Fear: Something will go very wrong
You tell yourself that with your luck, the very worst thing that can happen to you will happen. But that’s not necessarily true. In her book “The Awesome Human Project,” Nataly Kogan explains that the brain’s job is to seek out and remember negative stimuli, which means you don’t see your reality accurately, because negative thoughts are exaggerated. “Focusing only on what could potentially go wrong,” she writes, “increases your stress, anxiety, and worry.”
Solution: Widen your lens
In his riveting story “The Senseless Logic of the Wild” in The New York Times magazine, Jon Mooallem shares how he became so obsessed with his fear of bears during a kayaking trip to Alaska that he gave himself a migraine. He ultimately talked himself out of this fear by considering the odds.
“I tried to conceive of the situation as a geometry problem,” he writes, thinking of bears as “tiny, independent blips, going about their business randomly.” To believe he was primed for a bear attack meant “mistaking myself for ‘the absolute focus of all bears’ attention.’” He concluded, “To be afraid of bears is to be narcissistic.” (And no, he never did run into one on that trip.)
Rather than view yourself as the singular target of freak accidents and wild animals, widen your lens and challenge those anxious thoughts. Realize how many people fly and drive and hike and swim, every single day, year round, without incident. While we like to consider ourselves special (thanks ego!), you’ll find greater ease if you picture yourself as just another blip on the screen of humans moving around doing things.
Fear: No one will have a good time
You’re not going on vacation to have a bad time. And yet, travel is a microcosm of life—some days are simply better than others. The added expectation—and pressure—to experience consistently elevated emotions simply because you’re away isn’t realistic or fair. Yes, you might bicker on a beautiful beach. Your teenager might snap at you over a plate of overpriced eggs. You aren’t any different just because you’re on vacation, and who said you were supposed to be?
Solution: Reframe emotional expectations
Let go of the belief that you’re supposed to feel a certain way, that it’s your job to manage how everyone else feels at all times–and that it’s on you to make this “the perfect” vacation. Putting that kind of pressure on yourself or others to have a good time ratchets up tension and expectations. Because now everyone else has to not only have a good time, but they also have to prove that they’re having a good time. None of this is fun.
You can learn to recognize negative emotions, identify the thoughts behind them, and reframe them to serve you better with Trap it, Map it, Zap it. Remember, you’re traveling for pleasure, so create the conditions for pleasure to arise. Not through planning or worrying, but by being fully present to the place you’re in and the people you’re with.