Travel anxiety is the fear of visiting an unfamiliar place. It can also involve the stress that comes with planning your travels. Even if you have no history of anxiety, the idea of being outside familiar territory can throw you into panic mode.

There’s a lot of life affirming stuff on social media these days. There’s also a stack of people leading us to believe they are leading fruitful and happy lives with not a care in the world. I contend that much of this has the potential to give us a warped view of the world and some unrealistic expectations.

In fact, I think much of the life affirming happiness stuff is BS. How do I know? Truth is, I don’t, but I have reason to be sceptical. It is true that some poor souls post some pretty sad stuff but for the most part it’s all love, peace and beautiful days ahead. I guess social media was only ever intended to be a window into positive emotions, not a place to spill your guts so to speak.

I reckon it’s also true that while most people are pretty happy to share happiness with virtual strangers our darker experiences need to be hidden away. If a wide and sometimes unfathomable range of emotions defines the human condition why is happiness the only one we feel comfortable sharing, or indeed experiencing in any sense. No one asks you how you are, expecting a sad or emotional response. Most of us, me included, just aren’t comfortable with that stuff.

More to the point, in this age of expectations of happiness, how do we manage emotions that occasionally blindside us ?

All this crossed my mind recently. I was posting a photo from Switzerland during the first week of a planned 6 week cycling trip. I’d bought a new bike, flown business, hired a nice car and was staying in a very beautiful place. I was living the dream and sharing it all on FB. There were many positive comments and life affirming memes. So why did I feel miserable ?

As most readers know I’ve explored a bit and I like to think I’m comfortable traversing the globe. Even in these days of complicated travel I reckon I’m relatively happy navigating foreign lands. So why, one week into the trip of a lifetime, was I on the verge of a breakdown ?

Having never experienced this before I assumed it would pass. Mind over matter and all that positive reinforcement stuff. It got worse. By week two I was having trouble functioning. Calls to home left me in tears and basic tasks took on epic proportions. Ok, this is now really scary ! Pull yourself together Michael, this is silly.

Didn’t work. Rang my doctor. He’s as mystified as I am. Actually seems a little taken back and uncomfortable with my revelations. I guess GPs aren’t used to usually reliable old blokes they’ve known for years going nuts in the blink of an eye. Sounds like an extreme anxiety attack, come see me if you make it home. Thanks.

Couldn’t bring myself to get on the bike and started double guessing everything I’d planned. You know that feeling when you lean back on a chair and just catch yourself? Had that constantly. Imagined many misadventures and convinced myself I needed to get home. In desperation I changed tack, cancelled some plans and had a couple of days off the bike in a little hotel high in the Swiss Alps. No better, gotta get home. Flights changed and back to Geneva to sit tight and wait. 6 weeks had turned into 12 days and I was desperate to be in familiar surroundings.

Managed to navigate car drop off and get to airline check in. Covid vaccination certificate all good but where’s your updated digital travel declaration since you changed your flights? Your government won’t let you back into your country without one. The government App isn’t working and I’m not the only Aussie looking like missing the flight. Now I’m in full melt down. Call home. Now I’ve got the managing director in tears and make no mistake, that’s quite an achievement! My IT savvy daughter in law Tayla watches a tutorial You Tube clip in the middle of the night and gets me sorted. Talk about the calm in the eye of the storm, what a woman !!

Despite delays and a deteriorating emotional condition, I manage to make my flight and now I write these reflections from 40,000 feet.

I get home and go see my doctor. “What the hell happened doc ?”. No specific trigger event, no history of problems……nothing. Turns out sometimes there’s no rhyme or reason to this stuff. The most likely explanation is that what I experienced was a culmination of apparently minor stress events resulting in a pretty scary mental health episode. My doctor tells me that recognising what’s happened and being open to help is the key to managing how your head works. Turns out to be excellent advice and I’m soon back to my normal grumpy and paranoid self.

What have I learned ? Alcohol doesn’t fix everything but it sure helps….. no, not really. Never tell someone to snap out of it when they are feeling down, it ain’t that easy. Never take all the happy snaps on social media at face value, life’s not like that. Never assume that past experience is a marker of future emotional responses, surprises await. Never underestimate the impact of simply being homesick, there’s no place like home and family. Recognise anxiety for what it is and seek help.

But, most important of all..….never ever travel again without the managing director!

This episode has reinforced something I’ve always suspected and written about previously. For many people a holiday is a way to release the pressure cooker that is life in today’s world. For most people it’s a positive experience but accommodation providers need to appreciate that some guests will arrive stressed out of their minds. Appreciating this and having processes that don’t add to that stress seems a great guest wellness strategy and one that I am sure will be rewarded by repeat bookings.

BTW…I have thought long and hard about publishing this as it may have a negative impact on how clients perceive our business. We love our clients and more importantly we trust them. Honesty is everything. If I can fess up that sometimes your head plays up, so can you.

Mike Phipps | Director | Mike Phipps Finance

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Mike Phipps

Mike Phipps