It’s a feeling of weightlessness. Gripping onto the armrests of my seat and the hand of my best friend, we lift off into the sky. I try not to look at the city I call home become smaller and smaller outside the window, knowing my parents are watching from the airport after we said our goodbyes. Lights are flashing, noises are buzzing, and an eerie hum vibrates beneath my feet. My legs are cramped between the seats, and an immense aching sensation weighs heavily on my head. The reality of how packed we are, thousands of feet in the air, within this tiny vessel starts to settle in.
It’s my first time flying.
I spent days prior to my trip researching the ins and outs of how a plane operates, what the standard protocol is for passengers and how to not get motion sick. You could say that I was nervous.
But four grueling hours later, we landed in the city of New Orleans. I felt a sense of accomplishment. We made it to our destination, and I was able to conquer a fear that I had avoided for years. The hustle of a new city was exhilarating to me. As someone who had never ventured outside of the Midwest, I was eager to see new sites and experience a different scene. I could finally try a shrimp po boy, go on a ghost tour within the French Quarter and watch street performers until the wee hours of the night. But the second I stepped off the plane, I was hit with something else I wasn’t expecting: anxiety.
When the term “travel anxiety” is thrown about, anxiety surrounding flying is usually what comes to mind. Although flight anxiety affects around 40% of the population, my own anxieties once we landed didn’t stem from being in the air. Perhaps I was just jet lagged or exhausted from traveling. Maybe it was just my body being shocked by the sheer humidity that hit me the second we stepped out of the airport. But as the trip commenced, my panic-like symptoms only grew in size and frequency. The feelings I had were not from utter tiredness; they came from having to adapt to a new city and environment while trying to cope with the fact that I was miles away from home.
When people go across the country or travel abroad internationally, they don’t hesitate to post it all over social media. You see individuals in front of the Eiffel Tower or standing on a tropical beach or enjoying meals in the streets of Italy. The image that comes across is always one of excitement with a wide smile upon the face.
Now travelling has many benefits. You are able to immerse yourself in new cultures, taste different cuisines and learn the rich history of the place you’re staying. There are opportunities to create lasting connections and to expose yourself to important customs you won’t get to experience anywhere else. It’s made out to be this picture-perfect moment in your life where you can finally “find yourself.”
But what do you do when your heart never stops pumping, your stomach never stops turning and your head never stops pounding? What do you do when you’re bombarded with questions like “Why can’t you appreciate where you are?” or “Why can’t you just let loose and have some fun?” While it all may be in good intent, the inability to let go of the anxiety can be incredibly frustrating. It forces its way between you and the excitement happening around you. Overall, it can put a damper on your trip.
The concept of “homesickness” for me and in the media has always had a sort of association with weakness. When I stood on the roof of my hotel looking over the city during the nighttime, there was nothing I wanted more than to be in my own bed. Beneath all the nerves and all the nauseating side effects of my anxiety, there was a sense of longing and yearning. I wandered through the days of our trip in a haze of exhaustion with a tired body that desperately needed the comfort of home. It frustrated me because I wanted to enjoy myself. I wanted to be amazed by my surroundings. I wanted to lose myself in the delicious food.
But just because I had to spend some time in the hotel room alone and excuse myself from various planned activities, it doesn’t mean that I am weak. It’s time to bring awareness to travel anxiety and emphasize the importance of checking up on your friends while travelling to make sure they are okay and comfortable. It’s perfectly okay to long for the familiarity of being home. It’s a reality we all have to face. Travelling has and never will be perfect for everyone.