You’re not crazy: Loss of travel is causing people to feel stress and anxiety

Aug 20, 2020

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A world without travel is depressing.

With so many travelers still grounded, and border restrictions keeping people all over the world confined to increasingly narrow spheres, it’s no surprise that people everywhere are feeling unmoored, stifled and — in many cases — downright unhappy.

I can’t remember the last time I was stuck in the same place for so long. Worse than the absence of travel is the loss of my ability to travel. If, in the past, there was a drought in my travel plans, I could at least look forward to future trips on the calendar or anticipate those unexpected, spontaneous work trips or weekend getaways.

And I’m definitely not alone.

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Last week, American Express released a trend report that surveyed 2,000 adults with a household income of at least $70,000 who traveled by air at least once in 2019 — travelers, by their own definition. The findings, though not entirely surprising, paint a somewhat grim portrait of travelers in the U.S.

Nearly half (48%) described the “emotional toll” of not traveling, saying they feel “anxious and stressed” now that they can’t travel. A far more significant number, 78%, said traveling is one of the activities they miss most.

Back in May, TPG explored why it is that we — the AvGeeks, jet setters and road warriors among us — miss travel so much. Experts, including social psychologist Michael Brein, Ph.D. and licensed clinical psychologist Seth Meyers, Psy.D., said that travel is not only a source of satisfaction for many people but also a form of self-actualization.

“For men and women who travel extensively …” Meyers said, “the travel — or the constant sense of being in motion — becomes a part of their identity.”

Through the act of exploring the world, we travelers are really discovering ourselves.

Related: Why we miss travel so much, according to psychologists 

For people who live for the hamster wheel of elite status, who keep a watchful eye on their points and miles balances, and set more flight deal alerts than alarm clocks, the loss of travel is a very real, very tangible type of discomfort. And people everywhere are finding different ways to cope.

“I have these little worn notepad papers in my top desk drawer that list all the remaining countries I have to visit on each continent,” said Gene Sloan, TPG’s senior cruise and travel reporter. “I take them out every couple of weeks, look at them wistfully and then carefully place them back in the drawer.”

Some travelers are looking for practical ways to deal with travel deprivation. They’re actively planning future trips, renewing their passports, deal hunting, searching for travel inspiration and “online shopping” — even if that just means putting tickets for their dream flight in the digital shopping cart and letting them time out.

Others are revising their credit card strategy so they have more points and miles to work with when the restrictions lift and they’re free to travel again, or simply rethinking their idea of travel, taking closer-to-home road trips and staycations to break up the monotony of quarantine.

“It ain’t Osaka,” said TPG’s senior news editor, Clint Henderson, of his short domestic explorations and road trips, “but Omaha will do for now.”

And for some travelers, coping with a world without travel means inventing new ways to manage the lack of stimulation they’d usually get from travel — mindfulness exercises, creative pursuits, relabeling dried goods in French and Spanish “for built-in daily language refreshment,” like TPG engineer Amanda Donnelly-Rankin did — and those time-consuming household projects you keep putting off for a rainy day.

Well, my fellow travelers, this pandemic is nothing if not a metaphorical monsoon.

I’ve long considered myself something of a houseplant murderer, but I’m starting to think maybe it was just because I spent so little time caring for them — always at the office, on a plane, here or there. Now, I’ve filled my house with the creeping stems of mistletoe cactus; succulent aloe vera; and the stunning, painterly leaves of calathea medallion.

It doesn’t exactly fill the void where travel used to be, but it is, if nothing else, a meaningful distraction. Plus, I read somewhere that houseplants are supposed to reduce stress and boost your mood. I don’t know about you, but I could use both right now.

And, like many other travelers, I’m looking for ways to bring travel safely back into my life, with drivable weekend getaways and, soon, short domestic flights. After all, it could be a long time before we’re back to our normal globetrotting.

“We’re in this [for] the long haul,” Kumi Smith, assistant professor of epidemiology and community health at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, told TPG earlier this summer. “Travel and getting away and all that is very important for mental health,” she explained, saying all of us will need to find “a balance” — staying safe and physically healthy, while also dealing with the very real emotional burden of being grounded.

Feature photo by Westend61 / Getty Images. 

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