Have you recently taken a trip or a vacation? Read on.
Throughout the Hebrew Bible, we find verses that address the anxieties of travel. But before we have a look, we need to define travel anxiety. By worries, I don’t mean TSA delays, flight cancellations or bad airplane snacks. Those surface a host of inconveniences but don’t ever really amount to suffering. Ever notice that people’s airline/travel issues are terribly boring to listen to when someone else is in the passenger seat? We’ve all been there. Yet when we are the unhappy recipients of poor service, we love sharing our travel woes with anyone who will listen.
A recent New York Times article contends that airlines and hotels are finally acknowledging these stresses in their marketing campaigns. In “Travel is Stressful, but Do It with Us, Companies Say,” Martha White writes that companies are now incorporating the anxieties of travel as a way to show how their particular brand is ameliorating them. “Take Back What Seat 34E Took from You” is a new Westin campaign featuring a woman floating carelessly in the water. Instead of showing her in a cramped middle seat surrounded by people without good body hygiene, this woman is stretched out in the serene waters a Westin pool offers.
Last year, the Oregon Tourism Commission went with this slogan to address the pressure many people feel when they take a family vacation: “There are all kinds of things you can do in Oregon, but you don’t have to do any of them.” What a relief! Psychologist Dr. Jerry Kennard identifies three sources of vacation stress: money, people and situations. “Money relates to affordability and is involved in gift buying, travel, clothing, tips, transportation, etc. People are invariably relatives or even friends, but stress can also come from the loss of loved-ones who used to be part of your circle. Situations can range from unfamiliar houses, to hotels to different countries, customs and languages. Add to this disruption in routine, change of diet, possible sickness and the elements for a stressful experience are all in place.”
One would hardly think that religion features in such a discussion, but, in fact, just as a trip can offer the potential for a spiritual journey, it can also threaten our sense of spiritual stability. It is for this reason that our sacred texts confront issues of the insecurity and isolation of travel and the vulnerability that comes with going somewhere that is not familiar. In Psalm 91:11, God appears as the ultimate travel agent: “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.” That probably beats travel insurance.
Dangers on a trip can ruin a good time. That’s why Proverbs offers this assurance: “Then you will go safely on your way, and you will not hurt your foot. When you lie down, you will not be afraid. As you lie there, your sleep will be sweet,” [3:23-24]. So much for the Westin’s heavenly bed; if you have trouble sleeping when you’re away but you’re traveling with the Divine Spirit, your sleep will be sweet.
Another travel woe is getting lost. No worries. We’ve got a psalm for that: “For you are my hiding place; you protect me from trouble. You surround me with songs of victory. The Lord says, ‘I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you,’” [32:7-8]. The GPS on high will get you there. And if you’re worried that you’ll be the worse for wear upon your return, we’ve got this guarantee: “The Lord keeps you from all harm and watches over your life. The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever,” [Psalm 121:7-8].
Sometimes people just need a vacation from the stress of planning a vacation. Now many packaged vacations include yoga, meditation and mindfulness practices just to overcome the anxiety of the trip. One way to make your next trip or vacation less tense is not to indulge yourself but to do some charitable work as an individual or a family wherever you land. A small service project won’t eliminate stress. It will, however, put it in perspective.