Departures / Arrivals:
Time to Exit the Travelers Cocoon

Travel Psychology 104

Departures: Time to Insulate

According to Merriam/Webster, Online, a cocoon is

“something suggesting providing protection or in producing isolation, e.g., wrapped in a cocoon of blankets”

 And, Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, defines cocoon as:

  “an attempt to disguise it from predators”

In my essay, Travel Psychology 103, I suggest that forming a psychological cocoon, of sorts, is possibly one helpful way to survive the airport travel nightmare.

Creating an airport ‘cocoon‘ is merely one way of psychologically insulating ourselves from the stressors involved in getting through security and optimizing our in-flight experiences.

The notion of creating your own cocoon to insulate yourself from external stressors (in a relative safe environment, such as airport security) is certainly one way of having a ‘devil-may-care’ attitude towards it all. In your own personal space, you can have a more ‘nothing bothers me’ attitude, and simply go through the motions somewhat automatically in getting through security. Of course, this presupposes that we have nothing to hide, nothing to truly cause us undue stress, anyway.

Oddly enough, working through, achieving, overcoming, succeeding vis-a-vis travel hurdles, fosters travel experiences that are more memorable. The more hurdles one has to overcome in achieving the goal, e.g., getting through the airport hassles to get to the destination, the more of sense of achievement people have when they finally get there.

Have you ever noticed that the horror stories people manage to get through in their travels, the more memorable their experiences turn out to be? Marketers say over and over again that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Tongue-in-cheek, one might add that the more extreme the travel experience, positive or negative, seems to be, the more memorable it turns out to be! It’s the story people want to tell you!

Getting through the airport nightmare, arriving at a destination despite fears of terror or even the fear of flying itself, or overcoming a traumatic travel experience, is somewhat akin to the rite of passage experience achieved by, say college frat pledges, who survive a night of hazing.

Conventional college wisdom suggests that the value of becoming a brother or sister in a fraternity or sorority increases in proportion to the amount of suffering they have to go through to achieve their membership.

I think that both the airport survival experience as well as the flight experience itself is these days a form of rite de passage that all travelers need to go through in order to achieve their goals of arriving to their final destinations.

Arrivals: Time to Shed

If the airport was the time to insulate, once arrived at the destination, it is now time to exit the cocoon.

Once overseas, the cocoon is LAST thing travelers should create or maintain for themselves. Instead, they should be escaping the cocoon: They must, at all costs, make an effort to increase their awareness and consciousness of all that goes on around them. Safety and survival while traveling or doing business overseas now requires chronic rather than acute awareness. While we run largely on automatic at home, overseas travel now requires that we look and see as well as listen and hear.

Open and Aware!

One of the great pleasures of being overseas is experiencing and learning about other cultures. Not only does chronic awareness open us up to the sights, sounds and smells of a new culture, but it also allows us to experience people more and learn a lot about human nature. We see the similarities and the differences between ourselves and the nationals of the countries we are visiting. Many people feel that this is the so-called, ‘genuine article’ or Holy Grail of travel. Suddenly we experience the onslaught of everything we might easily ordinarily miss by ‘running on automatic’ as in our own countries, where we tend to tune out all stimuli that seem unessential.

Head in the Sand

In our day-to-day relatively safe and secure daily lives back home, running on automatic or tuning our environment out is a necessary way, most of the time, for us to manage our daily lives: Reduce the stimuli and make our lives run as smoothly, benignly, and sterile as possible. We get by.

In travel, running on automatic or tuning out is NOT the blessing in disguise as it could be back home. In contrast, it is a recipe for disaster: It makes us more vulnerable to predators. Burying one’s head in the sand is no way to be attuned to the potential dangers awaiting the unwary visitor.

I have collected hundreds of travel encounters by travelers who were mugged, robbed and pick pocketed, simply because they were ‘running on automatic!’

Is Globalization Reversing the Trend?

Is the ever-evolving modernization of the world taking its toll on world travel? The answer is ‘yes’: Travelers are seeking the more genuine, authentic travel experience, which they have to work harder to get.

Travelers, over the last few decades, have been seeking more adventure-travel, eco-travel experiences, and ‘going native’ in an attempt to experience the real nature and the real people, i.e., travel alternatives that result in their having more ‘authentic’ travel experiences. We have seen a boom in alternative travel offerings that attempt to bring travelers more in touch with the genuine articles: the real fauna, flora and the people.

The Techno-Global Revolution

Ironically it is the techno-global revolution, i.e., the evolution of worldwide internet and video conferencing technology, that will contribute to an international communication-style that will bridge cultures more and minimize differences, thus reducing the need to have face-to-face direct contacts to conduct business.

The speed of international business life, i.e., communicating at the speed of light, will reduce the need for direct cross-cultural person-to-person, face-to-face contacts, reversing and diminishing the richness of interpersonal experiences that travelers have always relished.

Currently international business consultants report that much overseas business is conducted by telephony, but usually only after initial in- person-to-person introductions are made.

In the quest to avoid terrorism dangers and save costs, overseas business will likely rely more and more on video and telephony conferencing.

The days of schmoozing and socializing, for instance, between Japanese businessmen and Westerners, before conducting business are numbered.

I’m afraid the face-to-face way of conducting business internationally will change radically, especially in light of the changing conditions of safety and security while traveling and conducting business overseas.

But people are people, and there will always be those of us, who seeking the subtleties of similarities and differences between peoples across cultures, will find a way to cherish and experience these qualities. These intercultural contacts will become increasingly more sought after and valued.

Bucking the Trends

Perhaps it is time to think about alternate forms of overseas travel, such as a cruise or a train trip instead. Accordingly, the era of luxury train travel and back to the sea in ships began a decade or two ago, and is on the increase.

People perceive train and ship travel to be very safe and secure, which is somewhat a delusion. Whereas luxury travel in this way is more attended to, i.e., more security people, more service personnel, this trend is not lost on those who would victimize these travelers. Note, the more frequent attacks on cruise ships lately off the coast of Africa.

And, for years, invaders of trains have been spraying sleeping gas on unwary travelers, thus becoming robbery victims in the process. These seem to be more the second-class trains. The more luxury trains seem to have largely avoided this problem, but with the increase in this type of travel, international terrorists and thieves will begin to take more notice of opportunities.

Roads Less Traveled By: The Fear Factor

With terrorist threats on the upswing, who travels less, who travel the same, and who might even travel more?

I notice a lot of travel articles coming out these days seeming to focus on the diminishing of travel as a function of increasing terror compounded with a fear of flying … I think this waxes and wanes in tandem with threats and over time.

Who flies less?

I don’t know what the percentage is of those who have a fear of flying. I think it is higher than people think. Compound this with the fear of terror, and I think you have a multiplicative effect. Thus, more immediately, travel overseas tapers off and tends to return to normal after a time. I hear quite a lot among travelers, that they are curtailing their flying.

Who flies the same?

Your typical business travelers and people less fear-based, probably going to destinations not particularly featured in the news, e.g., London. People with prior paid vacations and tours are likely not canceling them.

Also, my experience with seasoned travelers is that their ‘risk-assessments’ seem to carry them forward, above and beyond the minor nuisances of increased hassles dealing with air travel. They are seemingly more willing to take more ‘considered’ or ‘reasoned’ chances which goes well past the air travel ‘getting-there’ phase.

For them, current (air) travel hassles are not even an issue. Travelers I know are not hampered in the least by recent events in the structuring of their travel plans.

These are the travelers who strive to be ‘all they can be.’ They seek out personal travel challenges, the adrenalin rushes, and the peak experiences. They are simply undeterred.

Who travels more?

This is an interesting question. And my answer may surprise you! There are simply those travelers who seek out the best travel bargains in spite of risks and dangers. One recent interviewee (psychology of travel book I am writing) told me that he decided to go to Egypt at the time of one of the Middle East wars, precisely because there simply were too many great travel bargains to be resisted. He added, “I was nearly hailed as a hero!” in that Egyptians seemed appreciative that he decided to visit their country in spite of obvious dangers. I have interviewed other travelers who express similar views.

Dr Michael Brein–09/01/2006

* Dr Michael Brein is The Travel Psychologist living on Bainbridge Island, Washington. He is an avid world-traveler as well as author, publisher and lecturer on a variety of travel subjects. His travel guide series, Michael Brein’s Travel Guides to Sightseeing by Public Transportation may be viewed at www.michaelbrein.com. Michael Brein may be reached at michaelbrein@gmail.com or 206.618.7618.

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