Travel Psychology 103

The Airport Experience as a Rite of Passage!
or, The Air Travelers’ Survival Guide to the Airport Nightmare! or,  “Travel Psychology 103”

AirportNightmare2You are about to depart on your dream trip of a lifetime, this summer. But instead of anticipating the excitement and adventure of your grand vacation, you find yourself focusing, instead, on the dreadful reality of having to face and deal with one of the roughest summers of air travel in recent history namely the airport departure nightmare!

You are agonizing over what you hear coming at you from all sides is nothing short of the traveler´s living nightmare at the airport: long lines, dreadful airport security, flight delays, unsympathetic and angry airline personnel, cramped, crowded airplane quarters, little or no food, and maybe even no entertainment.

What you are facing, no less, is a sort of rite of passage, an initiation, so-to-speak namely, surviving the airport experience facing an apparent ritual that we must all go through in order to be initiated to gaining or achieving our ultimate prize to arrive at our vacation destination safely, securely, comfortably, and rather importantly, relatively unperturbed, unscathed by it all. This time the rite of passage is, ironically, the passage itself!

People cope with this sort of duress in a variety of ways. And it is no wonder, therefore, that some people even develop air rage, resulting, in extreme cases, of their being carted off under arrest by federal agents for their unruly behavior. For most of us, however, the dreaded airport survival experience winds up being nothing much more than a minor nuisance.

But for a significant minority of us, we would like to have some tools, some other means at our disposal to overcome, minimize or at least cope with these obstacles, hassles, apparent abuses, and sometimes demeaning experiences. All too often the stress of the airport departure experience, leaves us with a hanging dark cloud over the initiation to our holiday. Instead of arriving happy, we arrive depressed, if not exhausted.

Travel psychologist, Dr Michael Brein, has some helpful survival tips to share with the airport traveler. He suggests that you treat the airport departure experience as a rite of passage, as an initiation to be experienced, as a ritual to be overcome in the quest to attain the grand prize your happy arrival to your grand vacation!

Celebrate the Rite! Instead of fearing and dreading having to deal with all the discomforts of the airport departure experience, anticipate it with excitement. Yes, excitement! Treat the airport as part and parcel of the whole travel experience. Make it exciting in and of itself. Treat it as part of the travel whole.

Allow plenty of time; build in an extra hour or two. Relax. Once you deal with what must be done, e.g., getting the boarding pass, going through security, etc., make the airport experience your own: take a walk, explore the shops. Explore, explore. There´s much to see. The experience is in the walking. They say you see so much more when you walk than when you ride. Or sit and have a glass of wine or a cup of coffee. People-watch! People-watching is fun; people-watching is relaxing.

Create Your Own Cocoon to Endure! Create your own comfortable, cozy inward personal space. Attain the mental state that you in your own cocoon are traveling through the airport space and simply dealing with all that goes on around you, all that needs to be done. Withdraw into the self. Induce a sense of peaceful relaxation in this meditative space with your favorite calm, soothing sounds, e.g., your own favorite collection of songs on your iPod. Or put on your noise canceling headphones. Think of and concentrate on the future: your arrival to the beginning of your vacation. Live in, be in the eternal now but focus on the future. The eternal now is a kind of timelessness of the moment. You can deal with just about anything in this eternal moment of your mental space. Nothing needs to bother you.

Build Your Sense of Confidence and Personal Esteem! Think of the airport departure experience as the rite of passage, as your initiation into the world of travel and adventure. The abuses, hurdles, hassles, obstacles that need to be overcome are part and parcel of the process of initiation. Strangely, and interestingly, you will value the accomplishment of getting through the airport experience all the more. The more the hassles, the more the success of getting through it all the more the meaning and sense of achievement of getting there. The more you suffer, the greater is the sense of reward! It´s an amazing but true fact of life. In an odd sort of way, succeeding with the trials and tribulations of the airport departure, makes us feel more confident and better about ourselves.

Prepare in Advance! Of course there are some things that you can do during your travel-planning phase and before you leave home that can reduce your needs, and, hence, the anxieties of your airport departure experience.

Here are a just a few ideas:

  1. Airplane Seat Selection: try to choose your seats in advance. You can sometimes do that online. Choose an aisle instead of the window and certainly instead of the middle. This gives you more freedom of movement and keeps you from becoming scrunched between two (often overweight) people.
  2. Create Your Own Insulated Personal Space: as above, bring noise canceling headphones, soft soothing music on your iPod; a portable pillow; a good book to read; or even a DVD movie to watch.
  3. Pack Light: If you can possibly reduce your belongings to a compartment-size bag as well as one minimal carry-on bag and avoid checking baggage this will make a world of difference. You avoid the hassles of baggage claim and minimize going through customs and immigration at the other end.
  4. Have a Pic-Nic! Yes, have a pre-departure meal at home or a nice airport meal. AND pack a great b-fast, lunch or dinner in addition. Enjoy your meal. Dont fly away hungry or starve yourself awaiting a now more than ever simply non-existent airplane meal.

In sum, acceptance of airport departure travel hassles as part of the process, namely, an attitude that you can and will overcome the hassles and obstacles that may cross your path is a constructive, positive approach and far better than experiencing air rage. Any negative behaviors are much more likely to compound into fears, anxieties and only make the situation worse. Approach the airport obstacles with a sense of celebration: “I can get through this; I will get through this it is part of the process; it is what it is. And finally, keep your eye on the prize. The exhilaration of the travel arrival experience, itself, can only be enhanced, all the more by overcoming the obstacles to getting there.

Dr. Michael Brein; 05/28/2006

* 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 Breins Travel Guides to Sightseeing by Public Transportation may be viewed Michael Brein may be reached at or 206.618.7618.

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Putting the Passion of Psychology Back into Travel