Column: Fear of traveling

For a fearful person, there can hardly be a worse place than the airport. An airport offers a concentration of people – and fears. There are the crowds, the closed spaces, the impending airplane ride. Public places mean lots of germs and lots of strange people. Foreigners who do not speak your language are everywhere.

For many of us, there is the common fear of buying a cup of coffee and realizing at the register that you do not have enough money and cannot speak the language – and are naked, too.

But mostly, airports are happy places.

Happy landings!

People are waiting for their loved ones to return and their business partners to arrive – or are going on a trip with their loved ones or business partners.

Of course, it is not the airport you are afraid of. Turns out there is even no such thing as a fear of airports, or if there is, no one has a name for it.

Mysophobia, the fear of germs and bacteria, may make you use a handkerchief to open the door to the bathroom. You see the irony, as you are going there to wash your hands. Maybe you want to use a face mask to feel safe. You sit in the lounge, reading a book, escaping the thoughts of boarding your plane, and when you lift your eyes from the book, you see others covering their faces. You wonder what is wrong with them and what they have to hide.

Those waves of xenophobia rush over you when you stand in line to check-in and it is not moving fast enough for you. Or when you go buy that cup of coffee, fully clothed, and hear people laughing behind you when you turn to get some sugar. Your body gets tense as you try to figure out if they, the foreigners, are laughing at your gelotophobic persona that is simply afraid of being laughed at. And then you get on the plane and have to let go of all control.

Of course, you can always avoid going out and take your business online instead. No more germs. Well, there are threats of viruses, but of the other kind.

But it is to the airport that you must go, because it is from the airport that the plane takes off. As a famous dotcom era proverb goes, “a 747 is the best accessory to the Internet.”

Even with Facebook, Twitter, Jaiku, Tumblr, Flickr, Qaiku, LinkedIn, Ning, Plaxo, YouTube and all the services that begin with Google – Buzz and + and so on – it is the human contact that seals the deals and builds the bridges. Networking is still a contact sport, and it is still something that we do together.

We want to connect to share ideas and, somewhere deep down, to feel good about ourselves and the world we live in. It is so much more difficult to call somebody’s idea idiotic to his face than on the Internet. And on the net, it is also impossible to give a hug or a really loud, slappy high-five to a buddy.

Sure, you can give thumbs up on Facebook or claim that “smaller than 3” equals love, but nothing beats looking another person in the eye and saying, “we’re going to do it, together.”

And it is airports that are the portal to all that. Maybe that is why there is no name for the fear of airports. There is no need for it. So, walk in and remember that there, as in the world, we all have our own baggage to carry.

Everybody brings their fears to the airport. Everybody has their anxieties and suspicions. Everybody brings their germs there, too. Everybody is a foreigner somewhere. And nobody is laughing at you.

Maybe with you.

(Published in Profile 3.2011 in September 2011. Here’s the pdf.)

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