There was a time when getting to a destination seemed glamorous or even romantic. Airline travel was elegant in the days when stewardesses wore white gloves, high heels and hats while they served free cocktails. Train travel once evoked images of the Orient Express from Constantinople to Paris, replete with intrigue, mystery and charm. Ship travel a half-century ago had the glamour and pageantry of royal coronations.
Today, thanks partially to various dangers around the globe, getting anywhere and back is aggravating at best. Long lines, security, searches and limits on what or how much you can transport make coming and going a pain. Since your travel is book-marked by getting there and returning home, finding ways to maintain your sanity, sense of humor, and a positive or even joyful mood takes some doing. While you might undo the negativity associated with the outbound experience, the final trek home has the power to almost spoil an entire journey.
Psychological research suggests that memories depend heavily on what’s last experienced in a series of events. What that means is that the last event in a vacation can color the entire experience. If that is so, frustrating airport encounters have the potential to degrade, or at least tarnish, memories of a lovely vacation.
I recall leaving Kauai, Hawaii, one late night for a red eye flight to California. Still infused with the magical island glow, I arrived with a crowd of others at a small airport, jostled along into the agricultural inspection line where my banana was confiscated, followed by full-metal security check. After two weeks of paradise, I was thrust back into my tense pre-trip state of mind.
I felt irritable, tense, and felt my pulse rate quicken. I was herded, pushed and shoved by other passengers guarding their bodies, personal space and possessions as they carved out meager space for themselves in a crowded queue.
Desperate for help with ways to maintain the inner glow, in spite of transportation annoyances, I tried to remember what I’d learned from my research about ways to salvage positivity. It’s not easy to do, but we have more control over our thoughts and how we see things than we imagine. While the last encounter does have strong potential to influence memories, it’s not the only factor. Your job is to retrieve other memories, just as powerful but much more pleasant, and focus your attention on these. Try to remember what was good. It’s tough when you’re annoyed but worth the effort.
You can also alter your unpleasant feelings by altering your physiology. When your body tenses, your brain gets a message that there is some kind of danger present—though it’s not like a face-to-face encounter with a hungry beast that your distant ancestors might have confronted as they left their cave.
When your breathing is shallow your brain assumes that you’re not feeling safe. Your brain is pre-programmed to take what is known as a flight or fightposture which in turn further tightens your muscles, increases your heart rate, and braces you for some fearful encounter. Of course, there is no realdanger—no monster at the cave entrance.
But what you want is a reversal of this process so that your brain senses peacefulness and begins to release tension in your body. You can make this happen by slowing your breathing and focusing on the flow of air as you inhale through your nostrils and as it flows to various parts of your body. Continue to imagine tension flowing out of your body with each exhalation. Think yoga breathing.
That’s exactly what I did when the airline check-in situation threatened to upset my good time; and while it wasn’t like floating down a river in an inner tube, it did help. Focusing on the previous pleasant days, and on the fact that I could influence my own reaction to the unpleasantness at the airport, did make a difference. It’s your turn to practice this restorative breathing—best done before you actually need to use it.
(Adapted from a chapter in Toder's forthcoming book: Inward Traveler: 51 Ways to Explore the World Mindfully, 2018)
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