When Robin McMullin heard about the swine-flu outbreak in Mexico, her heart sank. She had planned to celebrate her graduation from nursing school with a trip to an all-inclusive resort in Cancun.
"When we called our online travel agency to cancel, they told us we'd lose almost half of what we paid for the trip," she says. "The news told everyone to cancel their travel to Mexico, but our agent won't let us. Why?"
Ah, the news. Did we really say that?
True, the State Department recommended Americans "avoid all nonessential travel to Mexico" because of H1N1. But I don't recall anyone telling travelers to cancel all of their Mexico vacations.
Fact is, H1N1 peaked in Mexico shortly after I heard from McMullin. Some regions even took the extraordinary step of claiming they were disease-free. For example, the Los Cabos Convention & Visitors Bureau and the State of Baja California Sur issued a statement that they're "pleased to announce that the region has remained free of contamination."
McMullin, who lives in Cedar City, Utah, decided that her flu fears were unjustified, and kept her reservation. "We are going to risk it and take medications in case we need them if we come down with the flu," she told me.
But all of this poses a more general question: If we aren't afraid of H1N1, then what should we be afraid of when we travel? And are the phobias justified?
Fear of flying. Hands down, this is the most common travel-related anxiety. Even though the odds of being killed in a plane crash are said to be 1 in 11 million, air travelers are made to feel they could be Unlucky No. 11 million every time their plane encounters unexpected turbulence.
Bottom line: Worry about something else.
Fear of being away. That's the second-biggest phobia that travelers suffer from, according to Bryan Toder, a hypnotherapist based in Lafayette Hill. "It's the fear of being away from home. Being away from kids, pets, the job, creates lots of stress," he says. Full disclosure: I'm afflicted by this particular anxiety.
Bottom line: This one's legit. Maybe we could all use a little hypnotherapy to get over it.
Fear of illness. Swine flu is just one of many infectious diseases that can sicken travelers. Our friends at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have a more comprehensive list. It's nothing to sneeze at, especially for travelers like Pablo Solomon, a Lampasas, Texas-based artist, and a confessed "germophobe." "We carry hand wipes and wash our hands and walk out of restaurants that look less than clean," he told me.
Bottom line: Swine-flu fears may be overblown, but some of these other infectious diseases are no joke. Better get all your shots.
Fear of losing your luggage. The latest numbers released by the Transportation Department show a 1 in 285 chance of your luggage's getting lost. Not all airlines are equal. Some, like AirTran, track their bags using new scanning technology, dropping their average closer to 1 in 500. "A lot of my clients travel for business and pleasure, and overwhelmingly their greatest rational fear is lost luggage," says New York psychotherapist Jonathan Alpert. "Many of them have experienced this and as a result the fear is grounded in reality and based on the stress of dealing with recovering the luggage."
Bottom line: If you're flying on a regional carrier, you might want to pack light.
How to get over these anxieties? My vote is for avoidance. Apparently, I'm wrong.
"Yes, avoidance reduces anxiety," says Tracey Marks, an Atlanta-based psychiatrist. "But it reinforces the fear. Eventually, the avoidance makes the feared situation become a bigger monster that takes on a life of its own."
In other words, get out and travel. It may be the best cure for your travel phobia.