Traveler’s OCD: A Real Issue, and What to Do About it

Do you consider yourself mentally healthy, but find that you do the following types of things when you travel?:

  • Checking several times to make sure that you still have your passport, that you have all your belongings, that your hotel door is locked, etc.
  • Counting people going by, particularly when you’re waiting for someone or something
  • Needing to leave the hotel room in just a certain way before you leave for the day
  • Repeating directions or instructions (to or from your destination) over and over in your head
  • Reaching for the hand sanitizer a few more times a day than is really necessary

Many people who don’t suffer from clinical Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) experience some obsessive thoughts and compulsive behavior when under the stress of travel.  We all know that there are a lot of opportunities to lose things, forget things, miss departures, and make numerous other mistakes when we move around in an unfamiliar environment — and that these mistakes can cause us some fairly large problems during our journey.  The fear of making these mistakes causes people to develop “Traveler’s OCD.”

If you have a perfectionist or “Type A” personality and are prone to being distracted from your immediate environment, some compulsive activities that you do in order to avoid making mistakes can really affect your enjoyment of a trip.  Fortunately, there are choices you can make about how and where you travel that will prevent your tics from flaring up — and from attracting attention from fellow travelers who are as laid back as they are when drifting around their own house!

Choose a smaller hotel room.  A smaller room means fewer places to put things, which means you won’t spread out as much, and are less likely to leave something behind (or worry about leaving something behind).  Stay in a suite and you have more windows, faucets, doors, etc. to think about checking before you leave every day, and far more crevices, nooks, crannies, etc. to worry about losing or misplacing something.

Use a compartmentalized travel day bag or purse.  If you have a specific place for everything in your bag, then taking a quick check (and not four, accompanied by a considerable amount of rummaging) can ensure that everything is in its place.  Travel with a gunny sack and you’ll make yourself miserable (not to mention give yourself a couple of scares if you distractedly slip your wallet into a rarely used jacket pocket instead of your bag).

Recognize that you have a finite amount of energy.  The urge to double- and triple-check things can grow with a life of its own depending on what you’re preoccupied with, and how much stress you’re under.  Traveling takes a lot of energy, and mistakes can compound faster than you can count the number of people ahead of you in the currency exchange line.  If you check your bag several times to make sure you still have your camera, for example, you could miss your bus going by, with a string of potential consequences from there.

Understand how and when you contract a virus.  This might sound like an odd suggestion, but plenty of people slather on the hand sanitizer upwards of a dozen times a day out of fear of getting ill and ruining their vacation.  In general, remember that you get sick when you spread germs by touching your eyes, nose, or mouth, and when you breathe next to someone who’s ill.  If you can be better about keeping your hands away from your face, and keeping a good personal distance from others, you’ll be a lot less likely to get ill — and only need to use the sanitizer before you eat, wash your face back at your hotel, etc.

Get enough sleep.  When you’re exhausted, you’re more likely to make mistakes and be forgetful, which can send your Traveler’s OCD into overdrive since you might actually leave something behind, or neglect to do something.

Consider your environment.  Some hotels have such formulaic, cold, and repetitive decor that it’s almost as if someone designed them to make you feel neurotic and start counting the tiles down the hallway.   Go for a place with more character and novelty, individual furnishings, and a homey atmosphere, and you’ll feel more relaxed.

Finally, places that have a fixation on quantities — like casinos and mega malls — are more likely to bring out your type-A tendencies than natural environments like parks and beaches.   Also, consider that sites and attractions featuring supernatural or religious phenomena (such as the belief that repeating the same proclamations over and over will help keep evil away) are not the best for your mental health.  Could you find a less anal-retentive activity to enjoy?  You might end up spending more money elsewhere, but at least you won’t fall asleep that night thinking about the number 6 or 13, or how often you’re blinking.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Don’t worry, counting your money once or twice on your trip doesn’t count as obsessive or compulsive. 

Are You a Dromomaniac? — The Ten Most Common Manias that Affect Travelers

Are you a dromomaniac (insatiable traveler)?  Of course you are — if you weren’t a xenomaniac (inquisitive folk obsessed with foreign things and places) you wouldn’t be reading this.  You’ve come to the right travel blog to find out if you’re a opsomaniac, sophomaniac, or oniomaniac when you go abroad — and how to recognize when your obsession will no longer fit under your seat or in the overhead compartment.  Hold on tight to your passport and put in the back of your head what your mother or spiritual guru told you about doing “everything in moderation.”  The real question is, how come our travel agents (or at least Travelocity’s Roaming Gnome) didn’t warn us about the top ten travel manias that can make us feel like out-and-out maniamaniacs?*

1. Ecdemomania: chronic and uncontrollable urge to wander.  It’s not enough that you indulge your travel lust to come to a place thousands of miles away; once you’re there, you can’t even sit still at your hotel, stay with your tour group, or resist following strangely-dressed locals down narrow alleyways.

2. Epomania: obsession with writing epics.  Becomes apparent when 1) your travel blog posts reach 5,000 words each, 2) you’re starting to get data storage warnings from WordPress, or 3) one of your followers discreetly suggests that just because you’re on vacation, they don’t have all the time in the world to read every blow-by-blow.

3. Oniomania: insatiable desire to shop. Rears its ugly head after you’ve swam, boogied, eaten, boozed, and tangoed your way across your charming but claustrophobic resort town, and have nothin’ else left to try.

4. Phagomania: excessive desire for food or eating. Becomes obvious when you’re 1) dining out twice in the same evening, 2) are buying more Immodium AD than Dramamine at that skanky pharmacy down from your hotel, or 3) need to work off your oniomania at the nearest clothing store since nothing you brought with you on the trip quite fits anymore.

5. Sophomania: gluttonous belief in one’s own incredible intelligence.  At its most obvious after you’ve figured out (all in the same day) how to operate an eco-toilet, hundred-year-old elevator, Azerbaijan-made bathtub faucet, and ATM machine that you would never, ever find at home.

6. Doromania: obsession with giving or buying gifts.  Crops up towards the end of your trip after you’ve spent two paychecks on things for yourself, and have one Athenian shopping street, two Turkish bazaars, and three very long airport terminals to wander through before the signature on the back of your credit card actually starts to wear off.

7. Opsomania: obsession with one kind of food.  Develops after feasting on the beloved culinary specialty of your host country for lunch and dinner every single day — especially after you remember that the most exotic thing you’re going to find to eat back home is an enchilada.

8. Islomania: fixation on islands.  Becomes more obvious after you’ve gallivanted through New Zealand, Tahiti, Hawaii, and Japan, and have your restless eye now set on The Philippines, Sicily, Iceland, or Fiji.

9. Verbomania: fixation with words. Becomes apparent when, after failing to learn a single syllable of the local language, you  scrounge for five adjectives of the same English word in the hopes that your provincial B&B host will understand one of them.

Unfortunately, there’s no diagnostic term for 10. shutterbugomania, an obsession with taking  pictures.  But, if you can identify where this photo of all the photos was taken, you’ll win a FREE copy of The Anxious Traveler.

*Important note: this post is intended to offer some lighthearted fun following the tension and stress that most travelers suffer this time of year because of the 9/11 anniversary.  It’s not intended to diminish the seriousness of any mania that is interfering with your life, or the impact of bipolar disorder on mental health.  If you believe you are suffering from manic depression/bipolar disorder, you should consult a doctor.

The Top 12 Travel Phobias You May Very Well Have, and Didn’t Even Realize!

Well, summer’s over.  Got post-vacation depression?  Are you broke and tired?  Does the sound of falling leaves remind you of the sweet swish of your passport pages turning?  Now’s the time to lighten up, do some soul-searching, and take a really close look at some of the fears you may have sadly developed over the course of your recent international escapades.

Sure, you may know you have aviatophobia (fear of flying), claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces), xenophobia (fear of strangers), and mysophobia (fear of germs); those are all pretty common and boring.  What about all those other angst-inducing scenarios and situations that crop up as often as ridiculously cheap fares on Orbitz?  They’ve probably given you a tic or two, whether you want to admit it or not.  Let’s look at twelve real, honest-to-God, official phobias identified by scientists, psychologists, and very renowned researchers (probably ones that don’t do much traveling) that can develop when you’re vagabonding the globe.  You’ll find that they’re really nothing to laugh about!

12. Nomophobia: fear of being out of mobile phone contact.  Develops after you 1) find yourself repeatedly lost, late, drunk, or confused; 2) have once again left your cruise partner behind at the last shore excursion; or 3) are waiting to hear back from MasterCard about doubling your credit card limit now that you’re on vacation.

11. Agyrophobia: fear of crossing the road.  Of particular prominence in India, Brazil, Belarus, Azerbaijan, and other places where smiling drivers drive a perfect 40 mph in the 40 km/hr zone, use their horn only in emergencies, and wave you across the pedestrian crosswalk with all five fingers.

10. Autophobia: fear of being alone or isolated.  Develops after repeatedly encountering closed currency exchange counters, boarded-up travel info help desks, and hotel rooftop access doors that automatically lock from the inside.

9. Pedophobia: fear/dislike of children.  Of particular concern when 1) taking your middle seat on a 12-hour flight next to a screamer, across from a babbler, and behind a squealer, or 2) realizing that the average age of the other guests at your “family friendly” hotel is about ten years old.

8. Emetophobia: fear of vomiting.  At its most intense when, once again, you strike up a conversation with the beautiful person next to you after you’ve consumed vodka during turbulence.

7. Decidophobia: fear of making decisions. At its worst when your new, drunken travel partner is relying on you to find the safest way back to the hostel at 2 am, and you have no more Euros.

6. Ipovlopsychophobia: fear of having one’s photograph taken.  This is for you, ladies.  Symptoms occur after 1) the airline once again leaves behind your checked bag containing your makeup tote, 2) you’ve finally noticed the hotel security cameras, or 3) you realize your father is following your boyfriend’s blog.

5. Halitophobia: fear of bad breath.  At its most wretched when exceeding the standing room capacity of buses;  in Rome, in August, during a heat wave; and when having to make an emergency trip to a dentist in the Middle East.

4. Sesquipedalophobia: fear of long words.  Particularly prominent when trying to read the menu at a tourist-unfriendly exotic little restaurant you’re dining at with an attractive local you just picked up.

3. Disposophobia: fear of getting rid of or losing things.  Severe symptoms occur after you’ve been pickpocketed, mugged, and had a bad experience with a bellhop all on the same trip.

2. Chronophobia: fear of time and time moving forward.  Of particular concern when you start receiving airline departure check-in reminders, your coworkers start calling you, and/or you can’t even remember the beginning of your trip.

and the number one under-recognized travel phobia is …
1. Phobophobia: fear of having a phobia or fear.  Because the last thing you want to find out when you’re trying to have yourself a *$#&% good time somewhere is that you have yet another new hang-up!

Honorable mention phobia:  Ophthalmophobia (fear of being stared at, especially when you’re just trying to make sense of the local culture)


Moving on: How to Leave a Place Without Stress

According to Buddhism, the root of all suffering is attachment – wisdom you may certainly understand when it’s time to leave your travel destination.  Considering that a certain beach, park, hotel, or other favorite locale existed only in your imagination weeks before, your connection to a place and reluctance to leave can be intense.  Managing these feelings is important since you don’t want them to overcome the joy of having seen them in the first place – or as the pessimistic traveler laments, Why come if I only have to leave? 

It’s not uncommon to get downright morose when you have to wind down an incredible vacation at a place you’ve fallen in love with.  The following thoughts might go through your mind:

  • Ÿ         Will I ever come here again?
  • Ÿ         What will happen here after I leave?
  • Ÿ         How will this place change without me?  Can it be “mine?”
  • Ÿ         Does it matter that I ever came here?

These feelings and doubts can resemble separation anxiety.  How significant this anxiety is depends on

  1. how much of an emotional connection you’ve made to a place, and
  2. how difficult it is to physically make your way back to it.

The answers to those two questions can vary widely, but here are some general recommendations for moving on without trauma.

Leave a piece of yourself.  More tourists than would care to admit leave a part of themselves behind at a place they love – anything from a strand of hair to engravings on a tree, to things that border on defacement or ecological damage.  An environmentally friendly way to leave your mark is to pen your name and the date on a small, loose rock and put it back where it was on a trail or thoroughfare.

Take a piece with you.  There’s a reason that the souvenir industry is valued at billions of dollars; people want a symbol or a token of their experience somewhere, even if their only “connection” with it was at a local club.  If you don’t care for either synthetic, mass-produced trinkets or museum-type expensive souvenirs, then take a piece of a place, literally: some stones, shells, a feather, or a piece of wood or bark.  Holding these items long after you’ve left can put you back in the moment of your tremendous experience.

Keep a travel log.  No, not your blog, but something more personal, something only for you.  A travel log doesn’t have to take the form of a written journal; depending on how much you (don’t) like to write, you can tape- or video-record your experiences and impressions.  Another option is to keep a notebook, but only record the facts, events, and people you encountered each day.  Your memory will fill in the rest of the details as you mentally journey back later on.

You can also draw on a map where you went, with brief notes at each street or block that will remind you of something special; or pick a new piece of music to play while you are enjoying the place, that will always remind you of where you were when you first heard it.

Virtual visits.  If your time at a place is too limited for you to manage a travel log, note that there are thousands of YouTube internet videos featuring beloved travel sites, and they are viewable by anyone.  Some of them are amazingly done and might even showcase something you never noticed about a place.  Although it’s not going to be as special or personalized as something you put together, knowing you can make a “virtual visit” can help you move on.

Plan to return.  Promise yourself to come back to the place.  If you’ve come once, you can come again, and most incredible sites don’t just get up and leave.  They can evolve, however, so keep abreast of the place by going to its webpage.  If you find out that it’s destined to change (and not necessarily to your liking), time an upcoming visit to enjoy it one more time as you remembered it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s time to leave.  Can I just take this whole beach home with me?