I’ve taken a couple months off from this blog to do some important work with people who desperately want or need to take a trip, but have been frozen in place by their own travel fears. I would not call this work “counseling,” but more like exercises in empowerment with anxious travelers who personally sought me out for help.
I worked for several weeks with Tom, a 30-year-old lab technician from Mill Valley (just north of San Francisco) who has taken three trips to London in the past four years only to sit in his hotel room almost every day while his girlfriend went sightseeing. The only time Tom left his room was to go to the petrol station mini mart across the street for a bite to eat. He didn’t want to eat at the restaurant hotel because he was worried about food poisoning. He didn’t want to ride the Tube because he was worried about germs. He was afraid to dart into the local tourist information centre because he feared the operators were in constant contact with foreigners, and carried nasty viruses. On the third trip to London, Tom and his girlfriend, Katie, just missed their flight home because Tom spent an hour sanitizing his hotel room before check-out in order to protect the next guests from his own germs. “I kid you not,” Tom says. Needless to say, his relationship ended with his girlfriend.
Today, Tom emailed me from Auckland, New Zealand. He’s been out on the beach for six hours and coming to terms with his travel fears. London was too much for him to jump into, he says; too many people, too many cramped spaces, too many stimuli that inspired his fears about viruses and hygiene to take on an irrational life of their own. Auckland was the perfect place for him to take that one large, important step forward. He has the vacation time saved up at work to come back to Auckland and try something he’s always wanted to do: a sailing trip in a small island chain of the South Pacific. And he is certainly happy at the idea of being able to eat what he catches, without anyone else touching it.
Tom, it was a privilege to work with you, and I wish you all the best on your upcoming sailing adventure. I’m so glad you feel free at last of your worst travel anxieties. London will be there. And don’t forget… there are some great sailing opportunities down the Thames.
That was so brave of Tom to share his personal journey with anxiety and agoraphobia. There are so many people with these kinds of fears and illnesses today. However, even for the worst cases, I hope that, with the right kind of support, they can also take the plunge into facing their fears, just as Tom did, in small baby steps, at first.
I am so inspired. Wonderful, of you to do this work and for Tom. What a beautiful and courageous story.
Thank you, Forestwoodfolkart and Nicci. I’ll share your kind words with Tom.
Interesting article – good to hear Tom made it as far as NZ – I know how he felt about London, its a very big, very busy city. Too much too soon. He’s lucky he net you!