We’ve covered how to manage detours, crowds, and making eye contact with so many strangers. What else can make you wig out on a vacation, and what can you do about it?
Accidents. Seeing an accident while touring – whether it involves a slip, trip, fall, or a vehicle – can jar your confidence and make you feel like you’re next to have disaster descend upon you. Depending on how much you can relate to the person who suffered the accident, and just how bad it was, you may put sudden limits on your physical activities or transportation that can rapidly develop into a phobia. There are some things to understand about accidents before your healthy precautions build into a cage of fear.
I once saw a middle-aged tourist do a full somersault down the departures escalator at London’s Heathrow Airport. He was distracted by writing on the luggage tag of his carry-on bag, and lost his balance as the escalator belt hit a bump followed by a small jerk. The next thing the man knew he’d flipped upside down, and then lay dazed on his tailbone on the bottom step.
Interestingly, about half the people at the scene (the ones who hadn’t seen him writing up his luggage tag, completely oblivious to his surroundings) were shocked and horrified; the others (who’d seen what the man had been doing) had a look on their faces like, “Well, what did he expect?”
The point is that most of the accidents you see or hear about – perhaps of a taxi driver backing into a tourist, or of someone twisting their ankle between cobblestones – are not true “accidents,” but mistakes. An accident implies that nothing could be done to prevent the incident from happening, when really a lot could be done in most cases – if people were paying attention and taking the proper precautions. Once you realize this, and understand that it takes two people, places, or things to have an “accident,” the less anxiety you will suffer. Instead of blaming an elevator or a door or a moving vehicle, you recognize that by being vigilant you not only make up for hazards and for other people’s carelessness, but you give yourself a lot more control over your surroundings.
Perceived sounds of distress. Anxious people have often experienced a significant trauma in their past. Certain noises, particularly screaming and shrieking, can cause you great alarm and induce sweating, heart palpitations, and other physiological manifestations. If you suffer from this phobia, screaming is not an expression of a good time, but a sign of an emergency. Screaming children at play can make you think someone is hurt, and I know several women who are haunted by images of sexual assault when they hear teenage girls screaming.
To keep your reaction from escalating, take a quick look at what screaming children or teenagers are doing, and observe other people’s reactions to them. If there was really something wrong, wouldn’t others notice and step in to help?
In general, someone else’s noise rarely has anything to do with you. If it’s still a significant anxiety trigger, try to stay away from amusement parks, carnivals, and other places where you’re most likely to hear excitement bordering on terror.
Avoiding confrontation when taking photographs. If you’re a visual person and want to relive many moments of your trip, then taking pictures will be one of the most rewarding and essential parts of your journey. Unfortunately, it’s the one thing you do in the normal course of touring that can cause some provocation – usually because people are concerned that they’ve appeared in your photo (or video footage). In general, the more elaborate your camera is, the more attention you’re going to attract using it. Snapping shots with your cell phone is going to draw the least attention; setting up a tripod with a camera the size of your head will attract a lot more; and walking around with a videocamera constantly raised and pointing will attract the most.
You may be aware of all of this, and have reluctantly resolved to hold back your shutterbug impulses. However, there’s no need to restrict yourself like this, and later regret what you didn’t get on film. Here are some tips to avoid confrontation and ease anxiety when out and about with a camera.
Portray clear intentions. If you want to photograph a famous landmark and there are people constantly milling around, look directly at what you’re shooting and don’t make eye contact with the people around it. This will reassure others that you’re not interested in them or in invading their privacy.
If someone confronts you about whether you’ve taken a picture of them, or included them in your shot or video footage, offer to erase the photo. In almost every case they won’t actually take you up on this; they just want some reassurance that you’re a tourist and not a voyeur. If they do take you up on it, then wait until they’re out of the picture, so to speak, and re-shoot. It’s a lot faster than arguing with someone and getting yourself significantly distressed.
Watch what others are doing. If there are signs or graphics around a place indicating that photography isn’t allowed, take a look at whether others are shooting photos anyway. I have been in museums or churches that officially ban photography (and state so right on the front door), yet people were taking pictures left and right and no one stopped them. If you want the same picture everyone else is taking, then take it. The worst that can happen is that a grounds person comes by and chastises the whole lot of you.
The opposite can hold true for military buildings and embassies. Military buildings can be surprisingly difficult to recognize, and it’s usually understood that absolutely no pictures can be taken even if there are no signs indicating such. Embassy districts are usually filled with attractive buildings and landscapes that make for great picture opportunities, but keep in mind that they often prohibit photography as well.
In poor areas where local or indigenous people depend heavily on tourists for economic survival, check to see if you’re expected to pay to take a photograph (of a person, place, or item). Save yourself embarrassment and stress by abiding by the rules.
Imagine my embarrassment when I stopped to take a quick picture of these cool port-o-potties in Moscow, then thought in horror that the woman to the left forgot to close the door for herself (she was just the babuskha collecting the rubles)