Travel Anxiety and Liminal Space

Being stuck at home for almost 2 years has left me with a lot of time to think about my travels. And the one thing I’ve been thinking about recently is the fear.

Not the fear of flying, or crashing, or waking up in a hotel bathtub full of ice with a kidney missing.

Those are valid, universal fears.

No. My fear revolves around airports. Or, rather, it occurs within them.

It goes like this: I’ve checked in, gone through customs and immigration and I’m standing in the departure lounge with time to kill. Suddenly, it hits me; The safety of home is gone and I’ve stepped into the unknown. I feel cold, fearful and utterly alone, acutely aware that I am nothing more than a solitary soul, adrift in an uncaring universe.

Yeah. It’s a lot.

And while it’s not a fixed state, (I can usually shake it off within a few minutes) it typically hits the hardest if I’m flying at night.

I wasn’t sure what this feeling was, or why I had it primarily in airport lounges, until I started reading about liminal space.

Put simply, liminal spaces are physical thresholds between two “worlds”.

They are hotel corridors, underground walkways, and tunnels that transport us from one space to another.

They are train stations, bus terminals and airports departure lounges. Transitional areas we move through without second thought. Until they become empty, or night falls. At which point they become a kind of “altered reality”. Otherworldly and disorienting. The stuff of nightmares and horror movies.

Liminal spaces can be that solitary gas station on a lonely stretch of highway, an empty shopping mall parking lot, or a roadside motel illuminated in the dark.

There’s just something off about them

These spaces are gateways to the unknown. A waiting room between experiences. And these waiting rooms can be psychological too.

Just gone through a break-up or divorce? Congratulations you’re floating in liminal space.

Quit your job? Moved to a new town where you don’t know a soul? Boom. Liminal space.

Although they represent transition and transformation, liminal spaces are not viewed positively because they represent one of humanity’s oldest fears: the fear of the unknown.

For that reason, many people feel a sense of dread or anxiety within these spaces, although they may not always understand why.

Photo by Alex Jahn on Unsplash

This means that, in the past, when I’ve stood in the International departure lounge feeling an icy terror and asking myself, “What the hell am I doing here?” and “Is it too late to just turn around and go home?”, there were other people at the airport thinking and feeling the exact same thing.

I just didn’t see them.

Maybe they were all at the bar.


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