Travel involves a lot of conflicting emotions. You’re excited about your trip, looking forward to relaxing, reconnecting with loved ones or sightseeing.
Then there’s the other side of travel: going through security, presenting your papers, being searched, hoping you remembered all the rules and that you don’t get bumped or charged extra for your bag. Sometimes there are additional fears about destinations — worries about potential emergencies, whether a wildfire, blizzard or act of terror — that causes havoc on the ground.
The travel industry media company Skift devoted its annual journal to the theme of “Travel in the Age of Permanxiety.” Skift CEO Rafat Ali recently spoke about the topic in an interview for the AP Travel podcast “Get Outta Here!” Here are some excerpts.
Q: What is permanxiety?
Rafat Ali: We coined this term permanxiety, which is essentially a short form of permanent anxiety. It’s this constant state of anxiety … that pervades every part of our lives today, whether it’s politics, whether it’s social media, whether it’s our daily lives commuting, whether it’s listening to news and how that then translates into the anxieties that show up when we travel.
Q: Is there anything travel providers can do to compensate for all the negative things we experience or anticipate when we travel?
Ali: The travel industry markets itself as a sensory deprivation bubble. I think it’s done a disservice to itself by separating from the realities of the world. Travel is the world’s largest industry. Let’s start acting like it. We are enmeshed in every big sector, every big geopolitical issue. Why run away from it? … There are those outside issues the travel industry warns against, but the daily-ness of the anxieties, it doesn’t warn against or doesn’t do enough to soothe the anxieties of the traveler. In many ways, a lot of travel brands have latched onto tech and digital in general as a shortcut, but in many cases that exacerbates anxieties.
A lot of travel brands say, ‘We’re adding a lot of digital and hopefully that will solve everything.’ But it turns out what they need is humans at the other end of it. Every part of our travel these days is primarily about the lack of human touch or nobody listening to us on the other end.
Q: Is there anything travelers can do to reduce their own anxiety?
Ali: It’s good to be informed about every part of your journey, (for example if) you’ve never flown through the New York airports — oh my god, I’m really sorry, because you’re going to be in for a huge shock. My cousin literally landed here for the first time ever and I told him, ‘I know you’re saying this is so much worse than India (where he lives) because it is.’ … Being informed at least gives you the right context when you travel. That may potentially increase anxieties but at least you’re informed enough to make an informed decision.
Q: The journal includes an essay you wrote about traveling as a Muslim, with a Muslim name, and about being perceived as the “abstract villain” of everyone else’s collective and imagined anxieties. So in addition to the travel anxieties we all have, you are also burdened with our reaction to you.
Ali: I’m an educated, successful entrepreneur, an epitome in some sense of the American dream. Imagine a lot of people who don’t have the privilege I’ve gained over my life. Not that I face all of these in every bit of my travel every time I travel. This is an amalgamation of the challenges (such as) … when you’re booking things online, something was triggered because of my Muslim name.
Or whether it’s getting to the airport, worrying about why TSA is staring you down or scribbling something on your ticket. … When you board the flight as a Muslim, one of the examples I gave in the essay, if I am calling my wife to say that I am fine, I boarded, everything is fine, I don’t want to say something in Arabic because there are real cases — I wish this was a joke but it’s not — there are real cases of people on the plane reporting somebody speaking Arabic. It’s just a language! …It’s not just Muslims. I’m sure different minorities in their own ways have their own anxieties … traveling while black or traveling with a physical disability.
Q: Is social media a force for good or evil when it comes to travel in the age of permanxiety?
Ali: I do feel, net net, it exacerbates our anxieties. It is an addiction. … We are hyperventilating, checking all kinds of news, all kinds of bad stuff happening out there. We internalize it. It shows up in our travel. Any small issue that happens probably gets overplayed as a result of social media.
Listen to Skift CEO Rafat Ali talk about “Travel in the Age of Permanxiety” on the AP Travel podcast GET OUTTA HERE: