Just in time for the hectic holiday travel period, studies show that frequent flyers have high amounts of mental, physical, and social stress.
Considering that stress is the No. 1 contributing factor in any number of chronic diseases, it’s no wonder researchers have also found that long-distance travel can cause serious health issues. In fact, jet lag and lack of sleep caused by zooming across time zones can even affect you at a genetic level.
Plus, sitting too long on planes, trains, buses, or cars can cause a potentially deadly deep-vein thrombosis, a blood clot that can lead to sudden, fatal pulmonary embolism.
And then there’s the dangerous radiation you undergo every time you pass through airport scanners (along with the insult of being randomly harassed by government security thugs). You also pass through more radiation at higher altitudes, which greatly concerns pilots and flight attendants.
Finally, there’s the social aspect.
The researchers found that flying around being “citizens of the world” can make people less likely to connect with their families and communities, which ultimately leads to isolation and loneliness.
Not quite the jet-setter image we see and hear about in advertising, mass communications, and social media, is it?
And yet, the study found that those with “hypermobile” lifestyles are often seen as having a higher social status, with more freedom and glamour. Researchers assessed how first-class seating, “must-see” destinations, and capricious frequent flyer mileage programs are represented as appealing, exciting, and exclusive — while the dark, unhealthy side of travel is completely ignored.
Why I’m staying home for the holidays again this year
I have done more than my share of travel over 40 years, starting at a young age. I have found that it disrupts healthy habits that typically revolve around home and hearth. Try getting adequate hydration, healthy meals, good sleep, enough exercise, sufficient relaxation, and some exposure to Nature while trapped in noisy, cavernous airport terminals and planes with cramped, “tiger cage” (from World War II Japanese prison camps) seating arrangements.
Even if you’re not a frequent flyer, any time you fly in an airplane you subject yourself to colds, flus and other viral infections caused by rebreathing polluted aircraft cabin air teeming with unhealthy microbes. And then there’s the potential global public health disaster, whereby every influenza or other type of virus that arises anywhere in the world potentially becomes an instant worldwide pandemic due to international air travel.
I marvel at the mentality of some frequent flyers who strive to spend more time in airplanes in order to rack up the mileage points needed to spend even more time in airplanes. I used to witness some friends and family members start planning their next trip as soon as they got home from the last one. (I say “used to,” because somehow I just don’t get to see them anymore!)
It seemed, like the bartender in the Billy Joel song, that there was always “someplace they’d rather be.” Some travelers can’t seem to be present “in the moment,” as we often say in meditation and relaxation therapy. Instead, they appear to be channeling the mindset of one of the great American sportsmen, Satchel Paige, who said, “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”
We all need to sit down, take a breath, look around, and take account of ourselves, our lives and our environments — and not always be running off to the next destination on the bucket list. Or we may be IN the bucket long before we intended.
We spend our lives trying to create a living space for ourselves. So when we finally have it, we need to spend some time living there and appreciating it.
For 25 years, I worked 60 to 80 hours per week. I commuted to mostly interesting jobs, and often flew around the country and sometimes the world. But in recent years, I have had the blessing of living back in the places where I always wanted to be, and working from home. And doing my favorite work — researching and writing to you, dear reader. There is literally no place I’d rather be.
No matter how far away you roam…
I humbly submit an idea for the holidays this year. Forget the bad weather, delays, long lines, crowded airports, unpleasant and unhealthy conditions, and all the economic, mental, and physical costs of traveling. Save the “planes, trains and automobiles,” for a home movie night and some laughs (and tears) with one of our 20th century Pagliaccis — the late, great John Candy (a healthy holiday candy).
Find a “channel” on your television, computer, or whatever version of a handheld device that is popular this holiday season. Tune it to an endless loop showing a wood fire quietly crackling in the hearth. The weather outside may be frightful, but the fire inside is so delightful.
And then do yourself, your family, and the environment a favor this year. “Shelter in place” for a real holiday gift. Cook a tasty holiday meal at home and invite friends and neighbors who may be alone to bring their favorite dishes, or just themselves. And reach out to faraway family and friends via phone. It’s the next best thing to being there.
If you must travel, consider going before or after the heavy holiday travel days — and try using the trains. Having a reserved seat on a train can be like a little holiday in itself — for work or just relaxation.
And here is something new that can help make your life bearable when you do have to fly. Apply for your Global Entry government travel ID from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. You’ll need a passport, a photo ID like a driver’s license, or documents providing evidence of residency (not quite as easy as casting a vote).
If you’re not a criminal or foreign terrorist then you no longer have to be treated like one in airports. Once you jump through all the hoops, you can get a TSA Pre-Check ID, called “Global Entry,” which will then appear on your boarding pass, allowing you to bypass the security nonsense and harassment at the airports. It also allows government security and law enforcement personnel to concentrate on doing their real jobs, instead of harassing the citizens who are paying their salaries.
Whether by train, plane or automobile, you can almost always get efficient travel on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. I did this several times as a young adult when dealing with demanding hospital and training schedules and limited budgets. It adds to the surprise and the appreciation to arrive ON the special day — and the travel is a lot less stressful for you.
- “A darker side of hypermobility.” Environment and Planning A August 2015; 47(8): 166-1679