Why I’m staying home for the holidays

Just in time for the hectic holiday travel period, a new study found Americans often think following a “hypermobile” lifestyle confers a higher social status, with more freedom and glamour. Marketers often represent first-class seating, “must-see” destinations, and frequent flyer mileage programs as appealing, exciting, and exclusive. But they completely avoid showing the dark, unhealthy side of travel.

According to the new study, these “glamorous” world travelers often suffer from high amounts of mental, physical, and social stress. Not quite the jet-setter image we see in ads and on social media, is it?

The truth is, travel disrupts healthy habits that typically revolve around home and hearth. It’s virtually impossible to get adequate healthy hydration, meals, sleep, exercise, relaxation, and 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 ride an airplane you subject yourself to colds, flus, and other viral infections caused by breathing the polluted, recirculated aircraft cabin air teeming with unhealthy microbes. And then there’s the global public health disaster whereby every new influenza virus — or other type of virus — that arises anywhere in the world potentially becomes an instant worldwide pandemic due to international air travel.

Travel also causes stress, the No. 1 contributing factor to any number of chronic diseases. So it’s no wonder these researchers 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 on a genetic level.

Sitting too long in a plane, train, bus or car can also cause deep-vein thrombosis, which can lead to blood clots and fatal pulmonary embolisms. And then there’s the dangerous radiation you undergo while flying high up in the atmosphere, and every time you go through airport scanners. (Along with the insult of being randomly harassed by government security thugs.)

Finally, there’s the obvious social aspect.

Christmas is a time for presence

The researchers found when you fly around being a “citizen of the world,” you spend less time with your family and community, which can lead to isolation and loneliness.

I marvel at the mentality of some frequent flyers who strive to spend more time in airplanes to rack up the mileage points needed only so they can spend 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, there was always someplace they’d rather be.

Some travelers can’t seem to be present “in the moment,” as we often say in mindfulness meditation and relaxation therapy. Instead, they appear to channel Satchel Paige’s mindset, one of the great American sportsmen, who said, “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”

For 25 years, I worked 60 to 80 hours per week. I commuted daily to mostly interesting jobs, and often flew around the country and the world. But in recent years, I’ve had the blessing of living where I always wanted to be, working from home. And doing my favorite work — researching and writing to you, dear reader. There is literally no place I’d rather be.

We all need to sit down, take a breath, look around, and take account of ourselves, our lives and our environments. Especially at this time of year.

We spend our lives trying to create a living space for ourselves. So when we have it, we need to spend some time living there.

So I humbly submit an idea…

Stay home a little more over the holidays this year. Skip the delays, the long lines, the crowded airports, the 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 great 20th century Pagliaccis — the late John Candy (a healthy holiday candy).

Find a channel on your television, computer, or whatever version of a handheld device that is now popular for 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.

Then give a real holiday gift this year: Cook a healthy holiday meal at home for family, friends and neighbors. And reach out to faraway family and friends via phone. It’s the next best thing to being there.

Finally, to learn how you can relax, meditate and be mindful of the present moment, anywhere anytime, check out my book with Don McCown, New World Mindfulness.