Weird Travel Anxieties

Filed Under: Misc.

Friend of the blog Andrew B is back, this time discussing travel anxiety. Yes, this is the same Andrew who won the trip to Helsinki several years back, and who wrote the hilarious “Airbus To Megabus” trip report last year.

Travel-related anxiety is a pretty common thing. Many people still panic when they board a plane, even though they rationally know that flying is incredibly safe.

My main travel fear is unusual, though: I am afraid of sleeping on airplanes. Of course, it’s mostly unavoidable for longer flights, so I do end up falling asleep. But every time I do, I worry about what might happen.

Why? Because I talk in my sleep. And it’s pretty weird.

It doesn’t sound that bad, right?

Well, usually when I’m talking in my sleep it’s because I’m having a nightmare. Generally, I’m dreaming that something terrible is happening to me (like being chased by a giant electric eel or all my teeth falling out just as I’m about to bite Shia Labeouf’s hand so he can’t murder me), and often this results in me yelling strings of particularly foul obscenities that would make me blush if I heard someone else say them.

There is sometimes (rarely) also a physical aspect to it: last week, I woke up while I was in the process of throwing a pillow at a particularly belligerent Klingon.


More troublingly, I do not sleep talk in my normal voice. Instead, my boyfriend describes it as a “British grandmother voice.” He is kind enough to wake me when it happens, but he told me that the things I say are so amusing that he wishes he could just keep listening.

So, my worst nightmare (metaphorically speaking) is that I’m on a flight and somewhere over an ocean in the middle of the night I start yelling in my British grandmother voice, cursing Al Roker for trying to set me on fire.

And then I have to be woken by a flight attendant or a fellow passenger. And then I’m trapped with them for several more hours while they gawk at me and my weird sleep talking. And then for years afterwards it’s their favorite story to tell at dinner parties.

I know I will never see them again after that. But still…the thought of it terrifies me. And unfortunately, the internet seems to say that there isn’t much you can do to prevent somniloquy, aka sleep talking.

Does anyone else have any unusual anxieties about traveling? Or is it just me?

  1. When I sleep on a plane, I often have a dream that I’m on a plane and the plane is in the process of crashing. Then I wake up and I’m on a plane for real. That is an unsettling moment.

  2. I travel all the time for work and my only travel anxiety is losing my wallet. I know you can get through the TSA without your wallet and I think your credit card can give the hotel a custom code to let you check in and then I could just eat at the hotel and my partner could wire me money, etc.. But, I still get very mildly paranoid about it.

  3. The times I had a bed in a plane, I ALWAYS had crashing nightmares. Weirdly enough, it’s often the same nightmare, in the same setting. I noticed that when laying down, I was somehow a lot more aware of turbulences, even small ones, and in a state of half sleep, it triggers those nightmares. Like the real turbulences transform into a pretty vivid dream! So I ended up having some anxieties about falling asleep in a plane… Slightly inconvenient!

  4. Haha! Hilarious that you speak in a different voice…

    I’ve started to suffer from anxiety when flying, even though I’m a frequent flyer. Lately I’ve been nervous about falling asleep, since I sometimes wake up and have this awful sinking feeling like there are no sides to the plane and I could fall out…it’s quite scary and takes me a few minutes to calm down!

  5. Over the last year or so, the uptick in the number of stories about planes having to be diverted/delayed because of air rage incidents has made me feel a little anxious as soon as the boarding process begins. Wish I could go back to falling asleep as soon as I’ve settled into my seat, instead of feeling like I’m holding my breath until I step off the plane at the destination airport.

  6. Snoring! I’m so worried I’ll snore. I naturally breathe through my nose but I am also extremely congested all the time from sinus inflammation. I can’t train myself to breathe through my mouth and when I do snore it’s loud. I’m female and it sounds like a huge man snoring away. I’m terrified to sleep in public.

  7. I have travel wish dreams and travel anxiety dreams constantly, often in the same dream. And I also don’t sleep well on planes, though I was never sure why. But finally, between Hong Kong and Melbourne, I did sleep – and managed to yell at scary things in my sleep. Husband woke me up but I was mortally embarrassed. I didn’t sleep at all on the remaining long-haul segments of the trip. 🙁

  8. I was in a lie flat seat this summer on Lufthansa and I was dreaming that I was trapped in a coffin underground (my biggest fear). I woke up screaming and woke up people all around me. Embarrassing. I think the curvature of the seat back and sleeping on my back made me feel claustrophobic. I don’t sleep fully flat anymore unless I have room to side sleep.

  9. When I take off my glasses and put it on the side table to sleep, my biggest worry (on a plane) is that someone with steal.. not my phone or wallet.. but my glasses (because then I’d be blind as a bat at night, and blurry vision during the day.

    Scary stuff!

  10. Hahaha. Loved this post. Really, really funny. Especially the Klingon part. Thanks Andrew.

    No fears really… I’ve slept so so so many times on a plane… in fact I often look forward to long flights now – the only time I can really relax and sleep or watch movies as much as I want. In real life I don’t have that time. Usually arrive more rested than I departed… (that probably reflects rather poorly on me and my lifestyle!)

  11. I have a severe phobia of missing a flight. I literally have nightmares of having a flight to Europe leaving from IAD in 30 minutes and I’m still at home in NE Washington. I will wake up in a panic, gasping for air. Variations of this nightmare includes my not being able to find my passport.

    The result? I *have* to be at the airport three hours before any flight. That drives my partner insane as he doesn’t want to hang out at an airport. No, his goal is to seamlessly go from metro to baggage drop-off to security to seat 2A with no downtime. Madness! Last year, he was flying down to Florida to see his mother; yet, he was still puttering around the house with only 90 minutes till departure! And there I am, hyperventilating, going “You have to leave! You have to leave now! Why aren’t you leaving?!?”

    He now threatens to spike my protein shakes with Valium on days that he has to fly out.

  12. @janyyc –

    I, too, loved Andrew’s Klingon comment! I often use Star Trek references in my everyday life, especially now that the Ferengi have taken over the White House and Congress.

  13. Perhaps learning self hypnosis might help alieve the anxiety level.
    Being claustrophobic, I have learned relaxation excercises reduce my anxiety levels and enable me to fly and avoid a panic attack.
    The trick is to nip the anxiety before it has a chance to take hold. Otherwise you are laying the ground work for the nightmare!
    Good luck seeking what works for you!

  14. Lol! A very funny story.
    But the one I pity the most is your boyfriend, who must not have a quality sleep AT ALL when you guys are together, lol.

    I know this because the same happens to my boyfriend. When he is sleeping he probably thinks that he must be some russian ballet dancer and a opera singer at the same time. #weird

  15. Next on The Today Show: Ben Schlappig and Shia LaBoeuf discuss Freudian dream analysis! Stay tuned for this and more coverage of Icepocalypse 2017!

  16. Ok you want to hear embarrassing? A few months ago I was on a long haul overnight flight. I was in business and had the seat fully extended so I could sleep. At one point over the Atlantic we encountered a great deal of turbulence – really bad turbulence. As I was laying down fully in my lie-flat seat, I was on my stomach. After dinner there was some dark chocolates served. Chocolate, particularly dark chocolate can sometimes make people ‘happy’. With me laying down on my front side, lots of turbulence, let’s just say I having a very ‘pleasant’ dream. The sounds of that very nice dream were heard by a few people…

  17. Well, I didn’t used to have travel anxieties, but after reading this post and the previous comments, I’m now worried that I might embarrass myself while I sleep.

  18. Andrew,

    You have a medical condition known as night terrors. The good news is, it’s treatable with medication. The medication controls the chemicals in your brain that are producing these terrors, and you should be able to sleep perfectly normally once your condition is under treatment. See your regular physician for help, and fear sleeping on planes no longer!

  19. Interesting post. I used to have a similar fear when I travelled in Economy – that I’d fall asleep and end up leaning on and dribbling all over the passenger next to me. I realise now that’s probably why I try and fly Emirates Business on longhaul – for that 1-2-1 configuration.

  20. I had to stop reading after the one about the sides of the plane falling off. I actually don’t have any real anxieties but now I am anxious I will be thinking of those of others and inadvertently adopt one or two….Sheesh..and Friday the 13th was going so well…

  21. I completely empathize! My partner has gently woken me several times on long haul flights for snoring a bit too loudly. I can only imagine it’s quite something on the flights that I’m flying solo!

  22. My anxiety is always – every single flight – about take off: that the plane become airborne but will not climb and, well, you can imagine the rest… I fly all the time, have done a fear of flying course, read books, the works, but every time it’s the same terror. As soon as the seat belt sign comes off though, I’m totally fine. (I used to get a weird sensation while cruising that the plane was constantly tilting downwards as if descending, but I fought hard with myself to get over that as it was terribly stressful on long haul flights!)

  23. @Chad MC – Happens all the time to me too, but I never lie on my stomach. It’s that combination of those thin first class pajamas, and that general morning-time, ahem, yeah … I’ll leave it there.

  24. Maybe you could buy a bark collar LOL. Seriously though, that seems like a problem that is dying for a tech solution.

  25. Mine is snoring. When I flew First on BA from AUS to LHR I told the rather nice attendant that should she hear me start snoring that I gave her full permission to nudge me or kick me if I started to get loud.

  26. I used to try not to fall asleep on flights because of my snoring. However, I discovered that if I slept in a semi upright position then I did not snore at all. Granted it is not as comfortable as lie flat but after a couple of attempts I got used to it. Maybe a different sleeping position could have a similar effect to sleep talkers?

    Having said that, the British Grandmother attacking a Klingon voice would be fun to hear!

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