Chill Tips for the Anxious Traveler
My first major trip away from home was Spanish school in Guatemala for three months. I took Big Red, the suitcase that was roughly 66.67577555522% full of things I did not need; in there were these items (please laugh with me):
all five books by Jane Austen
38% more clothing than necessary
It weighed just under 50#, if I remember correctly, 48.9#.
My first major trip just for pleasure was to Europe, four years ago. We were to be gone for 3+ weeks and I planned like crazy for 6+ months. I mean, the level of research that went into that trip was akin to finding out the material of the seats in trains we planned to take, and the last time they were cleaned.
But I did book every flight, train, AirBnB, and point of interest that was possible to book, and pre-found directions from train stations to hotels and homes where we stayed. It was back before I knew about affordable international SIM cards and it terrified me to think of getting lost in a city where I could not speak the language.
I even researched what people were wearing in each destination, for Pete’s sake. Ok, <quiet whisper> I still do that. What can I say? I’m a sartorial junkie and like to find common points in culture. It’s probably one of the reasons Africa is on my bucket list. The scenery and culture there look incredible, but mainly I want an excuse to wear the unabashed clothing and jewelry.
Going back to those days, if I didn’t know absolutely everything about the travel destination it sent me into a tailspin, pun intended, because research works great up until something goes catawumpus in real time and it is necessary to wing the part of information that couldn’t be acquired. It’s less stress to look uncertainty in the face and cheerily say “let’s figure this out,” rather than put one’s head in one’s hands to moan and groan for awhile. (A), you lose time that way, (B). you look vulnerable - something I try not to do as a woman traveling - and (C). it helps the situation precisely nix.
Think of the Russian spy in “Bridge of Spies.” He had a fairly bleak situation, but every time the American lawyer asked if he was worried or anxious he would say, “would it help?”
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU’RE AN OVER-PREPARED TRAVELER?
One thing that must be acknowledged: preparing is not a bad thing. If you were to take a trip to Antarctica and go unprepared I would probably say my last goodbyes to you. You need to prepare for trips. You want to get there, right? Booking a flight and boat is preparing. You don’t want to freeze to death? Buying a good jacket and gear is preparing. One doesn’t take silly shoes to wear to Antarctica because one would not return with feet. You like your feet? Prepare.
The distinction here is whether or not you are of the anxious variety that over plan and leave nothing to delightful spontaneity. Most of us will never explore, or even take a cruise to Antarctica so that was a good example of overthinking. I overthink writing all the time, and look where it gets me: silly analogies that won’t actually make a difference.
Here are tips that actually will make a difference:
Did you die, though? If your trip is de-railed a little that’s probably fine. Take a look at a situation and ask, “are you about to die? About to get sold into sex trafficking? About to get stabbed? Slobbering on a stranger’s shoulder on a plane?”
I remember the first time I got lost in a foreign city and felt like the world was ending. It wasn’t. Just take a deep breath, keep your cool (and with it, your head), and think about the fantastic story it will make when you tell someone how you ended up at the end of a dark, quiet street in the middle of the night, Guatemala, with two strange men, wondering if your life was about to end? News flash, it didn’t. Actual ending to story: they were walking me home and as lost as I was; after much gesturing, along with broken Spanish and English, we found ourselves. If you automatically assume the worst, your actions won’t be of the sort to get you back out of the sticky jam.
Download Tripit. Do it now. Seriously, it saves every itinerary; hotel, flight etc sent to your phone, with times and everything calculated so you never have to worry. To have that overview takes so much time and worry from travel because all you do is open your app, and bam! Everything is in a nice list with no need to sort through pages of emails to find time of flight or check in. All this extra time gives you the extra space to check and see if your passport is actually with you for the 20th time, (it was there the 19th time, but WHAT IF IT DISAPPEARED).
Follow your curiosity - it has a good nose for sniffing out epic experiences. One time I ducked into the Boston Commons, instead of pushing through to the Public Gardens because-that-was-my-destination-and-one-must-follow-the-plan. There was display of photography, and as an avid admirer of street and humanitarian photography I was curious to see what it might be; turns out it was a photography project of Holocaust survivors, and one of the subjects was there in the flesh.
I’m going to be unabashedly dramatic about this, because I got to meet Aron Greenfield and history came alive. It was an honor, one I might have easily missed if I had insisted on sticking to the plan. Friend, a plan is merely a structure, and sometimes you knock out a wall to open things up a little.
There you have the three. Keep your head, keep lists outside your head, and keep an open head, I mean mind. There are many other tips for traveling, but keeping your cool and asking, “would it help” goes a long way. Hey, you can be creative here. If you have to weep for awhile because it helps, that’s fine too, because sometimes you get re-booked on a flight faster while sniffing. Just don’t lose it entirely, that gets very embarrassing for customer service. Ask me how I know.
One last thing.
Actually travel. Just do it. As Mark Twain said “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. “ And I add this word, “travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, narrow-mindedness and… anxiety.” If you are an anxious person travel will either help you to overcome, or you will simply stop traveling. But then, I must warn you, you will sit and anxiously worry in your house about missing out on life.
You can. Just let your hair down and let the winds of the world blow you around a little bit.
Or go skydiving.
Photo up top by Markus Winkler.