Step 2: Prepare! Let’s Start With The Brain

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The preparation that goes into taking a work break to travel is extensive. At least it is when I do it. I’m sure some can just throw caution to the wind, sell all their possessions, leave a note on their door and hit the road. Unfortunately, I have deep seeded travel anxiety that must be mitigated in order for me to leave and not feel high levels of guilt and worry.

I recognize the irony in being a woman who desperately wants to travel and see the world, while also being plagued by anxiety that pops up every time I pull out a suitcase or mark a departure date on my calendar.

To give credit where credit is due, I have to thank my father for this deeply ingrained travel anxiety. While many of his gifts to me were full of love and support, his strict, obsessively organized, military-ways that drove our family’s travel experiences were the gifts that kept on giving.

Let’s take a look at some of the General’s travel lessons, shall we?

Lesson #1: If you’re on time, you’re late

I know this lesson is a little like a puzzle. How could you be both “on time” and “late?” Thinking from a philosophical standpoint, time is relative. Unfortunately, my father never really thought from a philosophical perspective. He spoke from a military perspective, so for him, and the military as a whole, if you want to be on time, be early.

As a non-military person trying to have some degree of social awareness while functioning in a “fashionably late” world, this message has caused ongoing problems. I’ve found the only way I can arrive to a party at a reasonable time, rather than interrupt the host during party setup, is to schedule the event on my calendar 60 minutes after the actual invite time. That usually means my arrival time is roughly 45 minutes late, which is perfect in this casual world we live in.

Lesson #2: All travel requires an itinerary (down to the minute) 

9:00am start packing car. 9:12am complete loading the car. 9:14 exit & lock house. 9:15am sit in car. 9:17am departure. 9:30am arrive at gas station. 9:35am depart gas station…

Perhaps when you’re organizing a battalion of troops this type of itinerary will work. Unfortunately, my dad did not account for the unpredictability of toddlers who do not fully comprehend the chain of command.

I don’t believe we ever actually achieved the itinerary goals set for us, but that never stopped him from trying.  What did come from this lesson, however, is my deep dependence on the clock.  Specifically, the fear that the minute I stop looking at it the time, it will magically leap forward by an hour.

Lesson #3: Always Count the Bags

There must have been that one trip, that one time, where that one piece of luggage was lost and as a result, this lesson was formed.

Exit car at airport…count the bags. Check bags…count the bags. Collect bags from luggage carousel…count the bags. Drive car to hotel…count the bags. Exit car at hotel…count the bags. Count the bags then ask “did you count the bags?”

One might say this was a bit of an extreme reaction to the relatively common travel risk of losing luggage. I can’t say I disagree with those who might say that. Because of this lesson, every time I transition from one state to another I get this flood of anxiety fearing that I’m forgetting something.

Considering my family traveled a fair amount, the risk of being late, losing a bag, getting off itinerary, or having some unforeseen circumstance creep into the travel experience were constant threats.

I’m pretty sure the synapses in my young prepubescent brain made certain anxiety focused connections that despite all efforts as an adult cannot be redirected. As a result, I have travel anxiety, but no need to despair.

I have a lesson of my own.

Lesson #4: How to mitigate lessons 1 through 3

Thankfully, my passion for travel has given me ample opportunity to learn new techniques to mitigate some of my travel anxieties.

For example, when I went backpacking in Europe in my 20’s I learned that the most interesting stories come from unexpected interruptions to a perfectly planned itinerary. That moment you miss your bus in Innsbruck Austria and end up walking in the snow with a new friend who missed the same bus and is going to the same youth hostel. Anita and I continue to be friends to this day.

Or that time you get lost walking through Montmartre in Paris and stumble across the Picasso museum just as they’re loading in new works of art.

Or that time you can’t figure out how to get to Versailles, so you sit with new friends on the Champs-Elysees and drink so much wine you nearly wet your pants. (And by nearly…I mean…do wet your pants). They really need more bathrooms on the Champs-Elysees.

By experiencing the joy of the unexpected, I learned to throw that strict itinerary out the window and go with the flow. Don’t get me wrong. I have the list of things I want to see and experience, but if something gets in the way of those plans it’s okay. It just means I’ll have to come back.

When it comes to my fear of losing luggage, that’s actually a pretty easy one to mitigate. Just take one bag. It’s easy to keep track of one bag. “But what if you need something you didn’t pack?”

That’s an excellent question with a very easy solution. You go and buy it or you suck it up. You forgot your toothbrush, go buy one. You forgot a jacket and there is a horrible rain storm? Well, you have choices. You can deal with it. You can buy a cheap umbrella. You can go buy a jacket, or you can use this as an excuse to sit in a café all day and read. That’s the beauty of traveling without a strict itinerary, you make your own rules.

Back to the brain:

Now, as an adult, I recognize anxiety when I see it. I even recognize that my Dad must have had his own trauma when it came to travel, otherwise it wouldn’t have stressed him out so much. In the end I was lucky to get to travel as much as I did as a youth. It made me love travel, and history. It gave me the opportunity to experience different cultures and to appreciate the beautiful variety this world has to offer.

I’ve been working on preparing my brain for this type of travel all my life. It took just a few formative years for my travel anxiety to take hold, and about 30 years for me to teach it these new lessons, but better late than never.

I expect I’ll bump up against many more of these deeply imbedded lessons during this adventure, and I’ll have to figure out how to mitigate those as well. I mean, what would this journey be if it didn’t involve challenge and growth?

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