You have to carry all your most precious belongings, in a strange place with absolutely no room to make an error.
If you misplace anything, if you run late, if you get lost, you could unravel EVERYTHING.
This is how I describe travelling.
The actual travelling part of travelling is a waking nightmare for me.
(But actually, I often have recurring travelling nightmares.)
So when you see recaps of my trips on social media, it’s pretty damn likely I’ll omit the days, the hours before leaving for a trip when my anxiety reaches a fever pitch that typically manifests itself as using work to procrastinate right up to the last minute, ensuring that the start of almost every trip in my adult life has started with a teary-panic-meltdown. It’s a predictable cycle of chaos, one I’ve finally started to proactively manage and while I love traveling once I arrive at the final destination, the actual travel days are HARD. I find packing HARD. I find airports extremely stressful. And so I’ve been working on these strategies to manage that anxiety, to set myself up for success, to avoid that one vacation where I procrastinated on packing until 10 minutes before we needed to leave for the airport and I had a full on panic attack while sobbing “I can’t do this” and shoving whatever Eli brought me into my suitcase.
HOW I SOLO TRAVEL WITH ANXIETY
It’s not a science, I give myself time for meltdowns, I accept that as a person that runs a business trying to leave for a vacation with work all wrapped up is an Icarus of a task. But these steps help…
ONE WEEK IN ADVANCE
I check the weather and loosely start to consider what clothes I’m excited to bring. I pull up one of my generic packing lists (I have one for weekend trips, and another for seven day trips, as well as a few for trips we often take, visiting family etc) and start switching out things I know I don’t want to bring.
I make note of things that need to be washed and pick a laundry day to get those things sorted
I start making playlists, picking up travel day treats (Art magazines, gum, snacks) as well as stock up on anything I need to get for trips (sunscreen, my medication refilled, SD cards)
Eli and I make plans for who will care for Rory while we’re away
48 HOURS IN ADVANCE
Finalize my packing list with weather cross references and start gathering those garments in a general packing area. It’s a helpful time to edit your choices and really consider if you neeeed to bring four pairs of shoes or 5 dresses. It also helps me imagine the mix-matching of the things I’ve chosen. I try really hard if a piece can’t be remixed with other items, to switch it out with something that’s a better fit. I also usually have an idea of what we’re for sure doing, so I make sure I have an outfit that works for all activities.
I charge my camera, round up all my photography equipment, charge my headphones
Clean my purse (that is my carry-on) and put in the most important stuff (passport, cell phone charge, wallet)
I pack my makeup bag, refill travel sized items as needed, and medications
24 HOURS IN ADVANCE
Invite a pal over to supervise me pack (if Eli is out of town) so I have to do it - try to stick to the list, switch things out if you’re positive it’s a better choice. It helps to pair this part with a fun activity, like face masks.
Pack all electronic equipment, and make sure my Google Play Song list is up to date, and any Netflix downloaded shows are saved on my computer.
Get Travel Insurance and whatever changes need to be made to my roaming phone plan.
Set a million alarms, know I might not sleep well, give myself permission to ask my Googlehome as many times as need through the night what time it is.
Check into the flight, make sure I have all the pertinent info I need saved to my phone - flight details, where I’m staying, any other things I’ve booked
Keep your most important items (passport, wallet, phone) in a seperate easy to access pocket, that you can check as many times as your heart desires, softly touching each item whenever the voice in your head implies you’re missing something. No one will notice and it prevents me torturing myself throughout the day by trying to logic myself into believing I have those items.
Dress comfortably. You know what’s worse than being stressed out? Being stressed out and uncomfortable. I have an airport uniform.
A cotton sleeveless black romper, a Block Shop textiles scarf, a cotton shelf bra (because fuck underwire), a sweater with pockets, and sneakers.
Focus on each step of your travel day as a level - yes I mentally gamify travelling. I work hard not to think of the magnitude of things that have to go well to get to my destination on time - I break it down into all day small victories. Leave the house. Get to the Park-n-Ride and board the shuttle. Check into the airport. Go through security and find to your gate (reward yourself with a treat). Flight one. Travel to your next gate for connecting flights (ask for directions if this is a new airport or there aren’t super obvious signs). Cross airport border security. Flight Two. Get to baggage and pick up bag. Navigate the next steps of transportation to final destination. One by one I know I can accomplish all these things, but if I’m travelling alone the immensity of navigating in foreign airports stresses me out so I only focus on the step I’m on, not the perceived anxiety of all that comes next.
Control the volume of the world around you. This was life changing for me. I bought (this is in NO WAY sponsored) the best wireless headphones for travelling, because in addition to long battery life, the Bang & Olufsen Beoplay E8 2.0 headphones also have this nifty feature so you can tap the left ear bud and it pauses your music, amplifies the world around you and you can hear everything, and with another tap your music starts again and the exterior mic is turned off. It was a way to manage the sensory input from an airport that usually whips me into a stress-frenzy. Softly having my ears plugged all day made me feel more in control and like I could tune in and out of my own world. It feels less jarring than headphones in and out and in and out. I felt safer and more in control (which I know is where the travel day anxiety stems from). They are fucking expensive. I have never actually bought headphones before, my last pair I wore well after the plastic part got lost and would occasionally spark my ears, SO I GET IT these are a huge investment. But the joy they bring me is worth every god damn penny.
Smile at kids. Remind yourself everyone else is also tired, hungry, overwhelmed by a weird set of rules they rarely encounter and are trying their best too. But kids usually smile back.
Bring a water bottle, refill it at every leg of your journey to avoid dehydration headaches, and once through security the first time pick up a snack that you’ll eat on your first flight. Due to travel delays, waits at security etc, even if I don’t eat again, at least I’ve eaten something.
Remind yourself CONSTANTLY how great you’re doing. Here’s a list of very real hilarious compliments I like to give myself -
“You’re doing so great, who are you, George Clooney from ‘Up in the Air?!’”
”Good try airport, but I still found my gate despite the remodel maize”
”You’re doing so good. Making it to the airport without a panic attack, you’re a modern day Carmen San Diego - travelling like a mother fucking pro”
”Easy there Amazing Race, you travelling professional - I’m so proud of you”
”One step at a time, you’re doing amazing”
This post is dedicated to that wonderful human pictured above. My forever travel partner, Elijah, a man who has picked me up off the floor when I was a wall of tears, who helps me manage my anxiety whenever it seethes away inside me and has more patience than I could ever imagine.