The first and only time I traveled overseas by myself, my arrival didn’t go according to plan. There were many factors at play: I was going to Greece, where I couldn’t speak the language or read the alphabet. I had packed a way-too-big hockey bag I could barely lift. I couldn’t figure out how to use a phone card to call my ride. The person I was supposed to meet at the airport had a delayed flight. I sat down on my enormous bag and gave myself over to exhausted crocodile tears.
On Saturday, I do it all over again. This time, instead of Greece, I’m flying to France. The anxiety I feel about hopping on a plane by myself to go to a country where I don’t speak the language comes in waves, sometimes eclipsing the excitement I feel about baguettes, museums, and my long-distance boyfriend.
In true idiot fashion, I’ve also overbooked myself on all the days leading up to the trip. “Sure, I’d love to go to that show or that happy hour or that skeeball game or that haircut!” I said, weeks ago. This has ratcheted up my anxiety ten-fold.
I’m a worrier – I almost find comfort in worry – but there’s just no time for it in this particular instance. Instead, I’ve been self-soothing using five simple tricks.
- Tackle one thing a day. On Sunday, I shopped for warm socks (I have no use for these in Texas, so I have donated the many, many, many pairs I accumulated in Chicago). On Monday, I shopped for travel toiletries (will I NEED make-up removing wipes and also two kinds of face wash? Only time will tell). On Tuesday, I stocked up on medication, remembering the time I got a cold in Germany and was without my beloved Dayquil. Today, I’ll do some light packing. I have no time off before Saturday morning, when I hop in a RideAustin (RIP Austin Lyft, my only true friend in this town), but little by little, I’m chipping away at my list.
- Do all the internet stuff at once. I’m on a computer or phone at all times because I’m a monster millennial, but instead of letting the anxiety of everything I have to do online eat away at me, I decided to dedicate 30 minutes to doing the following: emailing Sam a list of phrases I want to know how to say and pronounce in French (“you are a very pretty cat”); emailing my parents my flight itinerary; notifying my banks (I’m very wealthy) that I will be out of the country; and of course, downloading 400 podcasts for the plane ride (what up, McElroy brothers).
- Pack all the stuff I won’t need before the trip. This means that right now my suitcase is a quarter full of: English language books for Sam; travel toiletries; a charged external phone battery; and all those warm socks. The dresses and jeans will come later.
- Pick out my outfit for traveling. I don’t know if it’s because I’m an artist, a visual learner, or an ocular neurotic, but I like to envision things that cause me anxiety. I can’t picture the Philadelphia airport aside from the map. I can’t picture the American Airlines desk in Paris where my host will be waiting for me. I can, however, picture myself being comfortable and confident on the long plane ride. This step has helped a lot.
- Aggregate suggestions. I made a Google map of every bar, every restaurant, every museum, and every garden my friends suggested, so that I can target things in a given vicinity efficiently. This was fun and relaxing. I read top ten lists in travel magazines, laughed at funny French tales sent to me in text messages, and poured over the long list of Facebook responses to my call for Parisian suggestions. This little tool feels like having a person Rick Steves in my pocket. Thanks for your help.
Sometimes I fear that these listicles make me sound more ~together~ than I actually am. So, to be perfectly honest, I’m still petrified. These little things cut down on the nausea and the nightmares, but nothing can take the place of the relief and happiness I’ll feel when I reunite with Sam in Charles de Gaulle.
In case you missed your chance to give me Paris and Caen tips, please do so in the comments! I’d hate to miss something you just love, love, loved.