Beating travel anxiety
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Beating travel anxiety

Traveling — what could go wrong? Everything, and that’s before our reporter gets out the door…

My editor recently asked me what kind of traveler I am. A Romantic? An Adventurer? A Thrill Seeker; Planner, Dreamer, Self-Improver?

I wanted to tell him I had a little bit of all these passionate travelers inside me, but in truth I’m a reluctant traveler. A low-key, “dread the prospect of traveling,” kind of traveler, and not for the reasons you may think. I’m far more complex than that.

Sure, airports are a complete hell: endless TSA lines, travelers who can’t seem to follow basic security rules; bag drop queues that don’t budge and confuse anyone with a basic understanding of how life works, last minute gate changes that have me racing around the airport, this gate, no that gate; not a morsel of healthy food in sight; chronic flight delays that seem to always choose me. Let’s just say it: flying sucks.

The weird thing is, once I hit that shiny, brightly lit airport, the place one would expect to become completely undone, the calm, grounded, and excited me comes out. Ready for take off. Or, anything really. I’m the smooth operator, gliding confidently through the airport, bags in tow, smile on my face, excited for what’s to come.

Honestly, I wish it was any one of those airport situations that triggered my pre-travel angst. Situations that are concrete. Impersonal. Nameable. Maybe, even crushable. But, the source of my unease is far more insidious. It creeps up slowly, a week before we travel; hangs around, amplifies as the departure date nears, and makes me wonder why I’m such a bright star to ever think it was a good idea to leave the comfort of my home and daily routine in the first place.

So, what’s the big deal?

Sleep for starters. Or, maybe I should say, lack of sleep because that’s my joy the night before. I’m amped up, convinced the alarm clock won’t go off the next morning, worried I’ll oversleep, miss our flight and ruin our trip. Obviously, it will be my fault, and then I’ll have the added agony of having to beg my family for forgiveness, figure out how to make it up to them, while all along praying they won’t begin to see me as someone unreliable, lacking, and unable to manage even the simplest task of setting and waking up to an alarm.

Then there’s my self-flagellation to contend with, the one that will manifest as perseverative thinking (anxiety’s dark bedfellow) about what a failure I am because, really, how hard is it to wake up and get out of the house? I’ve only done it every day for my entire life! And, sure, my family may take pity and forgive me, but I’ll stoke the guilt flame, and keep it alive and burning. It’s really the only fair thing to do!

I need practical, real time solutions, so I check my alarm at least 10 times to make sure it’s working, that the hour is set to a.m. not p.m., and that the volume is turned up so I can hear it. But, at the same time, it’s pretty obvious to me that alarm clocks aren’t reliable, that they can mysteriously stop working, and it’s probably not a good idea to count on one in the first place when a trip is hanging in the balance. Clearly, staying up and watching the minutes pass by, 1:45 a.m., 2:07 a.m., 2:32 a.m., is the only logical thing to do. At least I’ve landed on a solution. I’m thankful for that.

There it is. It’s a fait accompli. I’m destined to be 100 percent trashed when I travel, meaning there’s a high probability that I’m going to look and feel like garbage for the first few days of our vacation. You know the look, pale skin, drawn face, bloodshot eyes.  Is there anything worse than when people tell you “Hey, you look really tired!” “Gee, thanks. I know I look like crap. But, I totally appreciate the reminder. You try setting an alarm and getting to the airport on time. Let’s see what you look like?” Honestly, people can be so rude.

Worse, there’s a strong chance I won’t sleep well on the trip itself. Apparently, 63% of us don’t sleep soundly when we’re away from home. Thanks goes to Princess Cruise Lines for coming up with that helpful statistic, and validating what I already know: I’m going to be a total zombie during our vacation, and court all the serious health issues that come along with sleep deprivation.

Oh, hey there, high blood sugar, hormone havoc, compromised immunity, inflammation, cellular aging, and chronic disease! Honestly, is it even worth going away if I’m setting myself up for hypertension, diabetes, and premature aging…?

And how about packing, and the associated fear of leaving something behind? I try to ward off that uneasy feeling by furiously packing a few days before a trip, but it doesn’t help much because I always unpack what I preemptively pre-packed to make sure I didn’t forget anything. Bikini. Pants. Tee shirt. Dress. Bikini. Pants. Tee shirt. Dress. You get the drill.

And what about the toiletry bag, and checking and rechecking that my new travel containers, facial cleansers, oils and cosmetics are TSA compliant, and won’t be confiscated. Because, really, how is anyone supposed to enjoy a vacation with parched, blotchy skin, dull hair, and sub-par beauty products?

And, I haven’t even mentioned my kids yet. They insist they are old enough to pack themselves, which is really just code for “you’ll help me pack when I’m ready to pack” which is always the night before our flight, and “please make me a check list of all the things I need, but will forget to put in my backpack if you don’t remind me.”

This last-minute hustle doesn’t make any impression on them. Not even a dent. They sleep like babies, and are happy to catch some extra Zs on the way to the airport, and on the flight. Of course. ....

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