First rule of traveling: Be Flexible. Or at least that is what it always was growing up in the back of a suburban with my 4 siblings during the summers of my childhood. Anything that went wrong, “What’s the first rule of traveling kids? That’s right, be flexible.” It really is a great lesson and truly one that applies to all facets of life, especially, I’ve found, the preparation for traveling.
Not only is flexibility important while you are on the road, it is incredibly important during the planning as well. This mentality can get you through a whole slew of hiccups along the way. For example, if 10 days before departure your income for after you return falls through. Or 9 days before, you get an unauthorized charge of $660 on your credit card forcing you to cancel it and expedite a new one. Even better yet, 8 days before, one of your flight’s departure times is rescheduled to 3 hours earlier forcing a total reschedule of that visit to accommodate train schedules. Every problem can be faced with faith, trust and flexibility.
These very real situations have been facing me over the past few days. Couple these molehills with the very normal stress of a first solo trip, a tiny budget and a few thousand trips to Target for ‘one more thing that you have forgotten’, and mountains of stress form quickly. But what is important to remember is that this is all completely normal. If there wasn’t stress, nerves or anxiety, you wouldn’t be stepping far enough outside of your comfort zone.
My mum’s favorite quote is, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” This has been a mantra helping me through these stressors, but there are many other things helping me through as well. Everyone handles stress differently and each will find their own magical remedy, but here are a few things that have helped me to feel calm and in control as I enter the final week countdown.
First and foremost, lists! I adore lists and spreadsheets. This is definitely my organized father’s genes at work, but it helps me feel as though I know what is coming next. When it comes to traveling, I recommend a few different lists to take control of the varying situations. I personally have three lists and a spreadsheet currently keeping me sane.
Most important is my packing list. I like to run through my list with people like my mum, who is an amazing light packer. It also helps to be able to add things you have completely spaced (like pajamas, which I just recently realized I hadn’t added) or pair down on that third pair of jeans ‘just in case’. Second is a list of errands. My errands list spans anything from things I still need to buy to paying my bills ahead of time. Thirdly an overall list is a must, and probably the biggest stress reliever of all. This list has everything from simply remembering to pack and run my errands, to remembering to take out the trash before leaving for the airport. The best part about this list, is it stands a visual stress level. I know how stressed I should be based on how long the list is and how much time I still have left before take-off. Finally the spreadsheet that I can’t survive without is my budget. This workbook is composed of four sheets ranging from accommodations and travel specifications to an overall dashboard. The dashboard holds the budget for the trip, formulas to input my current savings and future paycheck additions, and bills for the duration of the trip.
Another way I deal with travel planning stress is to turn stress into excitement. Many times I allow stress to take over when really my focus has simply shifted too far onto how I will travel, and too far away from why I am traveling. It is so easy to become wrapped up in the logistics of traveling and the idea of all the things that could go wrong and forget why we are traveling in the first place. For that reason I think travel stress can be remedied with some good old-fashioned research.
Close the 15 flight tabs, take a breath, and open Pinterest. Take the time to stumble upon a link to an amazing church that is 47 gazillion years old in Spain, find a review of the best fish soup in Iceland, or simply see a picture of waterfall and spend an hour figuring out how to get there. These steps are every bit as important as accommodations and flights. It is important to remember that those are vital elements of travel reserve, but they are nothing if you are not excited about breathing in the city, and tasting the culture, as well.
Another incredibly important tip for stress is finding a support system. This can be anyone, a friend, family member, coworker, etc. This person or group of people, need to be someone who encourages you, understands why you want to travel, and supports your dreams, even when you doubt them. For me, this is undoubtedly my mum. As I have mentioned before, this dream of traveling and eating as a job is not the most secure career choice, but my parents have never been ones to shy away from a hard work. When I left to study abroad, with tears of anxiety of the unknown streaming down my face at the airport, it was my parents who were there saying what an amazing opportunity I was given. When I hit culture shock 2 weeks in, it was my mum who reminded me to go outside and look up at the little old woman hanging her laundry on her balcony, or the pizzeria owner whistling a tune as he scrubbed his sidewalk in the rain. She challenged me to continually remember that I was given this amazing opportunity to live in Italy, and that I was living one of my dreams. Most recently, I felt that extra push of support as she hugged me goodbye after a family visit here in Boise, both of us truly realizing for the first time that this would be our last hug before my trip. She beamed through her teary eyes and said, “you are the bravest soul I know”. That is what you need when you are staring back anxious, and a little terrified, as it all sinks in a bit more. This support is unparalleled in travel, whether they are with you on the journey or back home.
My final and, perhaps, most important recommendation for dealing with stress of travel preparations is to just let go. Each of these steps help to release a little more control of the trip and allows you live travel instead of simply plan it. Now, don’t misunderstand, I am a crazy planner and I have been experiencing many of my own moments of panic, but it is those moments where I practice these elements of relief. I believe it is paramount to remember that in traveling, it will all work out the way it is supposed to. So you miss your train and have to take bus, maybe that bus introduces you to a new friend in the seat next to you. Or your reservations get canceled but as you are walking away you pass a food truck which turns to be the best gyro you’ve ever tasted and for a fraction of the price of the fancy restaurant. Or better yet, you get on the wrong train, end up in the opposite destination as intended, but you learn some poignant life skills. Life works out exactly as it supposed to, but it is up to us to challenge the stress with flexibility and look for the gifts and stories along the way. It is these stories that make up our lives, not simply the stamps in the passport.
Stress is a very fundamental part of our lives and in many ways it is good for us. It forces us to complete tasks, work hard and grow. But it also can make life feel like it’s moving too fast. The days seem to slip away from me faster and faster, but as they do I continue reminding myself that in 7 days it won’t matter. When I fasten my seat belt on a plane bound for Iceland, what I did or didn’t get completely accomplished won’t matter. What will matter is the fact that I am living my dream, and doing what many think is impossible. I am leaping and hoping like mad the net appears.
-The Very Hungry Traveler
“Do you have the courage to grab the dream that picked you?”