Outrageous Travel Lesson 10- Don’t Panic

It happened

– the disaster you hadn’t prepared for. You lost a document. You can’t work the ATM machine. You missed your flight. The bus didn’t come. Relax. Take a deep breath and stay cool. It’s not the end of the world. It is just another adventure. You can deal with almost anything that comes along.  Real disasters rarely happen and whatever you experience will make a great story – in time.

I’m a worrier by nature. I always review the things that can possibly go wrong when I start something. All my life I have tried to anticipate and head off potential disasters. It has been an exercise in futility because what I anticipate almost never actually happens. If something bad happens, it is never anything I imagined. It is always something else.

titanicIt is disabling

to anticipate disasters. To spend your time focused on the endless possibilities for something bad to happen makes you fearful and unable to enjoy the moment. I have struggled with worry for years and over time have gained a bit of control. The longer I manage to cope with the uncertainties of life, the more confidence I feel in my ability to handle problems. Part of this is observing that the problems I can see in my head almost never happen in reality and the rest is that I actually have learned to trust my ability to deal with problems on the fly.

After planning your trip, it is best not to worry. In the first place, worry can paralyze you and keep you from enjoying the delights of the place you are visiting. In the second place, it’s never the things you worry about that happen. In the third place, whatever happens is just a part of your adventure, a matrix for storing your experience and sometimes a path to something wonderful you never anticipated.

Time changes everything.

When you have the luxury of time your perspective changes. If you miss a flight, so what? There will be another. Did you get on the wrong bus? You are on your way to a new part of town. How exciting , You don’t have a schedule to keep. Nobody is keeping score to see how you measure up to your trip goals. Your goal is not ticking off sights from a list. You are there to experience life in the place you chose to visit. Life is an experience not a routine or a list. Expect and hope to be surprised along the way.

In preparation for your trip, try to cover all the contingencies. Make sure that you have enough money and alternative ways to get it while you are away from all your support systems. Practice caution in protecting your documents, equipment and credit cards. Develop a basic level of proficiency in the local language. All the while understand that taking that trip has put you far outside your comfort zone. It will take some effort to adjust. Finally remember that it was your choice to travel far away from what you know. It’s OK to stumble. It’s OK if your trip doesn’t move like clockwork. It you wanted routine you would have stayed at home. You don’t need to have every minute under control.

People are different.

They respond to life differently. Some take uncertainty in stride. Others- and I count myself among them- get nervous as a cat about uncertainty. There are a lot of uncertainties when you travel far from home and away from your support system. I get crazy the week before we leave and then stay crazy until I know that all is well at our destination. This worry is disruptive. It interferes with taking care of business, makes my wife roll her eyes and potentially sets me up to create more problems. It is crazy but worse than that it keeps me from enjoying the moment.

Craziness can take many forms. Sometimes it results from a disruptive event- like a theft or problems in logging into your bank. Sometimes it is created wholly in your mind. Our first night in Buenos Aires, I panicked. Our apartment was lovely but the street below was a noisy racetrack and the street scape was more third-world than I had anticipated. It made me question the entire basis for the trip. I was sure that I had blown it and that spending a month in Buenos Aires was a serious mistake that my wife would never forgive. I was prepared to cope but I feared that my wife would never agree to another trip. I spent a sleepless night thinking about how to cancel the trip. As it turned out, my wife wasn’t concerned at all. The apartment- and it’s location near the subway stop was perfect and the street noise became our new normal. This trip was a wonderful experience that we will never regret. What seemed like a disaster was merely an attitude adjustment and all in my head.

You may not be a worrier and this lesson may not be anything you need to read but perhaps you are like me- a natural worrier. I can come up with infinite disaster scenarios which my mind can’t resist handling even though the things I worry about almost never happen. When a disaster occurs, I not only panic thinking about what to do, I blame myself because I hadn’t anticipated it. It’s a double whammy. The truth, as I experience it is that whatever happens, it is never a disaster. It can be handled. Life will go on and the vacation will still be great, perhaps even better.

I point this out

so that you will understand that I’m not the perfect traveler who is totally in control of everything and unruffled with any problems. I’m a nervous Nelly, worried and anxious about every potential uncertainty when I travel. I cover up my anxiety as much as possible but it’s still there. I know it’s crazy. I know that worrying doesn’t reduce any potential for problems. It’s just what I do and still I travel. I chose not to let this failing stop me. I continue to take those trips to strange places and cope. I don’t let my craziness keep me from outrageous travel.

So if you are nervous about taking an outrageous travel trip, you aren’t alone. But if you really want to experience life in foreign places, don’t let nervousness stop you. Be nervous. But take a step forward. Make those reservations. Double check everything and prepare for contingencies. Above all, take the first step just like I did because only by starting will you discover that you can handle anything if you have to and that what you most fear will probably never happen.

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