Travel anxiety manifests itself in different ways for different people. It’s quite common for chronically late people to run around doing random tasks, not realizing that they are subconsciously just trying to delay leaving. That’s only the beginning. I can’t shut the door on a dirty house, and I get anxious about being able to find anywhere to eat. My husband can’t stand being late, and he gets anxious about orienting himself and finding his way around. Money! Time zone changes! Strange beds! Thieves! Foreign languages! Germs! Shouting hotel neighbors! Flat pillows! The travel fantasy is so full of stressors that it’s funny so many of us love it so much. Practice and planning help with the inevitable hassles.
Between the two of us, we’ve gone on at least a dozen trips in the past year. That includes international business trips (for him), family visits, vacations, and quick weekend getaways. Sometimes both of us are away at separate locations. Because our suitcases get pulled out of the closet so often, it’s much harder to ignore travel anxiety as a factor. (Especially for our pets!)
I grew up in the travel industry. The first time I flew alone, I was 7. We flew standby as a family every summer. I’ve spent the night on the couch in a breakroom and waited 9 hours to catch flights. I’m pretty much unflappable about travel delays. ABAB – always bring a book! I also have a very lackadaisical attitude about how long it takes to get through security or run from one gate to another. In my lifetime, I have never been so late that I missed a flight. It will probably happen one day, through factors outside of my control. This doesn’t bother me all that much. As long as I have wi-fi access, I can do virtually everything from an airport terminal that I could be doing at home or at the destination. *shrug* I trust the highly skilled network of airline professionals to help me resolve anything that comes up.
It is easy to see how incredibly frustrating my “wing it!” travel style could be for most people. I don’t share your sense of urgency. I can only pretend to. It’s much like the time I fell out of a sea kayak, got tangled in the oar ropes, and panicked that I was drowning – even though I was wearing a flotation vest and we were only yards from shore. I was flailing in a blind panic, the only person around who didn’t realize everything was going to be perfectly fine.
Now, I have plenty of travel anxiety issues. One of them is going through secondary search at the airport, which is why I went through the effort of becoming a trusted traveler. Another is trying to find food at old-school airport terminals. LAX is trapped in the 80s as far as plant-based options. (Who puts CHEDDAR CHEESE in a HUMMUS WRAP?) The last time we were there, we had to search three different concourses to find one single food vendor that had one single item I could eat. By the time we sat down with our food, I couldn’t even give the acceptance speech for my Most Annoying Travel Companion award. The worst part is that the whole reason I had to find food in the terminal is that I was too busy obsessively cleaning house to pack my usual emergency sandwich.
The point of talking about travel anxiety is that when we call it out, we can defeat it. Planning and preparation can help avoid most issues, and knowledge can help with others. (For instance, knowing that flying is statistically far safer than driving, and it’s irrational to be stressed out on a plane unless you are significantly more stressed out on the freeway).
It’s hard for me to relax on a trip if I know I’ll be going home to a dirty, disorganized house and a long list of urgent tasks. I’ll just perseverate about everything that needs to be done. It is deeply satisfying to me to do the final perimeter check before going out the door, knowing everything is in order. It also helps avoid forgetting important small items. We do the same thing when checking out of a hotel. Peace of mind! The sticking point for me is that, while my housekeeping routine is designed around having free weekends, I usually have until the afternoon to get everything done. Also, on an ordinary weekend, I don’t have to worry about the fridge, compost bucket, or garbage having a week or more to rot. After our last trip, I spent some time going over my strategic plan. I realized that all I needed to do was to push back my travel prep by two days. Same total minutes of work, completely different results.
I’m writing this while preparing to leave town later this evening for a weekend trip. I know everything is done, and yet the space available for travel anxiety is not full. I keep chasing my mental tail, thinking that surely I must be forgetting something! My suitcase is packed and waiting by the door. All the laundry is done, the house is clean, and there’s nothing in the fridge but my lunch and a few apples. In the last week, I’ve even done all the deep cleaning: the windows are washed, the top of the fridge has been dusted, and the upholstery has been laundered. My next task is to start trusting in my checklist, and enjoying the benefits of automation.
This is how minimalism brings everything together:
Automated finances = ability to keep household running during chaos of frequent travel
Capsule wardrobe = uncomplicated packing; a small, lightweight bag; no extra fees; physical agility
Housekeeping routine = leaving, thus coming home to, a clean house; being able to find stuff
Meal planning = consuming produce while it’s fresh instead of coming home to a scary fridge full of compost (still working on this one); maintaining desired weight in spite of restaurant meals (nailed it)
Location-independent work = working if/when I feel the urge
Now my prefrontal cortex somehow just has to get the signal through to my amygdala. There really is nothing to worry about. Nothing except flat pillows, anyway.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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