Traveling to New Places: A Guide for Control Freaks Like Me
Tuesday, January 15, 2013Tweet
This past weekend I went to the Gay Christian Network conference. It was... amazing. I'm still processing, and you can be sure there will be several posts rich with insight in the next week or so. But for the moment, I wanted to share something completely unrelated to LGBTQ issues or Christianity that I gained this past week, which came from the experience of traveling to and from the conference.
It turned out that Mike was out of town on a retreat the day I left (with the rest of Res Life), which meant getting a ride to the airport was not an option. So I had to take two different buses to get to the airport, and then when I arrived in Phoenix, take two different buses to get to the hotel (at least, this was the cheapest transportation option).
This kind of thing terrifies me. I am the kind of person who thrives on routine, on the familiar. I hate not knowing what I'm doing, afraid of missing a connection or wandering around in circles looking for signs. I'm afraid of getting on the wrong bus, afraid I'll have to rush to catch something else going in the opposite direction, afraid I'll miss my flight.
But I did it anyway. Here's what helped.
Not Being Ashamed to Be Nervous
There is no rule that says that to own a new situation that scares you, you have to do it and not be afraid while you do it. Screw that. While on the bus, I told myself, "Yes! You are nervous and afraid! But that's OK because you're doing it anyway! Go you!" How much more awesome do you have to be to be super anxious and still do it anyway, than to do something that doesn't make you break a sweat?
Extremely Detailed Plans
I owe a debt of gratitude to Daniel, the guy who compiles the annual unofficial guide to the GCN conference. His guide not only included every possible option for getting from the Phoenix airport to the hotel, but it was complete with Google Street View screenshots of what the bus stops looked like. I need that kind of detail. I did the same thing for getting to the airport in Whoville, using Google Maps and writing out in excruciating detail for myself where to get on the bus, which stop to get off at approximately what time, and where to walk and stand to get on the next bus.
If you're like me and the thought of getting lost or getting on the wrong bus freaks you out, one way to look at it is as if you're arranging a trip for another person who is not involved in the planning at all and has a tendency to get lost. You'd write up a lot of details to get them where they're going. You can alleviate your own anxieties some by doing the same.
Big Time Pockets
I make fun of my dad for needing to get to the airport ridiculously early, but when it's me by myself going to a new airport, I do the same. At every step of my itinerary, I had listed which bus to take, and then which bus to take if I missed that one. And if that happened, I was leaving early enough that I'd still get to the airport in plenty of time to check in and board. My flight got in several hours before I had to check in at the hotel, which meant I had a cushion of time to get lost or miss a bus connection and still make it to there before the start of the conference. This turned out to be a blessing when it turned out I needed to be on the complete opposite side of the airport to catch the bus I needed, and had to take a half hour shuttle ride to get to the right part of the airport.
Asking for Help
I have a hard time talking to strangers, but I've learned to get over this when I get lost or confused about which way to go, or I just want to double-check I'm on the right bus. There's no shame in saying, "Excuse me, where do I catch the bus that goes to the airport?" "Excuse me, do you know where this gate is?" I do this even if I'm pretty sure I'm in the right place, just as I way to reduce my anxiety.
I did everything within my control to make sure I wasn't going to be uncomfortable, hungry, or tired on top of being anxious. I got lots of sleep the night before. I picked out an outfit that I look and feel good in, that wouldn't cause too many problems in airport security. I picked an aisle seat when I made my plane reservation so I could use the bathroom as often as I needed to. I got myself something to eat as soon as I got off the plane. After all, while it's a little disconcerting to take public transportation in a new city by yourself, it's downright miserable to do so while you're hungry and have to pee.
When I travel by car, I have a tendency to take everything but the kitchen sink. I pack a suitcase, I have my small purse, I fill my shoulder bag, I bring my laptop, and when I remember I bring my own pillow because of my neck. For this trip, I packed everything tightly into a carry-on suitcase and transferred what I needed from my purse into my shoulder bag. It helped because I didn't feel like a big lumbering fool getting on each public transit at each leg of the trip, and it helped me feel reassured that I hadn't lost or forgotten anything because I only had two bags to keep track of. I then checked my carry-on suitcase at the gate so I only had my big purse to worry about. Also, without Mike there to take over if my bags started hurting my shoulders, I put as much as possible into the suitcase and the bare minimum in my shoulder bag.
Know Your Limits
You may notice I was trying to save money wherever possible, since I'd already put a lot of money toward my conference registration, flight, and hotel. But after it took me several hours to get from the airport to the hotel, including having the bus route end earlier than expected and having to walk the last half mile, I decided that laying down some extra money was well worth the headache and anxiety it was going to cause me to get back to the airport. I booked a reservation on the airport shuttle, and as it turned out I shared the ride with two of the friends I'd made at the conference.
All of the above helped to make the process of traveling by myself, to a new place where I knew no one, less scary. And since I'm trying to find more peace this year, I need as much of that as I can get.
How do you feel about traveling alone to new places? What do you do to make it easier for yourself?