Where Logic Meets Love

Traveling to New Places: A Guide for Control Freaks Like Me

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

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Traveling to New Places: A Guide for Control Freaks Like Me | Faith Permeating Life

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.

Travel Light
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?


  1. Loved all your strategies! I am definitely an over-planner when it comes to trips and traveling. I get the same sense of anxiety riding any form of public transportation, and don't get me started on my fear of missing a connection or a bus ride. I have definitely found that the more prepared I am, and the more time I give myself to get places, the more relaxed it is. I like to create a Word document that has the addresses, check in/check out times, phone numbers, flight numbers and times, for everywhere I'm going. When we were in Orlando two years ago, I had a list of all the parks we wanted to go to, when they opened and closed, the price, and where to catch the free shuttle to get there. It made it easy to change our plans because we knew what our options were!

    Good for you for braving that trip by yourself!!

    1. I had forgotten about your fear of public transportation! Yes, you understand. Thanks for adding your tip about compiling the contact information and other details. I had with me the new iPad I got for Christmas, so I'd had all my flight / hotel / conference registration conference e-mails Boomerang to my inbox the day before the trip and then had all the information right there. I discovered too late in the game that Apple's new Maps app (which iPads come with instead of Google Maps now) doesn't have a public transportation option, but I could at least use the map to see how close we were getting to my stop, and it all worked out fine.

  2. I think this is excellent advice...but I read it kind of marveling at how little I worry about this kind of thing anymore. My brother and I took our first trip without adults or "unaccompanied minor" status--which included changing planes in O'Hare--when I was 12 and he was 9. We used an unfamiliar public transit system without adults when we were 16 and 13. At age 18 I moved to a new city via 2 planes and 2 buses. Yes, I was nervous, but my parents had taught me good skills when we traveled together, and each success was very heartening. I lived for 7 years in car-free households, so I got very accustomed to figuring out transit, and it's been a long time since I got anxious about it without a good reason. Example of a good reason: We were once on our way to the airport for an international flight (supposed to arrive 2 hours early) when our bus had to stop for a PARADE of which the transit authority had not been informed! It was nerve-wracking, but arriving 1 1/2 hours early turned out to be good enough.

    Resisting shame about your nervousness is a particularly good tip. One of the few bad moments in our three-city public-transit vacation with a six-year-old came when I expressed doubt about whether we needed to take a downtown or uptown subway, and my partner's response sounded as if he thought it was OBVIOUS, which led me to feel stupid and clueless and ashamed and incompetent, although of course that wasn't what he intended; I was so shaken that I really didn't feel okay until we were above ground again, where I could see multiple street signs and landmarks and get my bearings.

    One thing I would add to your list is having a backup for your technology. My cousin recently took a business trip to San Francisco, used her iPhone all day for various handy uses, then went sightseeing. When she whipped out the phone to get directions back to the hotel, it was dead. She realized she had no map, didn't know the address of the hotel, and couldn't recall the route number of the train! She found a series of strangers who were able to help her, but she felt really dumb! Although the Internet is fabulous for planning travels, I prefer to write down my plans on paper and use technology only if plans have to change. (This goes even for getting driving/walking directions: I've found that if I write them, I *think* about them, may notice any errors, and have a better memory of what I'm planning to do than if I just print them or plan to read them onscreen.)

    1. That's a great tip about the technology. I tend to shy away from paper where possible (I think as a reaction to working in a place that wastes a lot of paper!) and compensate by making sure everything's fully charged and information is stored on it already in case I can't get an Internet connection. But I suppose having everything together on a single sheet would have benefits greatly outweighing the costs! I will keep this in mind next time I travel.

    2. Well, of course, it's possible to lose your paper, too! The very best thing is to remember it, if you can. Usually it's too much info to keep straight in your memory reliably, but I try at least to memorize route numbers and stop names.

      By the way, I've been reading recently that the rate of smartphone theft in New York City is very high and it's rising in other places. That is a reason to be cautious about whipping out the phone every time you need info or walking around with it in your hand while you're distracted trying to find a bus stop...but I bet that a person as nervous as you is already very wary of thieves.

    3. Well, I don't own a smartphone, but yes, I keep that in mind when using my iPad in public. One of my former coworkers got her iPad stolen while using it at Panera Bread.


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