For months you’ve looked forward to this moment. Every time you’ve got up at 7am to go to work and thought “fuck this”, your mind has instantly drifted to the epic journey that awaits you. You’ve scraped, scrimped and saved as much as possible and meticulously planned your itinerary. Everything is in place. There’s nothing left to do. Except get on that plane.
Yet you’re more anxious than you’ve ever been before.
It’s funny. 9 years ago when I boarded a flight to Thailand – my first big trip abroad – there wasn’t a shred of doubt or anxiety in my mind. I felt nothing but sheer excitement. I was off to Thailand for a month, then coming back to relax at home for a few weeks before heading back to university. Simple. No worries. Let the good times roll (and that they did).
A travel blogger who suffers from travel anxiety. Go figure.
Last year, at 28 years of age, I was a nervous wreck before boarding my flight to Cuba. In fact, I’d felt sick all week. One moment I’d be dreaming of hiking volcanoes and sipping Margaritas; the next I’d be losing my shit thinking what the fuck are you getting yourself into?
Pretty ridiculous coming from someone who calls himself a travel blogger, right?
But travel blogging, at least for me, is not a full-time gig. Before last year’s trip, which ended up lasting five months, I was freelancing as a copywriter in Spain, having called time on a breezy career teaching English. I knew then the more responsible thing to do was crack on with a new career, either in Spain or the UK. I mean, I was 28 years old FFS. I’d had my fun. But if I took that step, then when would I get the opportunity to travel long-term again?
I had to do it. I had to go travelling with nothing holding me back; no fixed contract, no mortgage, no serious relationship, no nut’n! All that could go on hold for a bit longer. But I still couldn’t help but think I was being kind of reckless.
Also, I’d just splashed out on a new laptop and camera (which I highly recommend), and was carrying $700 in cash because I’d read that withdrawing money in Cuba was not to be relied upon (which later turned out to be completely FALSE information). So essentially I felt like a human mugger magnet. Everyone I’d spoken to assured me that I was indeed stupid and would indeed be robbed. But I didn’t listen. I needed my laptop to work and I wanted a new camera to be able to take pictures like this:
The night before I hadn’t slept a wink. I must have packed, unpacked and re-packed my bags about 5 times. My head was spinning, heart racing, mind wandering. I knew there wouldn’t be any Wifi in Cuba so it was as though I was about to “go dark”. Did I have everything I needed? Was there enough money in my account? Had I tied up all my emails? Was there anything I hadn’t thought of!?
I’d never been more intensely nervous.
The next morning I had a Blablacar ride to Madrid arranged for 6am (awesome alternative to buses by the way). The driver couldn’t have been less enthusiastic about my trip, but I still couldn’t sleep. Head still spinning, heart still racing, mind still wandering. In fact, even my finger had wandered its way over to the window button, ready to pounce in the event those butterflies decided to escape my stomach (which would not have been pretty).
Later we picked up a Chilean girl who was going home for Christmas. Unlike the driver, she was full of questions. She wanted to know EVERYTHING about my trip. And when I admitted I was feeling “a little” nervous, she said exactly what I needed to hear. “No te preocupes! Todo estará bien! Vas a pasar un viaje increíble! Hay que aprovechar el momento mientras que estás jóven!”; Spanish for “It will all be fine. Don’t worry”.
Then I could sleep. A bit.
I wish I could say I woke up feeling a million dollars better, but I actually felt like a giant pile of steaming dinosaur turd (car napping is just never ideal). However, my nervousness had waned slightly and a welcome sense of adventure had begun to creep back in. When we arrived in Madrid the Chilean girl and I paid the driver, who grunted something that sounded like “buen viaje” but I couldn’t be sure.
We took the Metro to the airport together and talked enthusiastically about travel. I hadn’t realised earlier but this girl was actually very cute. Yes, my mood was finally lifting! All I needed was a little encouragement from a cute Chilean girl. But when we had to say goodbye at the airport I suddenly felt panic again. We’d only known each other for 5 hours and most of that time had been spent sleeping. Yet bizarrely I really didn’t want her to leave. Oh God. Do I love her? No you don’t, you idiot. Pull yourself together for God’s sake!
I manned up, said goodbye (like it was nothing, ha!), checked in and went through security. What cute Chilean girl? I thought casually, as I breezed through the departures lounge. That cute Chilean girl over there my head retorted. Damn it! Yes, there she was up ahead queuing for coffee.
Well I had to go over didn’t I? This, surely, was a sign. We sat and had coffee together for maybe about half an hour before she had to leave me – AGAIN! Once was bad enough but twice? I was too emotionally vulnerable for this shit. Before she went I saved her name on my phone and vowed to add her on Facebook (whether she liked it or not).
It was tough, but admittedly had been a welcome distraction.
By the time I’d boarded the plane, I was ready. Ready for the absolute best adventure of my life; ready to discover Cuba, a country that had fascinated me for years; ready to be robbed blind the moment I set foot in Havana. Only joking.
But I was in the zone, eager to chat to anyone who cared to listen. To my right was a pregnant Valencian woman who was flying to Havana to meet her ex-Cuban lover and give birth. On my left an older Spanish chap who’d been to Cuba on business many times before. The three of us got on famously. I admired her for going to Cuba so the father could witness his child’s birth, and I admired him for his career in international business. They both admired me for my “bravery”.
The man showed us a video on his phone of a dog dancing salsa with its master. I absolutely killed myself laughing. Wasn’t even that funny. The point was that I was no longer anxious; just incredibly happy and excited to be doing what I was doing.
So if you’re on the verge of a huge solo trip during an uncertain period of your life, then I say this: The buildup to a big trip is when travel anxiety creeps in. If it does, then don’t panic, stay calm, be open and make an effort to get to know every new person you meet – whether its a cute Chilean girl, a pregnant Valencian woman or an elderly Spanish man with a strange obsession with dog videos.
Your adventure starts the moment you leave home. And it’s gonna be awesome.
Do you get nervous before a big trip? How do you cope? Does the feeling disappear as soon as you land? If you enjoyed this story, share! 🙂