I’ve been trying to write this post for over a week. I’ve started and deleted half a dozen variations on it, but haven’t been able to narrow down to a central theme. I had wanted to post something last week, but here we are, two days out from departing, and I still can’t figure out what to write.
So let’s just go with the thoughts that have been bouncing around my head for the last week and see what happens.
Six weeks is a long time. It’ll go fast, for sure, but it’s a long time to be away from the cats, from our friends, from our house. There’s a lot to prepare before leaving the country. Setting up lawn care. Getting enough of all my prescriptions. Rerouting our mail. Booking trains and planes and accommodations. Hair cuts, doctor appointments, laundry, yard work. In short, a lot of adulting.
There’s even more to prepare for our home exchange: professionally cleaning the house. Cleaning out the fridge and pantry. Putting new (cat hair-free) sheets on the bed. Emptying drawers and making space in the closet for our home swapping partners. Moving hard drives and computers over to my parents’ house.
Then there’s preparing to work entirely remotely for six weeks. Setting up remote desktop. Double checking all of our backups. Preparing my team for the major timezone difference. Easing client concerns. Training our new hires. Figuring out how to go from working on two 27″ monitors to living on my MacBook Air. It’s an adjustment.
But just beyond our mile-long todo list is the shiny light of adventure and new experiences. Justin’s never been out of the country and, while I have traveled to Europe many times, I’ve never quite taken a trip like this.
Partly vacation, partly just living (and working) in another country for a month. Some very familiar locations, some brand new ones. One third Airbnbs, two thirds Home Exchange — which in itself is a very familiar experience versus a very new experience.
To Plan or Not to Plan
Because I’m a Type A worrier, I’ve always been a planner. I like to know what’s going on, be able to mentally prepare, and also have something to look forward to. But I married someone who is not a planner, and this has occasionally been a point of contention during our relationship. I think we’ve done a pretty good job over the last seven years of compromising and finding a middle ground between over-planning and being spontaneous, both in our social life at home and in our travels.
For this trip, we have made ZERO plans. Aside from where we’re sleeping and how we’re getting from place to place, we don’t know what we’re doing. And I’m more than okay with this arrangement. I know what’s going on in that I know what city we’ll be in on what day and when we’re leaving and where we are staying. And we also get to be spontaneous day to day, deciding what to do in the moment, when we’re there. We did this for two weeks when we went on our Honeymoon, and when we went to Puerto Rico, to great success! Those were both super fun, super relaxing trips. We did a lot, saw a lot, but were never rushed and didn’t feel overplanned.
I haven’t even really researched the cities we’re visiting with my usual thoroughness. I know very little about Barcelona and Bruges, next to nothing about Budapest, and considering we’ll have so much time in the Hague, we’ll just figure it out when we’re there. Paris is the only city for which I have a vague plan in mind, and really it’s just a list of things I want to do or show Justin while we’re there: visit my old apartment building; drink a bottle of wine on le pont des arts; see the city from Sacré Coeur; eat a crêpe a day; drink a cocktail at La Rhumerie.
Aside from showing Justin my Paris, the Paris I fell in love with, there’s a list of things I want to see and do in the other cities too – eating tapas, visiting Park Guell and spending a day at the beach in Barcelona; tasting Belgian beer, and seeing the Belfry tower in Bruges; going to the baths in Budapest; visiting family friends, hanging out at the dunes and legally buying weed in Holland.
But that’s it. Those are the plans we have. (So if you have any suggestions, send ’em our way!) We’ll just take each city day by day, and see what we see.
The last two trips to Europe have both been with my dad. In 2009, we were gone for 3 weeks: two weeks in Paris, a few days in Bad Schwartau, and a few days in Amsterdam. We packed an entire suitcase of computer equipment so we could still get work done. In 2012, my brother and his then-girlfriend joined us for a two week trip to Paris and Amsterdam, with them hitting up Bruges while my dad and I worked a conference at EuroDisney.
Before 2009, the last overseas trip I took was when I moved to France for my third year of college, in 2005. My dad flew with me, and we spent two weeks together before he went home. His French was far superior to mine, and this was the first time I would be living by myself. I wanted and needed some help getting settled in. We took an awesome road trip around France, and he helped me get situated in my new neighborhood and my first apartment.
Notice a recurring theme with all of the Euro trips? My dad was there for every single one of them, and our family’s first two trips to Europe in 1996 and 1999. Next Tuesday will be my first trip to Europe without my dad. Guess I’m all grown up now. 😉
“Make sure you come back,” my uncle Jerry said to me a couple weeks ago. “Don’t make me have to get on a plane and go over there.”
Everyone’s been very supportive of our adventure, but we’ve also received our fair share of concern. Recent world events have made international travel a little scarier than usual. Now, in addition to the usual concerns of crashing planes, we have terrorists blowing people up at airports. But we refuse to let those assholes ruin our plans.
When I was talking about this with Charlotte, a dear friend of mine who is going on her own six week European adventure later this fall, for PhD research, I asked her, “Are you worried at all?” I didn’t elaborate or specify what I meant, because she knew. Are you worried about being killed in a terrorist attack? She shrugged and said something I keep coming back to in my mind: “If I am, I won’t be around to be upset by it. So why should I be worried now?”
Chances of something happening are slim, but we are still taking precautions. We’ve registered our travel plans with the state department; our parents have our full itineraries; and by printing our boarding passes and only using carryon luggage, we’ll spend less time outside of security (where incidents tend to happen).
The last few years have been quite a struggle for me anxiety-wise. As a naturally worrisome person and a born people-pleaser, I stress out about everything. Conversations replay in my mind years after they happen; minor transgressions or mistakes flit through my brain as I’m trying to fall asleep; irrational fears that should be molehills become mountains. And because my anxiety tends to manifest as stomach cramps and nausea, I get anxious about the bathroom situation wherever I go.
In short, I get anxious about getting anxious.
It’s a vicious circle, and one that has gotten worse as I’ve gotten older. I’ve been combating it the best I can, trying therapy (again) last fall; practicing EFT, yoga and meditation (and failing!); drinking tension taming teas and eating natural mood enhancing foods. I’ve tried acupuncture, and am currently on both beta blockers and anti-anxiety meds, and I’m always armed with a full pharmacy in my purse.
And now I’m trying something new: talking about it and being more open. There’s a stigma associated with anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses, that causes those of us who suffer from these things to hide them out of guilt, shame, fear of reproach or judgement. (More anxiety about the anxiety!) But not talking about the things that bother us only gives them control and lets them bother us more.
No more, I say!
For the last few weeks I’ve been using TalkSpace, a text-based therapy that is a fraction of the price of in-person therapy, and much more consistent. I didn’t know what to expect and, as always, was a little skeptical but still willing to try whatever might work. And I’ve got to say, I really like it. My therapist has me keeping a food and mood journal (to find what are actual triggers for my body). He gives me writing prompts and visualization exercises and weekly assignments, such as creating a playlist of motivating, get-me-pumped-up songs to listen to every morning as I get ready for the day. Things that I can do anywhere, at home and, especially, why traveling. I started TalkSpace in an attempt to get better before departing on this 43-day journey, to lower my stress levels, and to make sure I enjoy this adventure more than I worry about it. And you know what? I FEEL GREAT.
The things that normally stress me out before a trip are falling to the way-side. One of my biggest struggles has always been caring too much about what other people think, especially strangers. For example, I always get an aisle seat near the back of the plane because then if I have to get up, I don’t have to bother my seatmates and can sneak to the bathroom without the entire plane watching me walk down the aisle. Stupid, right? Why do they care? They aren’t looking at me, they don’t know who I am, I will never see them again, and even if I did, why do I care? Logically, I shouldn’t. And TalkSpace has been helping me, little by little, stop caring so much and adopt a more DGAF attitude. It’s not entirely natural, but this trip will be a really good opportunity to practice and remind myself: no one cares what you’re doing.
Which brings me to the other usual pre-trip worry: what if I forget something?
Instead of freaking out that we might leave something important behind, I’m now saying (out loud, and often!): so what? We are going to Western Europe. They have stores. They accept credit cards. We can literally buy anything we might need. So I’m not even packing toiletries like shampoo, conditioner, face wash, etc. Why worry about trying to shove everything we need into 3 oz bottles, when we can just buy full size bottles to last us the whole time after we land? And while I was concerned about trying to pack for all possible weather conditions from Barcelona in August to Holland in mid-September, I know we’ll be unprepared for something and it literally does not matter. We can buy whatever we need when we need it.
Justin was concerned about the language barrier, and for the last couple years I was too. Oh we’ll have plenty of time to learn Spanish! I thought. But you know what? It’s effing hard to learn a language when you aren’t in a classroom environment, being given homework, and practicing every day. I’ve restarted Spanish on DuoLingo three times. I’ve listened to episodes of Coffee Break Spanish. I’ve watched a couple Spanish TV shows. And now? I barely speak enough Spanish to order at a Mexican restaurant. But I am not worrying about it. Millions of monolingual tourists have traveled before us, and as long as we are polite, gracious and friendly, I do not anticipate many problems. (And thankfully I speak enough French to get us by in Paris, the one place where we might run into some trouble.)
I am not cured, and I have to take things day-by-day, but I am hopeful, optimistic, and determined to not let my anxiety get the best of me during this adventure.
So that’s it. This blog took me all weekend to write, and we leave TOMORROW. Our out of office messages are set, our bags are packed, and the cats are already having a blast at Grandma’s. Guess there’s only one thing left to say: adios, au revoir and tot ziens!