Travel Triumphs: When Practice Makes Perfect

I call this shot 'fearless driving'--though there's no bridge or tunnel!

Last Monday I admitted that no matter how many trips I take, I always get nervous before I leave, and at some point during each trip there’s something that is difficult, frustrating, or scary.  However, this is not to say that traveling doesn’t get easier the more you do it.  It completely does–in several important ways.

Packing is easier

I no longer need a list when packing–which is impressive, given my obsession with list-making.  Though I suppose I do have a list–it just lives in my head, much the same way your grandmother’s chocolate cake recipe lives in hers.  It’s second nature, and I very rarely forget to add the baking soda.  Though I’m sure that because I just typed that I will forget something extremely important while packing tomorrow–but even so, I’ll know how to handle it (because really, the only two things you need when you travel are your passport or other ID and your Visa card–everything else can be purchased!)

Planning is easier

While this current trip grew and changed over the course of the planning process, the fact is that I threw it together rather quickly.  But more than that, I’ve devised planning routines and habits that have now become second nature.  Before I even hit ‘submit’ on the ‘buy this flight now’ page, I’ve already created a Google Doc to begin recording my confirmation numbers.  Each reservation that gets added to the trip is added to that document as I make it, and voila–the day before I leave I can email it to myself, copy/past it into the memo section of my iPhone, and I’m off–with every important piece of information backed up in three different places.

Getting comfortable somewhere new takes less time

I’m really good at packing, but I’m equally good at unpacking.  I can make the smallest space feel like home in under ten minutes.  Netbook on flat surface, toiletry bag near the shower, glass located for wine consumption and I’m good to go.  And by ‘go’ I mean ‘out into wherever it is that I’m visiting’.

This is the point where getting comfortable is really important.  It’s one thing to be comfortable safely ensconced in one’s hotel room–but that’s not really the point of travel, now is it?  On my trip to New Orleans, I hadn’t even checked into my room when I hit the ground running, walking for miles around and through the French Quarter, pointing my camera at things and scouting the surrounding areas for good restaurants and bars (and by ‘scouting’ I mean ‘marveling at the sheer quantity of restaurants and bars’).  I hadn’t been in town for an hour when I found my first public restroom–a very crucial find when you are Tracy-of-the-small-bladder.

Overcoming fears becomes easier

It is impossible to plan a trip around avoiding things you are afraid of.  Ok–maybe it’s not impossible, but it sure sounds difficult.  Sure, if you don’t like to fly, you can take the train.  But what if you want to go to London?  Last time I checked, a train wasn’t an option from where I live.  The good news is that travel cures you of these fears by forcing you to face them.  Sure, it can be uncomfortable at times, but it does make you a stronger–and more adventurous–person.

I used to hate dealing with people in certain situations–the hostess at a restaurant, the person manning the check-in desk.  I admit, younger-me made my husband ask for a table for two or inquire about the location of a corkscrew at the concierge desk.  Solo travel has completely cured me of that fear.  I’ll step right up to the hostess stand at the nicest restaurant in town and ask if there’s a table for one–or, better yet, space at the bar where I can dine.  I’ve checked into more hotels than I can count on two hands all by myself–and nothing bad ever happened.  It was a fear that I had to overcome–but overcome it I did.

And, shockingly, once-upon-a-time I had a gripping fear of driving on highways.  I’d have complete panic attacks just merging into traffic, and it didn’t get any better from there.  But of course, if one wants to travel as much as I do, one has to drive on highways.  One solo trip from Pennsylvania to the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina cured me of that fear.  Here’s hoping this next trip–to San Francisco, Napa, and Yosemite–cures me of my current all-consuming fear: driving over bridges and, especially, through tunnels.  The only way north out of San Francisco is on the Golden Gate Bridge, and the only way into Yosemite is through a tunnel.  Guess I get to cross two more fears off my fear list!

Do you have any travel triumphs of your own?  Fears you’ve overcome or skills you’ve learned while on the road?  Share them in the comments section below! 


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