Here is a photo that summarizes my trip-planning progress:
I depart in 15 days. I am in full-blown “What if?” mode.
What if I get pickpocketed in Rome (not a far-fetched scenario—my nephew’s wallet was stolen in Rome last year). What if I’m packing too much into this itinerary and I won’t be able to appreciate it all? What if I miss a flight/train/bus? What if people feel sorry for me, a woman traveling alone? What if I forget my phone charger? What if I show up at a hotel and they have no record of my reservation and no rooms? What if I rent a car in Spain, and I forget to ask them to give me an English-language GPS, and my Spanish isn’t good enough for me to follow the directions? What if my son doesn’t water my plants while I’m gone and they all die? What if I fail to blog along the way, which means I’ll have schlepped my laptop all over for no reason? What if I trip and fall into a cistern at Pompeii and it gets dark and no one knows I’m there and … are there wild jackals in Italy?
So you see, I have been busy. I really should have pursued a career in disaster planning. I would have been a natural at it.
I laugh kindly at myself as I observe the endless chain of what ifs come and go. I will prepare as well as I can. I will resist the urge to over prepare, because that would allow no space for spontaneity. I will deal with anything unexpected as it arises.
On Friday night my sister joined me and some friends for happy hour. Long-time readers of this blog will remember that while my son was in prison, there was plenty of additional excitement in my life. It’s never just one thing, is it? There was a plumbing problem in my apartment which caused me to have no kitchen for six weeks. I tripped and sprained a knee ligament and was on crutches for about the same six weeks. My mother was her third major car accident, which caused micro fractures in her spine and led to her giving up driving.
And then … my sister was battling Stage 4 colon cancer. She went through hell. She’s been cancer free for a year and a half but she’s still dealing with the lingering effects of it all—the surgeries, chemo, radiation, and all the other aspects of life that are affected by a life-threatening illness—finances, keeping up with a house and yard, two teenage kids, getting her strength back. The list goes on.
How is this connected to traveling? Because at happy hour we talked about the phrase “You’re so strong.” My sister hears it a lot. I used to hear it a lot when I was a single mom pulling myself up by the proverbial boot straps. Other friends had been through trials and had heard it too.
We all agreed that we hate the phrase.
“What choice did I have?” my sister asked. Right. I had thought the same thing many times when people had said “You’re so brave!” What choice did I have? I admit I had occasional fantasies about dropping my son off at my mom’s and running away to Florida. I know there are people who abandon their kids, and people who avoid getting treatment for serious illnesses because they’re in denial or afraid. But the vast majority of us just do what needs to be done because the alternative would be hurtful to ourselves or others.
“Being strong is when you are afraid of something,” said a member of our group, a psychotherapist who is also a cancer survivor. “And you do it anyway, even though you could choose not to and there wouldn’t be any consequences.”
And that’s how this relates to travel, especially for someone like me who travels solo a lot. I do have anxious thoughts about getting lost, being swindled, being disappointed. But I go anyway. The fear of regretting that I never saw the Amalfi Coast is stronger than the what ifs.