It hit me yesterday morning when I woke up in a cold sweat at 2am that I was going to Cuba in 3 days and wanted to spill my cookies immediately.
This happens before every trip I take. I tend to freak out and convince myself I’ve made a huge mistake every single time I get on a plane, so I know to ignore it and try to chill out. But the panic came a few days earlier than it normally would have.
Maybe it’s because my coworker told me to bring my own toilet paper and the bathroom situation is rough. I haven’t ever been to a communist country before, so the changes are going to be vast compared to my European and Aussie travels where I could hop on WIFI and communicate fairly regularly if needed.
Maybe it’s because I decided to learn as much Spanish on Duolingo as I could and now my Spanish skills basically include me saying useless things like, “The spider eats the penguin,” which I am praying is a phrase based on the vocabulary I knew at the time and not a real situation that comes up in life.
Or maybe it’s because I’m rusty on my traveling.
It’s a weird thing to say because I have done nothing but travel this year. But it’s been through the US. I know what I’m getting into. I have data and texts/calls on my phone so I can get a hold of anyone, and talk to Siri while I’m driving and she’s taking me down some road I’m convinced is wrong.
Taking a trip to a place that is a timewarp to the 1960’s is a massive part of the appeal for me in Havana. But knowing that comes with traveling limitations will be new as well.
I used to travel to Europe a few times a year. Nothing makes me feel more like myself than being in total culture shock. Some people freeze up. I thrive. It’s a weird thing to love, but knowing how other people live on other parts of the globe is amazing to me.
But I haven’t done that in two years now. I moved to Seattle and that meant more US travel for me and less “out of the comfort zone” travel, unless Kansas and Utah count as that.
I woke up in a panic, ready to vomit, thinking maybe I’m too old to keep up with this. There was something to being young and spry that made me fearless. Then I remembered that I’ve never done anything but harbor fear before every trip.
The unknown is scary. No matter how many books I read or how long I have wanted to go to a place, it doesn’t matter. I’m naturally anxious until I get there. And once I arrive I quickly realize everything is fine, and I love every second of it.
I always think back to my first trip every time something like this happens. I went to France when I was 17 on a school trip. I was with people who knew what was going on, everything was planned out, all I had to do was stay with the group. I even took French so had a basic background in the language. There was nothing to panic about.
But I freaked out. I hated flying. And I’d never been outside of the US. The unknown is horrifying.
Then our flight got cancelled and I had to call my parents to pick me up from the airport. I was convinced it was a sign I shouldn’t be going on the trip. What was the universe trying to tell me? Stay here. Don’t do this scary thing.
But I woke up, got my ass on that plane the next day, and flew in with my stomach in knots for hours convinced I was never coming back alive and would never see my loved ones again.
The second I set foot in the city, I was in love. All of my fear was gone, and I knew there wouldn’t be enough minutes in this trip to fulfill my thirst to explore this place. It would never be enough. On the plane ride home I was depressed, knowing a whole world was out there and I’d never see it all. So I took out my journal, and at 17 planned where I was going to go on my next trip, and I would plan it myself and do exactly what I wanted.
Fast forward 4 years later and I took that trip with two of my friends in college. Then I started traveling alone. And it was horrifying every single time. But it was a high that I’ve never gotten from anything else.
And it wasn’t always easy. The nightmare that was the first few days of my life in Prague when I had the genius idea to move there for a month after college is one for the record books (if you haven’t heard the story, get a drink in me someday and I’ll tell you the series of unfortunate events that would seem fitting for a movie).
To say I was broken was an understatement. I woke up the next day thinking that I didn’t know how I would get out of bed. I had to talk myself through every single step of getting ready for the day. But I forced myself out of my apartment every day to have more difficult interactions and learned my full potential. And by the end, I actually enjoyed my time there, and I was a pro at making an ass of myself on a daily basis and feeling zero shame. And I knew I would be fine traveling alone from that point on.
But there’s always that twinge of fear. I suppose it keeps me honest. It’s a hard thing, breaching your comfort zone. More people have heard my travel stories and tell me how brave they think I am for getting out there. I laugh every single time, because brave is not a word I would ever use to describe myself. I’m terrified. But I do it anyways. I get there, and then the unknown is brought into light, and I realize that I didn’t actually have anything to be afraid of in the first place.