I have never been very good at the travel part of being a travel writer.
As I’ve mentioned, I was primarily a travel journalist before I got a dog and became a dog writer and then found out that I was the great niece of Sigmund Freud’s butcher and started this blog. That biographical tidbit wasn’t especially relevant–until now, because I’m headed to Vienna.
I thought I’d try to capitalize on my return to my former bailiwick with a bit of click bait–say, Seven Tips for Successful Overseas Travel, preferably accompanied by a slide show. But I don’t have the photoshop skills to fake pictures of clothing rolled neatly in state-of-the art luggage, so I’ve decided to come clean.
Not only am I an anxious traveler in general, but it’s been about seven years since I’ve left the U.S. And this trip is primarily for research, networking, and information gathering, not recreation. I need to be on the top of my game.
I’m not putting any pressure on myself or anything.
So I’m here today to tell you that, if you think everyone else gets really excited and happy when preparing to leave town, thus adding a sense of inadequacy to your pre-trip anxiety–forget it. Even so-called pros get pre-trip agita. Some more than most.
Among the things on top of my worry list…
It’s hard to explain, but I often go into a kind of fugue state when I pack. That peasant blouse I bought in Oaxaca two decades ago and that has been hanging in my closet ever since? The act of hauling out a suitcase triggers a common sense-removal mechanism; I become convinced that it will be perfect for a trip.
Or I might decide to pack all-black items. This renders my wardrobe a bit more age- and occasion-appropriate–and might make me fit right into Vienna, not known as a party town–but it’s also a bit depressing. Anyone who sees me is likely to wonder if I’m in mourning. Of course, suggesting that I am might justify any excessive beer and pastry consumption.
In my pre-travel writing days, I didn’t especially care about my appearance. On vacation, it was easy to rationalize, “So I look like a dork. These people will never see me again.” But I am meeting a lot of folks on whom I would like to make a good impression–or at least not one so bad that they will lose all faith in my abilities to be a professional and withdraw their support.
That said, rumor has it that travel writers are notorious for looking like dorks. I wish I could just relax and give in to the stereotype instead of trying to buck the tide.
Fear of Fees and Lost Luggage
No question: Airlines have begun nickel and diming travelers. I won’t get into the ridiculous leg room, aisle seat, and food fees. My point here is that, whereas once two free bags were par for the course, now airlines charge for check-ins (in some cases one piece is free, but never two). Then there are the lost luggage horror stories. I don’t want to spend a week in Vienna rinsing out my spare pair of underwear in the hotel sink, and I don’t want to have to buy new ones, which would require trying to figure out my Austrian panty size with a German-speaking shop clerk.
I became obsessed with trying to travel with only carry-on baggage.
If you are only going to travel with carry on, it’s important to limit the gear you’re taking. As a researcher/interviewer, my essentials have included:
- A laptop
- A recording device (for interviews)
- A camera
- A phone
Then there are the personal electronic items.
- A CD player to listen to talking books, which I borrow from the library. They put me to sleep at night, or prevent me from worrying about whether I can fall asleep.
I realize that I inherited this habit, as I did my travel anxiety, from my mother who, in the days before library books on CD or tape existed, used to listen to talk radio at night. It’s always a shock to discover the many ways in which I’ve turned into my mother.
But I digress.
I should mention that I don’t have a smart phone; the only thing semi-intelligent it does is text and take pictures. And yes, in case you had any doubt, I am a technosaur.
My Tryst with a Tablet
Because all of the aforementioned electronic items would take up a considerable amount of carry-on space, I decided it was time for me to master the Samsung Galaxy tablet that I won in a contest nearly three years ago.
With the proper apps, I decided, it could substitute for my laptop, tape recorder, and CD player.
I called in a tech guy to teach me some basics. I went to the library for help with book downloading. I enlisted the aid of my friend John, who loaned me a bluetooth keyboard to use with the tablet, so I wouldn’t have to type on weird electronic keys.
At the end of about a week of intensive training—a lot of it by people who were as stymied by many things as I was, I want you to know—my anxiety levels were through the roof.
Giving In to Check-In
Screw it, I finally decided. I’m checking a suitcase. That way, I can take the tablet along to carry during the day in case I need to check email messages—especially if I can’t figure out how to use my phone with its Austrian SIM card. If I find an Austrian SIM card. And yes, I will be taking along lots of notebooks and pens.
I won’t even go into my (abandoned) quest for the perfect luggage once I decided to give up the carryon-only scheme. Just ask my friend Martha. When I lived in New York, she and I would make an annual pilgrimage to the Lower East Side, convinced we would find the latest travel items at incredible discounts there. I suspect we continued the tradition long after we both realized it was fruitless, because we always had so much fun.
I decided to go with what I had: A perfectly serviceable old red suitcase to check and, to take on the plane, a backpack and tote bag with lots of compartments (see picture next to this post’s title). Both of these latter are swag from press trips around Arizona—just so you know that I’m not all complaints about the life of a travel writer. They’re large enough to carry my Old World electronics and several underwear changes.
But wait, there’s more
Lack of a sense of direction, the Euro-dollar exchange rate, inadequate language skills, fear of not sleeping and therefore of having a psychotic break in the middle of an interview with a crucial source (or missing the appointment altogether because of a lack of sense of direction)… these are a few more things that keep me awake at night, talking books notwithstanding. I would blog about them, but I have several stories with tight pre-trip deadlines to write.
And, yes, I have a prescription for Xanax. Just in case.