Over the two baby sized bottles of over-priced red wine on my flight back to the Midwest, I can’t help but wonder exactly what life holds for me the next week. Loads of uncertainty, I do know that. I’m not a planner, but this time I did have (somewhat of) a plan and as often happens, these plans fell through quite abruptly, only to be replaced by even better ones, which became somewhat complicated, quite quickly.
I bought my ticket to Rome in January on a Saturday when I was terribly hung over and wallowing about in a puddle of self-hate (I’d made a proper ass out of myself the night before whilst under the influence of entirely too much hard cider and whiskey). Even though my plans were, at the time, only tentative I needed to know that I would be traveling abroad in the near future and so I bought a one-way ticket to Rome for May 15th despite the fact that I knew it was likely an unwise decision (no worries, I also bought really good travel insurance).
Why did I do this?
Sometimes you just need to know that your “plans” can only go so wrong. Sure your plans can go straight to Hell, but if you’ve got that ticket, chances are you’ll still be able to use it…by going with the flow and “adjusting” your previous plan to fit whatever the situation is at that particular moment. Because I am well aware of how wrong things can go, from the moment my trip abroad is conceived I begin going through what I call the “Five Phases of Travel Denial”. I cannot be the only one who gets so excited for solo trips of self discovery and cultural exploration that they convince themselves the trip will be so good, that it couldn’t possibly happen (I just realized how unhealthy that sounds, my apologies).
My Five Phases of Travel Planning & Denial
- The Plan (which inevitably changes or goes horribly awry)
From Phase 1, I make myself well aware of the fact that things can go wrong. So even if the plans seems set in stone, I’m hesitant to respond to questions regarding my travel because, quite simply, it doesn’t feel real yet.
- Arrange the visa/other documentation
This phase is actually quite wonderful, because it makes me feel like I actually have some form of control over things… silly me that is, if my visa application is accepted and I am issued the desired visa. If things do not go well then I begin to feel as if I have lost complete control and I respond by… going with the flow. There’s nothing else you can do, right?
- Buying the ticket
Nothing feels as good as buying a ticket for travel. This is when it starts to feel really great; you’ve got a departure date, a “plan”, some sort of timeline.
*It is at this point that I’d like to point out there are times when “Phase 3” occurs prior to “Phase 2”, meaning, your “plan” went so off kilter that a visa wasn’t needed when you began planning the trip and because of unforeseen circumstances it has changed so much that you need a visa now (when before you didn’t) or you need an entirely different visa.
- Arrange accommodations
Making sure one is not homeless upon arrival is always helpful; the importance of this obviously depends on the nature of your travel. If you’re backpacking and visiting several different countries within the course of a month, then hitting up a hostel recommended by Lonely Planet without reservations isn’t too risky a choice (depending on the location and season). For me, however, the majority of my travels take place over the course of a few months for the purposes of my academic research and work. I do take mini-holidays or create research agendas to fit my travel plans sometimes, but because of the nature of my travel, staying in a hostel is not likely the least expensive option and indeed quite unrealistic if I’ll be staying in the same city (with the exception of the occasional weekend getaway) for two to four months.
- Departure and Arrival
When I speak of going abroad, it’s not to Mexico or Canada, it requires crossing an ocean and thus that travel will (with layovers) always be at least 12 hours and it’s not until my plane touches down at my final destination that it’s “real”.
The Good Life
I know I’m a very lucky woman; I’ve had some amazing opportunities that I understand are not the norm and that’s something I am eternally grateful for. I’ve had the good fortune to travel the world, see new things, discover new cultures, and meet some truly amazing people. I have learned to scuba dive in the Red Sea, practiced my Attic Greek skills by reading inscriptions on antiquities, mastered the use of chopsticks (because of a complete and utter lack of any other utensil), and made life long friends from a number of beautiful countries and cultures. I think it’s because of these experiences that I always have a hard time believing I’m lucky enough to have the opportunity for such experiences again.
I’d like to hear your stories though. Have you experienced travel denial? What are your phases?