Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Phases of Anticipation

The last few weeks has found me going through various phases of anticipation, most of which I've experienced before while waiting anxiously for a trip. Other than last week, I've been responding in a pretty textbook manner as I wait. And wait. And wait.

Initially, there is the euphoria of having just booked another trip. Usually this comes on the heels of the last trip, when I've put the luggage away, finished the photo albums and finally admitted I'm back to reality. "Yay, it's booked," I'll exclaim and then immediately tally the days till departure. This time it was 198 days. Argh.

Once the countdown drops under 100 days, into the double digits, I start to realize it's going to happen. No, really, it's not just been a fun way to kill time reading guide books and internet forums. I'm going to go. I may fuel this fire by watching travel shows or documentaries about the country I'm going to. This was especially true for China, which I have so little exposure to to begin with.

The one speed bump I hit this time that I haven't before is what I mentioned previously: fear. Even with all my preconceived notions about Russia, I was never really afraid of anything. I looked at that trip as a big adventure and fulfillment of a life-long dream. This time just a couple weeks ago, I went through a week-long wave of "I am SO in over my head here." Whether it's the language, the culture, the food (seriously, will I lose a ton of weight on that diet?), the people, the distance from home...what is it that's freaking me out? I had to keep reminding myself I'd be with a group most of the time, that's a security blanket. Somehow, some way, that feeling passed. I'll survive. I always do. I have to think 25+ previous trips out of the country will serve me well.

Now I'm in the "let's just go" phase. Mentally and emotionally I am just tired. I'm tired of being wanted and needed and tired of the daily grind and the same schedule day in and day out. Tired of people asking for things and offering nothing in return. My brain is saying "enough". Watching re-runs of Anthony Bourdain in the Amalfi Coast the other night reminded me of that "a-ha, this is why I travel" feeling that I get when I see something in my travels that makes me stop in my tracks, take a breath and just inhale it through all my senses. I expect the Great Wall may do that, hell, maybe even the ride in from Beijing airport. I need to flush out my mind and shut down the day to day. My mind has that sleepy, hungover feeling that needs a jump start. It's ready, but can it make its way through five more weeks? Let's just go.

I expect next up will be the phase where my organizational skills and past experience kick in and I get ready to go. This is where lists, piles and even project plans come in. I execute the finely tuned machine that gets me out the door. It's starting a bit now. Lists are formulating in my head: what needs to get done and when, who needs to be told and when, what I need to pack and when I can pack it when I know I won't need it again before I go. This is a fun phase only in that it kills time to departure and also is visible, rather than mental, progress towards the goal.

And closer to departure, I usually gave a wave of nostalgic homesickness before I even leave. I always have trouble thinking of leaving my cat alone and my family and friends here to carry on the drudgery without me. It's such a short time in the scheme of things, but I always count "how many sleeps without me" and wonder again why it is I'd want to leave the comfort of home. I've read on travel forums that this is normal. I've never not felt it before any trip, so I expect I'll hit it again this time.

Finally, in the last few days before I go, there's the butterflies in the belly, the restless sleep of an eager traveler, the "oh my gosh, it's here" feeling once the bags are mostly packed and mentally I've checked out of my day to day before I'm even gone. I know in a matter of several days or even a couple weeks I'll be home again, and looking to kick off the vicious cycle all over again.

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