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Anastasia Rubis Headshot

Conquering Travel Anxiety

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I'm flying to Greece tomorrow for a five-week vacation, and though this should obviously make me break into song, I'm in the midst of a pre-travel "To Do" meltdown, my brain fried, trapezoid muscles in knots. On my list are the expected essentials -- buy sunscreen, pay bills, water grass and plants--but also the non-essential tasks that I should have taken care of months ago but suddenly loom as big, fat emergencies:

•Return vitamins I ordered online- (sitting on shelf for three months after customer rep said I could send them back)

•Repair car - (tire mud guard ripped off on highway nine months ago--does not affect driving)

•Fix banister leading to basement, pried loose from wall (noticed two months ago. Someone might die!)

•Write and publish article about extended vacation in Greece (wrote first draft three years ago)

A confession: I am the type of person who generally has two or three to-do lists going at once: one on 8x10 paper, one on iphone ("Notes" is a new torture mechanism), and a few on scraps buried in my pocketbook.

But before leaving home for 37 days, the list takes on a whole new level of urgency and obsession. As I settle into middle-age, I feel the finality of embarking on any trip, frankly, as strongly as if I were vanishing from the planet and had only a few precious hours to get my affairs in order: find new job, shop for better car insurance, weed garden, clean out kitchen junk drawer--you name it, I should have done it yesterday.

I seem incapable of comprehending that five weeks will pass in a flash, as they always do during my favorite season, and I will return to New Jersey once more to call Aunt Fotini and get my haircut and read stacks of newspapers. I'll have all darn winter to clean out closets.

I'm particularly thrown off when, without fail, something important but unexpected lands on the list with a thud. For example, yesterday I learned via email that my checking account is overdrawn, probably due to all my enthusiastic pre-paying of bills. I have never overdrawn my checking account, but now I have to scramble to find $$ to deposit.

This is the time when there will be computer glitches. Backing up my cell phone took two hours last night. Who knew photos take that long to sync. I got to bed at 1 a.m.

I hate to admit that I'm even sent into a tizzy when my sisters or close friends start calling one after the other in the precious hours I have set aside for reviewing (for the 20th time) which toiletries are crossing the Atlantic.

I am a "packing light" kind of girl but it takes so much energy to decide whether to take that third beach cover-up or that 5th book that trust me, it's better to gather up all the Imelda Marcos shoes and throw them in--far less stress involved.

This summer, I thought I would outfox my pre-trip panic and begin planning, shopping, laundering and packing super-early, ticking off to-do items at leisure and in advance. I would kick back during my last week home, go to movies and see friends, smiling smugly when they asked, "You're done?" What happened instead is this: I've been anxious longer, my nervous anticipation and must-do's stretching out over an excruciating period of time. I stopped living ten days ago, and started focusing on trip prep. I've driven myself insane. And naturally I found myself running to the mall this morning anyway, at the 11th hour, having convinced myself that the Crocs I own are too big and make my feet look clownish, and I need a pair that fits (are there any?). The cruel irony: I just came back from returning said pair of Crocs as they weren't comfortable and I didn't need them anyway. Two trips to the mall!

Another joke: Following the daily scrutiny of clothes spread out on the guest bed, I am finally ready to BEGIN PACKING. But my suitcase is too darn big for the island hopping I hope to be doing this summer. I have to run to Costco, I saw some decent flight bags there. But Costco is closed tomorrow. Aargh!

I'll admit this only to you: I stopped wearing good, clean underwear a week ago. I wear only bad, clean underwear since I've done my laundry and am carefully "saving" underwear so I don't need to wash anymore.

What is the psychology of pre-travel angst? Separation anxiety? Obsessive compulsive disorder? Catastrophizing?

I know it will all be fine. The moment I check in at the ticket counter, and hand over my immense suitcase, a sense of peace will wash over me and unwrench my stomach. I will feel silly about the pressure I put on myself under for the past 10 days. Prepping and packing really wasn't difficult or important, but I made it so. It is finished. Whatever I did and didn't do, it's over. Now begins vacation, or much better put by the Europeans, holiday. Woo hoo.

The older I get the worse pre travel angst gets. This morning, waking up for the tenth morning in a row with cortisol flooding my veins, I even considered skipping next summer's pilgrimage to see my late dad's birthplace and swim in the sea that restores me. It's all too much. My daughter, 14, is proof positive that this anxiety afflicts the middle aged: "Why do I have to start early" she complained, "If I'm not

Packing the day before we leave, I'll feel weird." Perhaps it is also a gender thing: my husband travels to Eastern Europe once a month and throws five shirts in a bag and is off, actually looking forward to his trip rather than dreading it. Is it because he is less tied to the household, less of a multi-tasker and thus there is nothing on the to-do list except work related issues?

I've watched my 75-year old mother and godmother leave for these Greece trips back to their homeland, and they suffer as I do. "It's the worst part of the trip," my godmother says. My mother wasn't even going to buy her ticket this year until I said, "Go! How many more years do you think you'll be walking?"

There is no way around it except through it. Zoloft is tempting but excessive, wine doesn't do the trick. For now, I've got to ride out the hours. I had an epiphany while attempting to meditate one morning, almost seeing the anxiety as a live wire running through my body that I could diffuse, if I identified it as such: "Aha, you are pre-trip angst, I'm going to breathe and release you. You are not real. I'm not taking you seriously."

The revelation lasted three seconds. Then my eyes flew open and my mind began racing, leaving me holding my breath and being un-yogi again.

The other half of the solution might be to stop fighting the list and attack it. For instance, I am at this moment typing a new draft of the Greece travel article that's been in the works for years. Soon I will move on to: Bring iPad? (Still don't like to read books on it.) How much cash?

This is my solace: in 31 hours, I'll be sitting on that plane. Goodbye "To Do." Hello Santorini.

Did I pack enough bathing suits? The skinnier ones, because Europeans aren't bothered by flesh that moves...