A year? Six months? Two months? One? A week? A day?
Much like how different people plan for things in different ways, preparing for extended traveling is the same. Some people can–and do–plan for their trip a year in advance, yet never feel as if they’re totally ready. Other people seem to have the inhuman ability to leap into adventures with an enviable lack of stress or worry.
For me, planning (not the desire to travel) begins about two months before my trip begins. Two months seems to me like a good enough amount of time to research my possible destinations and craft a rough route; to scour plane ticket prices and get the best deal; to agonize over the contents of my backpack and painstakingly acquire the seemingly endless list of things that I believe I’ll need.
You know how, when you’re waiting for something big to happen, the days leading up to it seem to crawl by until you’re ready to tear your hair out and be all “Just happen already, Event!”? But then the night before / morning of, you suddenly realize there are 193475012 small things and five medium-sized things you still need to do, like buy Q-tips, or take passport-size photos, and then you feel like you could do with two more days until The Event?
Guess who was buying Q-tips the day before her departure.
But planning isn’t just about the physical and geographical details. It’s also about getting into a good mental space for travel. In the two weeks leading up to my trip, I practiced good travel thinking: I will take things as they come and think optimistically. I will worry less about the little things, but worry enough about my safety and security. I will not force myself to do something just because everyone else does it, if it’s not really my thing.
Getting into the right mental space for impending travel is also a neverending process. At least once a day I slipped up. I’d be updating my Kindle and suddenly panic, Aghhh, how can I travel without these fourteen new books I just bought? Or I’ll have a good day and start thinking, Why do I feel the need to go so far outside my comfort zone to find inner peace when my soporific state after binge-watching Season 2 of Veronica Mars has produced a similar feeling?
The worst was when I would have good moments with my family, making them laugh with a (tasteful) story or having a “moment” of opening up with them. Then, I wondered if it mightn’t be better to just stay and continue to work on that tenuous connection.
Sometime in the antsy week before I left on my trip, I made peace with what I call a “high school grades” philosophical approach to travel planning. As in, if it’s between 90 and 100 percent, it’s going to show up on the report card as some sort of A either way, so I’m not going to agonize over a few points this way or that. (I was an oddly mellow good Honors student.)
In travel-planning terms, this means that as long as I feel like some sort of A-grade material–general route planned, first two nights’ hostel stay booked, packing list double-checked–then I wasn’t going to grasp for that unattainable 100 percent, a number that is decidedly not real in preparedness as opposed to in, say, a math test about non-real numbers.
So, aside from the inevitable night-before scramble, this was why I was able to treat myself to TV marathons mere days before leaving on my trip.
Incidentally, I’m writing this at the end of my first full day in Bangkok! More to come soon.