Hi all — this post is a bit longer than usual, and a bit more personal. It’s also the truth — beyond the beautiful landscapes, cozy homeschooling photos, or the “nuts and bolts” of what to see and how to see it. It’s about travel worries. It’s about what travel changes and what it doesn’t. It’s about how travel can make one notice, confront, and maybe, over time, transform.
Travel Worry #10: We’ll just get tired of the whole thing, and we’ll want to come home.
Perhaps this will happen someday, but not yet! A few folks in my family have jokingly said, “you’ll probably come home early” or “let’s see if you make it to the fall”. They don’t have any malicious intent, but there’s a part of those jokes that hits something real. I spent years dreaming of this trip and planning it in my head. We’ve spent months and months (and months) preparing for it. Now that we’re here, what if we just don’t like it — like getting your dream job and realizing you don’t want it at all? I’ve had a few creeping moments of “this is it?” — but luckily, those have been few and far between. So far.
Travel Worry #9: I’ll miss in-person contact with all of the people who are in my village, from seeing the owner of our favorite chocolate shop to being together with my closest friends.
100% true. I’ve tried to replicate it a bit by finding a few people here and there who I can connect with and snuggle with. Of course, it’s not the same. This is one of the trade-offs that I am sure will be the hardest for me throughout the year. But the silver lining is that it’s made it even more clear to me how much it matters as part of the life I want to lead, wherever I am.
Travel Worry #8: I’ll lose the momentum of this iteration of my career — both my consulting and coaching practice and my efforts to build community in support of a multiracial democracy.
Both have lost momentum; making peace with that is a work in progress. But they’re not gone — not by a long shot. Sendhil and I are both working, and I’m getting new coaching clients. Solidarity Futures, a nonprofit focused on building a multiracial democracy, will have more cohorts running this year. It’s just slower — and maybe that is the point of traveling for a year.
Travel Worry #7: Sendhil and I will be terrible homeschool teachers, our kids won’t learn anything, and then they won’t get into college, and it will be our fault (and they will live in our basement forever, and we will never travel anywhere again).
I think we’ll all find our way, and we’ll continue to be grateful for the availability of online teaching. I guess what I’m coming to accept is that even if the kids are “stressed” that we haven’t taught them enough to “keep up” with their classmates (and they’ll likely be right), Karthik and Meera will be fine. The school reentry will likely be bumpy for both of them, and they’ll be able to handle it.
Travel Worry #6: We won’t be able to work part-time as we planned, we’ll run out of money, and then we’ll have to come home.
To be determined. We budgeted our expenses before we left, and an approximate income including our work and rental revenue from our Chicago home. As most of you well know, it’s winter in the northern hemisphere, so our home isn’t bringing in revenue quite yet (side note — it’s a great place, with a great location, suitable for a bunch of people, so check it out and tell your friends!). And we’re still working on figuring out the right cadence for work — some weeks it works great, and other weeks it’s more stilted. We have great clients, and we’re confident we’ll find the right pace, but the worry isn’t gone yet.
Travel Worry #5: We will all start to hate each other and realize that not only should we not travel together, we should also go back home, and remain in separate corners for the remainder of our days.
We’ve reached moments of deep irritation and brusque conversations and some yelling, but no hatred yet! No one has said “I never want to see you again” — yet. I’m taking that as a win.
Travel Worry #4: I won’t be able to start exercising and get in better shape, in fact, I’ll become more unfit (and then I’ll get diabetes, and then we’ll have to come home).
Not true! I’ve been working out more than ever and eating healthier! I’ve been out of shape for several years. My anxiety, chronic fatigue and inability to exercise intensely are somehow all connected. Who the fuck knows. In any case, what I do know is that if I want to live a long, active life, I need to get my health (weight definitely included) in check. Though when I think of travel, I think of vacations, and when I think of vacations, I think of gelato. While I get a dopamine hit just at the thought of eating gelato every day, I have realized that this would make coming back and recovering to health so much harder.
Don’t get me wrong, we do eat a good amount of ice cream — per capita, New Zealand consumes the most in the world — but we also have so much more time to be active. I have actually sustained a yoga practice this month and actually taught a yoga class while we were stranded during our canoe trip on the Whanganui River. So far, not only has the worst not happened, but a version of “best” is starting to emerge. Yay!
Travel Worry #3: One or more of our parents will get sick, and we’ll have to come home.
So far, our parents are in the status quo ante, for which we’re grateful. This was another big worry and one that always felt like a gut punch whenever it surfaced. Sendhil and I are responsible for the well-being of our parents and feel responsible for the overall well-being of our parents. Here’s the conversation I had with my dad about this very worry:
Papa (who asked every week for 3mos if we were still planning on traveling for a year, long after we had bought our one-way tickets to Auckland): You know something might happen while you are gone.
Me: You mean, you (and Mama) might die.
Papa (sheepishly): Yes, yes, that might…
Me (forlorn): I know Papa, I’ve made peace with that.
Papa (chuckling in surprise): Yeah, well I haven’t.
Me and Papa: (laughing, but not really, but laughing).
We’re also grateful for our siblings, who are taking on more care responsibilities while we’re gone. If our parents need us, we will have to go home, and we will go home. And, we can hold that possibility in our minds, without it letting it hold us back from being present where we are.
Travel Worry #2: We will die — or far worse, just Karthik and Meera will die. And then my parents will kill me and Sendhil.
There is always the chance of dying, but somehow, dying abroad on a trip of our choice seems way worse than dying at home. So I’m happy to say that, currently, we’re all still alive!
I actually had this worry a lot before we left. I’m not really worried about the process of anyone dying; I’m more worried about what I would say to my parents (who find this whole expedition unnecessary and bizarre, to put it kindly). Being worried about what I would tell my parents is pretty familiar from my whole life before this year, so maybe this worry isn’t such a change.
Travel Worry #1: My mental health challenges will become unmanageable, and we’ll have to come home.
I’ve had medically significant anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) for quite some time, probably since my teenage years. So at this point in my life, I’ve had ruminating thoughts, panic attacks, physical pain, depersonalization, and more. My mental health challenges were the most severe in the years right after the birth of our second child. At its worst, my nervous system was stuck in a “fight or flight” state for 22+ hours a day. I couldn’t imagine walking a mile — let alone hiking 12 miles with a 2200-foot elevation gain on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
I got better. (I was lucky enough to have the two things you need most in the US if you are going to get effective, holistic care — a rock-solid network of emotional support, and the financial resources and access to get the range of professional supports needed.) But even though I’m now better, whenever I remember those days — days that felt like I was in a dark basement with no idea of where the light might be — I still shudder.
So my number one greatest worry has been a recurrence mirroring what happened before. This worry almost stopped me from going ahead with this trip, many times. The same questions kept swirling around in my head:
- What if my OCD becomes so overwhelming that I can’t function?
- What if my OCD puts my family in jeopardy?
- What if I have depersonalization? What if I have it for a long time?
- How will I adjust my medication if needed?
- How will I stay in touch with my doctors about my anxiety?
- What if I don’t notice the warning signs that lead to a severe occurrence?
Friend, it may strike you that the swirling questions above are actually a symptom of anxiety itself. And here were the antidotes:
(1) I made sure I had all of my medication and supplements with me, including a year’s supply of my anti-anxiety medication (it’s not cheap, and insurance is limited or challenging to navigate or both, but the generic isn’t nearly as expensive as you would imagine);
(2) I talked to my therapist, my psychiatrist, and my primary care physician about our trip well in advance and asked what I needed to do to prepare; and
(3) I shared my concerns with Sendhil (who would have to bear the burden if I became unwell).
And, even with all of that — here’s the big reveal — some of my worries have come true. My condition did worsen considerably two weeks into our trip — far worse than they had been at home in a long, long time. I had greater OCD thoughts and depersonalization. I started to get nervous, which aggravated all of my symptoms.
Then I realized I actually had one thing while traveling that I didn’t have at home — time. I slowed things down, spent time in yoga and meditation, and figured out what was picking at my anxiety, and I can now start to address it. (In case you’re curious, the culprit, I think, is driving on the other side of the road! On the surface, driving on this left-hand side doesn’t bother me in any significant way, but something about it is making my nervous system panic quite a lot.)
The end of this list… but the beginning of the learning
I’ve learned over many years that I often have what those in the mental health professions would call “catastrophic thinking”, which is really a skewed assessment of risk:
If X happens, then we’ll have to do Y, but I really don’t want Y, and I can’t stop thinking about X.
For example: if it rains I’ll get wet. If I get wet, then I’ll get sick. If I get sick, then I won’t be able to travel. If I can’t travel, then I’ll be unhappy. I don’t want to be unhappy. So it can’t rain.
As you can see, it’s a painful loop, especially if one is so worried about the outcome of “being unhappy” that one begins to blow up the risk of “rain” (in the example above). Since we can’t stop things outside of our control from happening, I’ve worked hard (with lots of support) to move from anxiety to prevention
The important thing here is that you can have a mental health condition, you can have a physical condition, you can be anxious and risk-averse — and still be entitled to adventure, in the broadest sense of the word. We all deserve the chance to try an adventure, and we all deserve the opportunity to hold it all — the successes, the challenges, and the losses.
So, if we give a year of travel a try, and we have to go home, or we want to go home, it’s part of giving myself the opportunity to hold it, face it, and experience it all. And trusting that I’ll be able to climb out of that dark basement again if I have to.