What happens when you leave your regular, routined life behind for a few weeks of spontaneous travel? One writer reflects on first-time traveler anxiety—and how she overcame it.
We stopped at a cafe on our way from the metro to our friend’s apartment in Paris, each of us carrying a craving for a cafe au lait that weighed more than our luggage. The adrenaline from being in a new country overshadowed the deep physical exhaustion pulsing through our bodies from our red eye the night before.
But as I slowly sipped my coffee, a knot formed in my chest. I worried about how surrendering to this craving at 4 p.m. was going to ruin my ability to fall asleep tonight. I would have to take melatonin. I would be groggy tomorrow. And likely the next day. And the next.
The space in my chest grew tighter as the knot expanded.
“I can’t believe I’m saying this,” I said to Jess, to my friend and life-long travel partner, “but I feel like I’m in a point in my life where I don’t really want to travel.”
She looked at me, smiling, a light furrow crinkling the skin between her eyebrows as she tried to conceal the judgement leaking through her irises. Jessie and I have been the type of best friends who act more like sisters for 25 years now. We started taking trips together when we were eight, first on family vacations with our parents. In high school we went to Paris together for our first solo trip outside of the country. In college we went to Argentina, Spain, and Morocco. Last year, we went to Mexico City.
And here we were, back in Paris, about to meet our two other childhood friends before going to Mallorca, Ibiza, and Formentera. A trip we had all been planning and dreaming about for the past year.
I could tell the appropriate words were failing to come out of her mouth, so I continued to fill the space with mine:
I love my life at home. I love my routine. The next two weeks, that’s all going to unravel.
“It feels like so much work, so much anticipation, and I love my life at home. I love my routine. The next two weeks, that’s all going to unravel, and it’s going to be exhausting.”
Now, Jessie is someone who would light any semblance of a routine on fire the minute she’s handed a match. Give her a backpack and a ticket and she will gladly disappear into the far corners of this world.
She drank her coffee in front of me now, quickly and fearlessly, the space in my bag where my new bottle of melatonin sat was occupied by mini colored pencils and a travel-sized sketchpad in hers.
She told me it was okay, that it was probably just a phase I was going through.“How nice is it that you like your life so much at home that you don’t want to leave it,” she said.
I smiled back, feeling alone, wondering how I was going to make it through the next two weeks. She finished my coffee, we paid, we piled our heavy bags onto our heavy bodies, and kept on.
In Paris, I was tired. Our days were long and we walked the city so aggressively that I had open blisters all along my feet by the end of day one. At night, as I lay in bed listening to the people on the streets below talking ferociously in between drags of their cigarettes, as the melatonin started to slow down my brain and put a weight on the front of my head so heavy that I eventually had no choice but to close my eyes, I took a deep breath, reassuring myself that I had made it through another day.
In Mallorca, my mind started to let go of my life back home and ease into the new time zone, the new cuisine, and new the lack-of-schedule. Maybe it was the open dry air, the inability to find ourselves more than an hour from the Mediterranean Sea.
I started to move through the days a bit more gracefully, allowing myself to sit comfortably in the moments of time that seemed to stretch themselves as slowly and carefully as possible across the space of each day. I woke up each morning with a fogginess I had come to understand would stick by me for the unforeseen future. I finished too many creamy cafe con leches. I drank cold wine before noon. I floated in the middle of the salty Mediterranean Sea, detached from time, work, responsibilities, family, and a life back home that looked, smelled, and tasted so different from the life I was living right now. I resolved that it was okay to detach. I resolved to continue floating.
Detaching from one version of yourself and reattaching to a new one is not something to be afraid of.
In Ibiza and Formentera, I was nostalgic—for home, for Mallorca, for this trip I would be saying goodbye to in a matter of days, and for these women I would be saying goodbye to along with it. Pretty soon I’d be home with my husband and our animals, meditating every morning on our porch, drinking matcha as I wrote in my journal, working, eating, swimming, sleeping, the days blending together into a liquid I knew the taste of so well. Pretty soon the chord to that life would be sewn back together, as the chord to this one would be left to slowly dissolve over time.
We were on the beach on the Western coast of Ibiza watching the sunset, surrounded by people just as crispy and dehydrated as we were. The air was filled with a mixture of DJ sets from the various chiringuitos around us and the high-pitched sounds of kids shrieking as they ran their naked bodies in and out and in and out of the cold water. The light was descending upon our nook of the earth‚which felt like the only nook on earth—getting softer and warmer with each passing minute.
I looked over at Jessie who was laying naked on the beach, milking these last rays of light for all they had to give her, and I thought back to day one: the too-late-in-the-day cafe au laits, the fears, the words that came out of my mouth and left her speechless. Aspects of that fear, that loneliness, and that statement I had clumsily stumbled to put together were still inside of me now, but they were now seated, respectfully, next to an unmistakable sense of gratitude, acceptance, and an understanding that detaching from one version of yourself and reattaching to a new one is not something to be afraid of, but something to practice. It’s a part of traveling. It’s a part of life.
I was still counting down the hours until I was home. But I was also counting the hours we had left here, together, trying to hold onto each one a little tighter.