The Staircase of Travel. (More accurately: Travelling for the unwaveringly uneasy, frightfully fretful and absolutely anxious)
Travel like a staircase.
Not because when you inevitably fall down them it hurts, because everyone else seems to have an escalator, or because sometimes it’s a pain in the ass. Although in retrospect these are all legitimate affinities…But especially because travel, like stairs, have to be taken one step at a time. Now before you let my seemingly unjustified #wanderlust cliché stop you from reading on, let me explain how this analogy is quite simply the only reason I was able to make it halfway across the globe solo without fainting… again.
First, a brief psychology lesson from one of my psychiatrists. Fear is a pretty natural and very important emotion. Years ago when a caveman would see a lion outside his cave, fear would cause his body to respond with adrenaline, a pounding heart and tense muscles. Ready to fight or flight to survive. Now imagine the exact same physical response… but with no lion. Just a crazy caveman whose body has convinced him otherwise. Simply put, anxiety is an excessive uneasiness and panic about unrealistic situations. Like calling your sister at 3am inconsolable about the inevitability of death at 13 years old. Or locking yourself in your bedroom two weeks later, utterly convinced — for no apparent reason — that you’re adopted.
You may wonder why someone who often struggles with being a functioning human would choose to travel halfway across the globe for a month, alone. I wish I could go full ‘eat pray love’ on you and say one day I woke up and thought TO HELL WITH IT! I’m going to live a life of full of YES. Promptly selling all my belongings, quitting my job and booking flights that day. Unfortunately for my future as a best selling author, it was far less thrilling than that. The realisation was slow. Over cups of coffee with inspiring people, dog-eared library books on far away places, adventures listened too and lusted after that proved the fear of failure was never going to be a good enough excuse. Simply because, you are so much more capable than you give yourself credit for.
Yet despite being armed with this bumper sticker affirmation, it came to departure day, and to say I freaked out was an understatement. Driving home to pack, on the phone to my mum, the immensity of the trip hit like a freight. With fixed lungs and bolting mind I swallowed the bitter taste of cliché, stammering “…oh.. hold on…god, I think I’m having a panic attack”. It wasn’t until I saw the car in front of me collide straight into a truck that I realized 1) that could have been me 2) I needed to chill out, like right now. Or else there was no way I’d be able to get on that plane. It was that moment, standing in the middle of the road with another cars bumper in my hands, when the way I viewed travel totally transformed.
It’s like a flight of stairs.
In my mind, I had to get to the airport, on the plane, make the LAX transfer, shuttle to the Airbnb, fly to New York, make it to the hostel, catch the next plane and transfer to SF, then make the flight home. Four weeks of travel agonised into one massive cloud of hysteria. When really, all I needed to do in that moment, was make it to the airport. That was it. Just the same as climbing stairs, all you need to think about is the next step. No use trying to see the whole staircase, or worry about step eight or twelve. The only step you need to focus on is the next one you can take.
Weirdly enough, this little analogy made the next month seem… simple. Or at least manageable. So it was the image fo a staircase that was tattooed onto the front of my mind for the next 30 hours. Just make it through TSA and you’re done. Get to domestic terminal, that’s all. Make it to the gate / the shuttle / the bus stop. Not an impossible staircase, just a lot of little steps.
Now for some, travel is another form of breathing. They effortlessly glide up their staircases like pageant queens, waving from above. But this isn’t for them. This is for the rest of us. The stumblers and trippers, the beginners and rookies. The ones who let anxiety talk them out of even approaching the stairs at all. Because sometimes the thought of a life any less adventurous than anyone else is just enough to terrify us into the arms of challenge. Other times, nothing quite helps like tricks and tools from ones who have the same struggles.
So whether it’s something big (like booking a flight) or small (like that assignment you should be doing), take a breath, and just make that first step.