My husband and I moved to Germany in February 2015 for his job and since then we’ve been taking the occasional trip around Europe. We often drive, but sometimes an airplane journey is more expedient. So far we’ve traveled to Italy, Greece, Austria, Croatia, and Poland by plane. Planes mean spending time in airports. Airports are my Achilles’ heel.
A while ago I figured out that I have pretty much healed from the more serious aspects of my mental health issues. (Lol knock on wood.) Anxiety though. Nope, not so much. Still here in spades. I have, however, figured out how to cause the level to plummet. Sticking to routines (especially in the morning), healthy eating, and regular exercise have gone a hell of a long way to turn me into Ms. Calm.
All that pretty much goes out the window on airport travel days. Historically, traveling by plane has brought me to near panic attack levels of anxiety. It doesn’t help that, these days, flying economy has been reduced to a near hellish experience of automated everything. You just kind of have to figure out how the process works and hope you do everything right. Not so much my thing! (Especially when I’m already feeling nervous because the terminal is loud, loud, loud and full of people.)
Yet this year was different. We took our customary pre-Christmas trip, this year to Krakow. And though the travel days were tiring (especially the trip back which was full of delays and a missed train connection), I felt about as much like Ms. Calm as I think I possibly ever could in any block of time that involves an airport at a very high level. I think I know why everything went so smoothly. Because I’ve gained a clearer understanding about when and how my travel anxiety gets triggered, I was able to plan in such a way that could lessen the strain.
I figure I’d share how I kept my shit together.
· Time: We gave ourselves plenty of time. Sure, this sometimes meant waiting around, but I’d rather wait than have to rush. Rushing is hell. A good book helps here and so does some type of device that plays music and headphones or earbuds.
· Packing light: Not having to check luggage cuts down on time waiting in line and means not having to manage heavy bags. For this trip, I had only my backpack. It’s a camera bag at the bottom, and then the top half has room for books, wallet, etc. It felt amazing and mobile to have free hands. My husband managed his backpack and our small, shared roller carry-on. On the other hand, for longer trips, checking luggage is often necessary. It’s just important to budget that time in and to weigh luggage ahead of time at home so there are no last minute surprises at the airport.
· Dressing for security: I wore pants that fit perfectly without a belt and took off my winter hat, gloves, and scarf and placed them in my backpack as soon as we got to the airport. Less stuff to worry about while going through security. I also packed my watch in the outer pocket of my backpack (before security) for the same reason.
· Know where everything is: In Europe, security is slightly different depending on what country you’re in. You always have to take out your toiletries and electronic devices (including tablets and sometimes cameras), remove your outerwear, and (rarely) remove your shoes. In Krakow, I paid extra attention to the instructions outside of the security area so I knew what would be expected of me. (For example, I had to remove my camera from my bag.) I also made sure that I knew exactly where in my backpack the items were that I would need to take out, that they were handy, and that they could quickly and easily be put back in.
· Documents: This has been my weak spot in the past. I’ve kept documents in the outer flap of my backpack and then had to swing it around and kind of dig in the pocket to get at them. This year I made sure to have only what I needed at any one time, and I kept that in the pocket of my winter coat, which has a zipper so everything was secure. This alone cut my stress level down an immense amount. Obviously, the pocket of my winter coat isn’t a solution for air travel during warmer weather, but that’s what those little document holders that go around the neck are for. Do they look a bit dumb? Maybe. But stressing out because documents are hard to get to and hard to put away feels dumb. I really don’t mind looking like an unaccompanied minor or Paddington Bear if that allows my heart to beat at a reasonable pace.
· Have snacks available and eat when hungry: Hangriness does not help even the best of situations and hangriness at the airport has the potential to become somewhat drastic. Biting the bullet and eating a prepackaged sandwich from an airport shop, or even just a pack of nuts or a granola bar can actually save the day.
There was probably more stuff that I did that I can’t think of now. I’m writing this on Christmas Day, taking a break from some of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics, which were under the tree for me this morning. All in all, I feel pretty good about our trip to Krakow and am hoping I can figure out ways to make the next trip work as well. Anxiety sucks and this last trip proved to me that a little prep work and forethought can do an awful lot to make airports more tolerable.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and, as they say in Germany, a good slide into the New Year!