Real Talk: Emotions and Travel

I LOVE traveling. I do. I really do. I love seeing new things, hearing languages I can’t understand. Nervously perusing the menu hoping they’re not going to try and trick me into eating something fishy (as in fish, literally, I can’t stand seafood). But sometimes, it just plain stresses me out. And I know it can be super stress inducing, even for *~normal~* non-anxious people.

Travel can be a jarring experience. I remember my first time abroad in 2004, I was more overwhelmed than I expected by my visit to France, and fortunately my professor at the time (it was a school trip) recognized it for what it was. I wasn’t unhappy, scared, or freaked out, just off balance and I didn’t feel quite like myself. In her sage and French way, she told me (I can’t for the life of me remember how it came up, but I’m sure I said something that must have prompted it) how there really can be a travel shock, even for someone who knows the language, respects the culture, and wants to learn; especially when it’s your first time abroad. All of the sudden all of the little cues that you recognize inherently are gone. I believed she used the example of a mailbox– in the US, a box with a curved top colored blue, white and red is clearly a mailbox, but once you get into France BOOM, even that is different. Typically, French post office boxes are yellow with blue letters. You multiply that by all of the little inherent things and it can become overwhelming. You’re not culturally fluent.

I still get that fish out of water feeling from time to time. Oddly, the most fish out of water feeling for me lately has been restaurant etiquette. For the most part, France is similar to the US. Walk in, they seat you, you order, eat, you ask for the check/they bring it to you, you pay (sometimes at the table, or at a cashier).  In Italy, it varies slightly, but just *not knowing* what to do kind of weirds me out. The super touristy areas have kind of glommed on to the US way of doing things, but in more authentic restaurants, you kind of walk in, seat yourself, depending on the restaurant you order at the counter and they bring it to you, other times there’s table service (that you pay for), you frequently pay for your stuff at the counter, after your meal, and the check (conto) never comes to your table. This stuff can vary in the US too, but you instrincily know. Croatia so far seems to be whatever you prefer. They’re willing to do whatever, because this is such a touristy area…in fact, I saw them kind of adapt their service for each patron in the restaurant tonight. More hands-on for us Americans and a little more standoffish for some Germans. Not drastic differences, but enough to tell that it was a thing, and that they were practiced at it.

This trip is helping with what I like to call “Charlotte’s lack of chill.” I have zero chill. None whatsoever. Given my general anxiety and the fact I’m dealing with a heavy load of grief, my goal for this trip was to try and stay present in the moment. Not to get too far ahead of myself, constantly worrying about missing one connection or the next. Not to spend all my time sad about not being at home, in my bed, with my cat. (My greatest wish is that Apparition like in Harry Potter was a thing so that I could travel the world and then still sleep in my own bed at night.) I’m doing so much and much of it in quick succession I don’t have as much time to work myself up over a thing.

I was especially worried about this trip because during past travel trips when things got to be too much, it was one easy phone call to the person who could calm me down. Who would listen to every silly story and unimportant concern, down to what I had for breakfast and what I would be doing that day. The one person who could calm me down when I call at 3 am (my time) because I SWEAR my hotel had bedbugs (I told you I have no chill…and a HUGE fear of bedbugs). Lord, my momma was a patient person. But that rock of her always being there to listen to me is gone– but I’m trying to go and DO because that’s what she would have wanted me to do. Knowing that has been a kick in the seat of the pants from time to time.

I feel much more emotional this trip, but not always in a bad way. Walking in and around architectural masterpieces, caused a much stronger emotional response this time. And lately, even the happy feelings recall my Mom’s death. Because grief isn’t just one emotion but every single gotdamned emotion squeezed into an all-encompassing one that you feel all at once and that’s why it’s so hard, so persistent, and so powerful.

I had a really big “knock-me-on-my-ass” moment in Venice. In Venice, they make a special kind of glass called Murano glass…and in one of the shops, they had a set of salt and pepper shakers. Now, my mom has more S&P shakers than a person could need. She loved them. When I went to Rome, I brought her back the most awful, kitschy salt and pepper shakers I could find. We both knew they were bad, but that’s what made them fun. When I saw this set of Murano glass S&P shakers, my mind jumped to “oh I should get those for Mom” for .02 seconds before reality caught up with me. Now, like I said before, my emotions are already really close to the surface from walking around Venice, which was phenomenally beautiful and incredible, so the wave of grief hit me hard since I was already so happy emotional. I spent the next 15 minutes walking around trying to hold back the tears because I didn’t want to be that girl walking around Venice alone, sobbing like loon.

So, in some ways, the grief emotions have kind of distracted me from the the travel anxiety ones. The worries about restaurants, missed connections and the like all seem lame in comparison. I lost my mom and it’s hard to think of anything that is worse than that. Sometimes they work together to make me a blubbering mess; that happened in Besançon. After being there for 3 days, with non-stop rain and no potential to do WHAT I NEEDED to do, combined with a very powerful I miss my mom moment, I was a wreck.

This trip was bound to be connected to my mom’s death, beyond just the fact that I’m mourning her loss. On the 29th of this month, it will be six months since my momma died, when I was starting this trip for the first time. I miss her more and more each day. I should have bought those salt and pepper shakers.

 

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