The First Night or 3 Things to Do with That Sense of Impending Doom

I love the adventure of starting a trip – from the cup of coffee at your home airport to arrival and that first walk through town.  But the first night can be tricky. I didn’t see the pattern until solo trip #3. You arrive sleep deprived. You’re in a strange city without the energy to embrace it…yet. There is a lot to learn and everything is a little hard.  For me, this creates some emotional mayhem.

Once I’ve awakened in a new country, all my gauges reset…I’m grounded by having slept and then risen in this new place and all its possibilities.  Not the first night. That’s when my mind is full of worry and wild thoughts of everything that could be going wrong at home right that minute.  Then here? What was I thinking to come here – what if I need help, can’t find my way in a new city or get completely lost.  (In the morning the answers are clear – ask the front desk, call a cab,  follow the crowd.)

None of this helps the first night. What do you do with your sense of impending doom? A good friend of mine – who is independent and brave – didn’t expect this rush of doubt and was so thrown she cut her trip short.

Everyone is different but I have two thoughts for fellow travelers.  First, if you expect it and can name what’s happening, you are equipped.  I learned a lesson inVenice.  My Dad’s health wasn’t great that winter.  On my first evening, I realized I had not gotten an email from home.  I convinced myself his health had taken a turn and no one was telling me.  I paid 25 euros in the middle of the night through the hotel TV for on screen web service to check my email again and again and to send a couple of half-crazy messages home. Seriously, by the time I awakened the first morning, I was sure that I shouldn’t unpack.

(I was also concerned that the national debt was spiraling, that the birthday I was celebrating that week was the beginning of the end and was a little undone by the cancellation of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. This stuff defies logic.)

Here is the second thing I learned. Embrace it. I got out of bed and made some tea and sat across the table from my nightmare. By embracing, I mean I tried to look closely and examine what I feared.  I was much more worried about Dad than I had ever realized at home and here, in a strange place, it was all rushing to the surface. Maybe I was afraid that I didn’t know enough about his health. Did I need to have some important conversations?  And I definitely wanted to spend more time with him at home. There were other worries about decisions I was making and I started to write some of this down in my trip book. I knew a little more about what was going on in my head and heart.

So what do you do in the morning? I tried something hyper-rational that worked for me. I embraced one of those fears – that something at home might be going wrong and that, though all was well today, there was the possibility of being called home early.

So – if I only had a day in Venice, what would I do?  I started prioritizing my list.  If I had one day, I wanted to visit Murano and buy some gifts I’d promised to bring home. I wanted to ride the #1 vaporetta the entire length of the Grand Canal at sunset and I wanted to eat at my favorite restaurant. Trying to figure out fear, anxiety and the whole week was too big an order but I could plan this first day.

By the time I’d worked my list that day, my head and heart were back in order. The push to get my short list accomplished nudged me over bumps in the road – I learned again how to read the vaporetta map, I made some decisions, I conquered the must-have shopping, and pushed myself to enjoy a very special event like dinner at the Saturnia International.

OK, I also gave up and called home. Everything was fine. Why, they asked, are you calling here??  It’s expensive, you’re on vacation, we’re fine, and did you buy the Christmas gifts?  The world slipped back into place pretty quickly.

In the end, my dad was gone two months later. Having taken a trip didn’t make the loss easier and it didn’t make me appreciate him more.  I had spent a lifetime knowing who he was and how lucky I am.  I did go home with a clearer look inside my heart, acknowledging fears and questions I’d tucked away and it made a difference.

3 comments on “The First Night or 3 Things to Do with That Sense of Impending Doom

  1. Robin says:

    Susan for some reason I missed reading this until now. It made me laugh out loud and also cry actual tears for the recognition of the feelings based on my own experience and also because I had the great pleasure to know your father.


  2. Solo Journey says:

    Reblogged this on solotraveldotcom and commented:

    Yesterday, the beautiful mom of a colleague told me about an amazing solo adventure she’ll be taking next month. Thinking about what I’ve written, I think this piece is the most “true” so I wanted to share it again.


  3. Cindy says:

    What a great short-term roadmap for coping with anxieties both imagined and real, whether at home or abroad for that matter. I always love reading your posts. And I loved my Christmas present from Murano.


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