I have what - in my opinion - is a unique kind of travel anxiety. Ok, maybe others experience this too. It's not about fear of flying or even that I'm afraid of traveling.
The best way to explain it is by telling my story. It happened at the very, very beginning of a trip to Berlin. Well, it was actually "pre-trip," but that's the sweet spot for this type of travel anxiety. Here's my backstory.
I lived 10 to 30 minutes from the three major airports in the San Francisco Bay Area for most of my life. Until three years ago when I moved to the state capital, Sacramento. Now, I live 35 minutes from a good size airport, but as you may know - good size airports don't have quite the same airfare deals that major airports do.
Plus, flights from good size airports lead to the multi-layover shuffle.
To reduce cost and complications, I'm always open to flying out of a major airport in the Bay Area. That's what I did on a trip to Berlin, late fall of 2018. Great airfare. Huge savings! All I had to do was come up with a smooth, smart, and economical way to get from my house to SFO.
Yep - I'm naming it. My travel anxiety is all about the tiny, detailed logistics that hang about different points in a trip. For this journey, it was figuring out how to get to the San Francisco Airport. Simple enough, right? I imagined it a research project to create a how-to article for my blog. And I really needed to figure these details out.
I narrowed down to a few options:
- Train-to-Bart(San Francisco's mass transit system)-to-airport;
- Drive to Bay Area, leave the car at a friends house - ride share to the airport;
- Pay for long term parking at the airport;
- Park at a BART station; Bart into International Terminal at SFO
- Take a commuter van or car from Sacramento to SFO.
Five options - already, I'm getting anxious. I want to do the easiest thing. To me, that's getting picked up by an airporter van or car - at my front door - and dropped off at the terminal. Luggage goes in the trunk; luggage comes out of the trunk. I relax all the way there.
I did an exhaustive search to find this service and, good news, it exists! Bad news - cost is between $400 - $600 round trip. Holy never-going-to-happen.
Then the train/Bart option. Not too expensive but not in any way remotely easy. A half-hour drive to the train station (pay to park there); about a 2-hour ride to grab a cab or car directly to SFO, or a Bart station to SFO.
Planes, trains, and automobiles. Luggage, multi-forms of transportation, each leg costs money. Just no.
Leaving my car at someone's house near SFO was the runner-up option, but I resisted it down to the end. It's an inconvenience to take up someone's parking for that long, and still logistics to get to SFO. And paying for long-term parking at SFO? Cheaper than taking a vanpool, but pretty expensive.
I chose the last option. Drive to a Bart station, pay for parking there ($7 to $10/day), and go straight to SFO International terminal. Least expensive even considering the cost of my gas. To avoid the indescribable traffic between my town and SFO, but I'd travel in that fairytale 'non-commute' time and pray.
I just made one tiny little mistake.
Well, I really made two. Ok three.
The first mistake was choosing the wrong Bart station. There are two almost directly across the freeway from SFO. The trip from one station to the next is only 10 minutes. BUT only one of them goes directly to SFO's international terminal. Choose the wrong one, and you have to transfer (get off, wait, get on - more time).
Yes, I chose wrong.
The second mistake I realized when I got back home, arriving at 2:45 on a Friday afternoon. Every city saves it's most preciously epic traffic for Friday afternoons. My route had a major bridge to cross - each of three bridge options turn into parking lots on Fridays. It took me five hours to get home.
On my drive, it hit me. Bart crosses under the Bay, bypassing bridges and freeways-turned-parking-lots. And at the very end of the line - there's a station that would eliminate ⅓ of my drive home with long-term parking, connecting straight to SFO's Internation terminal. The doors open, and you and your luggage roll out.
The flight home was 13+ hours. Then customs, claiming luggage, hop on Bart train - transfer to next Bart train, and my car. It's a lot before a five-hour drive - 24-hours into your day. Requires a lot of loud singing and face contortion exercises with yelling behind the steering wheel. Must. Stay. Awake.
Sorry for telling the end of the story first. There's still mistake number three.
Logistical Breakdown: A Philosophy
I know things can go wrong when you travel - on a sliding scale from 'horribly' to a mild 'oh hell no.' Yes, I totally get that meticulous planning - leaving no logistic unnailed down - is the true Travel Scout motto.
But let me break it to you: it's HARD when you don't see it coming. And it's the little ones that get you to lose your sh%t in the blink of an eye. I try to avoid having a travel tantrum by believing everything will go according to plan. I walk out of my door with that engraved on my heart.
Then I add a little heart to heart reality check with myself. I say, "Hey - things can happen - in spite of your overly engineered plans. Breath through your nose." Whatever happens, I'll figure out a solution - it'll be fine.
That philosophy got me through that day. To a bar seat at the nicest, most expensive restaurant in the international terminal, with a large rose' and a beautiful Crab Louie salad. Because I almost didn't make it.
Mistake Number Three
Here's how it rolled out. The drive from my home to San Francisco took two hours plus another 15 minutes to get to the Millbrae Bart station. I pre-booked and pre-paid for parking, and printed the parking tag to show on the dash of my car.
That's the only old-school way to do it with Bart - for long-term parking. No purchasing a ticket in-person at a kiosk or on a mobile app.
Brief side-note (and dark foreshadowing moment.) The night before, an email from Bart confirmed my one-day parking pass for that very day. Their error, I thought, "I'll deal with this erroneous $7 charge when I'm back," and forgot about it. The next morning, I triple checked everything and hit the road.
Bart gives instructions to find long-term parking in the lots, but they were full. The only open spaces were in the daily lot. I had tons of time before my flight (low-stress tip - go early), but after a fifteen-minute search through multiple lots - I was stressed.
I pulled over to call Bart and got voice mail. I tried new numbers and selections on the auto answering system every time. But I breathed through my nose and tried again. And again.
Finally, a live voice! A nice man said it was fine to park anywhere. Before hanging up - I impulsively decided to ask about the erroneous charge for the day prior. He started looking at his records. I pulled the car over as a sinking realization bloomed in my stomach.
It turns out - my printed pass was actually for the one day before I left and not the eleven days I'd be parked there.
Finding Solutions + Coping
I don't know why I didn't panic or break down at this point. My voice usually goes up the register in tone and volume. My words become complex, multi-syllabic, and spit out one.at.a.time.
But I must've known he'd help me purchase the correct parking pass, which he did. Then calmly told me to print it out and place it on the dash of the car.
"Sir, I'm in my car in the parking structure. My printer doesn't travel well."
I took a breath and thought to myself, "how crazy would it be if I have to move my flight to tomorrow? Is it possible, and at what price?" But I just let it go. I talked to the Bart man in a soft and slightly sad voice. After all, I did this to myself.
But the wonderful, wonderful Bart man found a solution for me that didn't require Twentieth Century technology to solve a Twenty-first-century problem. He was kind and calm and helpful. He took my payment, gave a confirmation number I wrote on the back of the worthless parking pass.
But that's not the end of it, he explained. I could still end up with individual parking tickets every day when I returned. Or worse - be towed. And it would be hard to fight the tickets, he said. BUT. I could and should take this advice: call Bart police, explain the situation, and give my car make, model, license plate, and space number. "Cross you're fingers it'll work."
But the Bart police officers voice mail said he was out of the office on a long vacation. I tried random extensions leaving calm messages on random numbers. I gave my details - situation, car description, parking space data - ending with "there'll be a handwritten page on my dash with my ticket confirmation number."
With that, I parked my car and left. If my car were ticketed or towed when I returned - I'd deal with it. My mom always said, "Don't borrow trouble." Worry about things when they happen - not before. Instead, bags checked, I found myself with a Rose' + Crab Louie in the International Terminal, the stress leaking out of me.
A Rookie Traveler?
During my drive home at the end of the trip, I felt like a failed traveler. Or maybe a failed travel rookie because I didn't know the easiest and cheapest way to make the logistics work. I over-thought every step. Partly for the sake of a good blog article, but really to figure out the easiest and cheapest way to do this.
My takeaway from this experience is about the source of my logistics travel anxiety. I think it's related to traveling later (in life) and feeling like there's some big Book somewhere and all frequent experienced travelers have a copy.
The truth is I'm not a rookie traveler. I started traveling internationally in my twenties. But I didn't travel often and hardly ever solo. I think it makes a difference - and adds layers of logistics and anxiety to tackle on your own. The only thing to do is to breathe through your nose - and remember not to borrow trouble.
My other travel anxiety is all about packing, and I've found solutions to cope with that too. If you share my hatred for packing, check out this article.