We’ve already established that I’m able to push my type A personality aside for a bit and be spontaneous, however, that didn’t come without a few roadblocks along the way. While the trip overall was a success, there were also a few moments of panic, extreme anxiety and doubt, which no one can afford when they’re alone in a foreign country on a tight schedule.
So what did I do when I couldn’t find a cab or uber to get me from the train station to my flight in an hour and a half? First, I stopped running around like a chicken with my head cut off and took a deep breath. Literally, in the middle of people rushing and cars all around me, I paused, closed my eyes and inhaled for 4 seconds, exhaled for 4 seconds a few times. From there, I opened my eyes and thought what do I need to do right now, trying to shift my about-to-be emotional breakdown into an objective situation. With that calmness, I was able to find someone that understood some English and asked for help, eventually finding an open cab that would drive me to the airport and take a credit card.
But sometimes, a deep breath isn’t enough to save you. When I arrived in Marseille the first night, it was almost midnight and I was meeting my Airbnb host that didn’t speak English. I had heard from a few friends that there were a couple sketchy spots in the city so I was already a little nervous about showing up late alone so when the cab driver told me he couldn’t drop me off right at my door and I’d have to walk up some winding street into my street alley, I had to remind myself to stay calm yet be very vigilant of my surroundings. Something I learned while exploring the city over the next couple of days was that graffiti is everywhere and a form of art – I wish I had known that earlier because as I climbed up a giant set of stairs and turned into the alley, that was all I saw. Coming from Chicago, that sometimes means you aren’t in the best area so all the alarms were going off in my head. To top it off, when I met my Airbnb host and she walked me through the building, there were no lights in the hallways and it eerily reminded me of a dungeon (thankfully the room ended up being amazing and had a great view).
After she showed me around and left, all I could hear was loud music and drunk people outside of my window. Normally this wouldn’t affect me but with the initial arrival, it made me all the more nervous. So I did what my mother once did when we stayed in some sketch motel coming back from Florida and put the chairs in front of the door. I knew it wouldn’t stop someone but it would at least make enough noise that it would wake me up (if I ever fell asleep, that is). I also grabbed myself a knife from the kitchen and put it next to my bed – overkill I KNOW but I was a nervous wreck and it was 1 in the morning at that point so I needed something extra. I cuddled up with my purse and actually fell asleep much to my surprise. Life lesson from this? Do what you need to do to feel safe and trust your instincts. Yes I could have left and found a hotel but I also knew it was more of my emotions being over-heightened than actually feeling unsafe. However, if I actually didn’t feel safe, like that split second in Paris when my Airbnb check-in was a disaster, I found the closest hotel and just checked-in, not caring about the cost because my life (and everyone else’s) is worth all the dollars and not something I’m willing to put at risk.
But not every experience is going to be something crazy that evokes this major panic attack. It could be as simple as not having a plan for the next few hours and feeling somewhat alone. This is how I felt as I left the new friends I made on my bike tour in Paris and didn’t have to be at the train station for another 7 hours. In moments like these, it’s good to just go with the flow and let life take you. So that’s exactly what I did – I was hungry so I got some food. My feet hurt so I sat down alone the Seine and ate all while people watching. I needed to go to the bathroom so I found a cafe. I was hungry again so I ate. I didn’t think too far in the future, I didn’t plan, I just did what life gave me.
Traveling for that week really opened my eyes to living a bit more and learning to rely on myself. It’s hard not to get caught up in it all so a pause and deep breath can make all the difference in stressful situations. What do you do when you find yourself in moments of panic?