After nearly two decades as a self-proclaimed raging pessimist, I wasn’t about to make a fundamental change in my outlook just because I was heading to a different country. So I packed up my irrational neuroses and sense of certain doom with the rest of my emotional baggage and stowed it on my flight to Prague. Shockingly, I haven’t managed to get lost in the middle of the night with a dead cell phone or stabbed over a cultural misunderstanding (yet), but I have been able to compile a list of tips, based on my own experience, for navigating travel like an expert—albeit an expert who’s constantly an anxious mess.
1. Double-, triple-, quadruple-check your luggage
Two months before departure, Google “how to avoid losing luggage on flight.” Book a seven-hour layover in Amsterdam to avoid an overly quick connection (one of the top causes of magically disappearing luggage). Two weeks before departure, read reviews of prospective airlines, searching for ones in which the reviewer never had their bags returned and is now burning effigies of Delta luggage handlers. Two days before departure, tie decorative scarves to your bags so that no one accidentally takes them, and make sure to print detailed travel itineraries to pack inside. Experience existential dread as you watch helplessly as all of your prized possessions drift slowly away on the conveyor belt.
Two minutes before boarding, decide to Google whether you’re allowed to check Bic lighters. Realize you are in violation of Terrifying Important Luggage Laws. Call your boyfriend. Ignore his reassurances that Delta immediately incinerating your entire bag would create a customer service nightmare. Refuse to believe the check-in attendant when they tell you your lighter was probably just confiscated. At the carousel, indulge in horrible visions of your illegally packed luggage up in flames in a giant bonfire, with Delta employees dancing around it and laughing at your naïveté. Retrieve your bags from the carousel and find the lighter inside, untouched.
2. Make sure that there’s a doctor on board the aircraft
Once you’re settled in your cozy window seat, restlessly watch the first five minutes of three movies, pick at your food, read two pages of your novel and then decide to give up on productivity and go to sleep. Wake up in the middle of the night, shivering and headachey beneath your blanket. Remember something you read ages ago about how cabin pressure changes can lead to deadly blood clots. Cast about for anyone who looks like they could save your life if it turns out that your vague symptoms are indeed something sinister. Realize you are the only passenger awake in sight, and begin considering all the possible flight-related illnesses you could be coming down with. Try to ascertain if your ankles are swollen yet. Wonder if health insurance covers you if you’re over international waters. Vow to stop obsessing over WebMD articles so much.
3. Prepare for bad hair days
Begin dying your hair in high school and become convinced you were meant to be born a ginger. Consider doing the job at home from a drugstore brand while you’re abroad, but be too terrified of searing off your scalp. A month into your travels, notice that your roots are growing out and allow panic to set in. Entertain visions of making an appointment with a hairdresser who only speaks Czech, failing to explain what you want done and leaving the salon with chemical burns, Crayola-orange locks and an unexpected bill of $500. Curse the pressure that the beauty industry exerts on the youth of today and resign yourself to life as a half-redhead, half-brunette until December, at which time you return to the safety of your hometown hairdresser.
Go to the ATM around the corner one evening, and find that you are unable to complete your withdrawal. Immediately message your mom and ask her to call your bank and your credit card company. Start planning your new life as a victim of identity theft and credit card fraud. Realize your one other card doesn’t work in the Czech Republic. Feel lucky that you brought your recorder in case you have to busk on the street for cash until your parents can wire you money. Wonder if “wiring money” has been an actual thing since poodle skirts were in and Eisenhower was president.
Return to the ATM. Try and fail to breathe deeply as you attempt another withdrawal. Collect your cash. Sheepishly message your mom, who is already on hold with Visa. Apologize and ask her if maybe she can come pick you up now. Return to your flat, exhausted from your fourth breakdown that week, and get ready for bed, where visions of your luggage flying away and leaving you stranded in Amsterdam will dance in your head ’til morning.