Every traveler knows the feeling of desperately needing someone to turn to. In our Women Who Travel advice column, we’ll be answering questions from our Facebook group members, readers, podcast listeners, newsletter subscribers, and travelers. Have a question? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at [email protected].
Dear Women Who Travel,
After such a rough and terrifying year, it seems like things are finally starting to return to some kind of normal, and (obviously) everyone around me is so excited by all of it.
But as cities have started to open up and the possibility of planning trips is on the table again, I’m feeling overwhelmed by the idea of actually making plans and going places. I’m fully vaccinated, the CDC says its safe, and it seems like everyone I know has a summer plan but I’m feeling overwhelmed by texts from friends about planning group trips together and questions about my summer. I feel like I need a minute to take everything in. How do I explain that to people? Shouldn’t I want to get back out there? Or, should I just be saying yes to things, and force myself get back out there and adjust in the process? This is what I’ve been wanting for the past year, after all. Help, please!
Dear Overwhelmed Traveler,
I’m with you—we’ve waited so long for the world to open up, to have our shots, and to feel like we can plan trips without the assumption that they’ll be canceled. But I don’t think many of us prepared for how it would feel to see much of the barriers of the past year—the risk of infection, the travel restrictions, the social stigma around travel—finally lifting. There’s also the fact that many parts of the world are still in the thick of dangerous third waves and lockdowns. We’re having to confront a mix of realities at once, and yet there’s an expectation to be nothing but excited about it.
That’s not to say I’m not planning trips (a road trip this month, a few camping and beach weekends during summer) but I can relate to that sense of being overwhelmed—or even, not being quite ready for the return to normality.
To get some advice for both of us, I reached out to Australia-based therapist Sara Kuburic, the woman behind the @millennial.therapist (and prior sage here on the Women Who Travel advice column), for her words on moving forward in ways that feel good, not forced, based on where each of us is at right now.
To start, Kuburic says to give yourself some credit. “Change, even desired change, can feel overwhelming and challenging,” she acknowledges. “We have all been forced to adjust to the pandemic, and it can be anxiety-inducing to be asked to restructure our lives again.” Just because we wanted this change doesn’t mean it isn’t hard; even though we’re grateful the world is moving in a positive direction, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be seamless. And believe it or not, we were all forced to adapt—and not by choice—to our pandemic reality, and a “return to normal” will require just as must adjustment.
While being fully vaccinated opens up the world to you, your mind needs time to catch up, she says. “We’ve been prohibited from traveling for over a year now and many have felt a lot of fear surrounding the pandemic—getting the vaccine does not result in an immediate shift in mindset.”
After a traumatizing year, any mental blocks you feel in getting back out there aren’t abnormal. They’re actually your mind’s way of keeping you safe, says Kuburic. Give yourself the time to process. Don’t worry that you’re falling behind some timeline for returning to the things you used to do; needing a transition period is the norm, even if your social feeds make it seem like everyone else is jumping right back into long flights and elaborate group trips the minute they’ve been vaccinated.
Take a “pause to readjust,” says Kuburic, “to allow yourself time to recognize that you are safe now, despite the months of being told the contrary.” This might look like giving yourself the summer to turn down trip plans, so you can enjoy a reopened world on your terms come fall or winter. Maybe you’d rather spend your first couple months of post-vax life just going to the beach with one friend you haven’t seen in a while, or eating at a favorite restaurant you’ve only had takeout from until now. It could even be one trip you book at the end of the year, and that’s it. Do the things you are actually excited and ready to do—and know that, once your mind does ease into the idea of being safe again in smaller ways, planes and trains and big reunions will follow. Just focus on gradual steps.
“My advice is: do it when you’re ready, not because you can,” says Kuburic. “Don’t overextend.”
And if even those baby steps feel overwhelming? Then you don’t have to make a single plan at all. Instead, spend some time trying to figure out what exactly the fears are. “Take time and ask yourself the question: what do I need in order for traveling to feel safe and enjoyable?” says Kuburic. Maybe it comes down to focusing on destinations where there are still no other people around, like a nearby state park or remote Airbnb; maybe it’s about waiting until other habits of the Before Times, like working from your actual office instead of from home, resume.
“As for your friends, I think it’s good to be honest and build a support system that will be there when you’re ready to travel again,” says Kuburic. “And, you might be surprised how many of your friends relate to how you’re feeling right now.” All you have to say is a few words: “I’m not ready.” Even if they’re on a different page, those who care about you will get it—and respect your choice. And trust us, with time, you will get back out there. The good news is, it’s a big world, and it isn’t going anywhere.
—Women Who Travel
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