After going on a vacation, most people get this feeling of longing for places they’ve just visited. Some call it “separation anxiety,” or #sepanx, as the kids would say. What I’ve experienced was the older, less popular sister of sepanx—pre-travel anxiety.
My friends and I went to Japan a few weeks ago. We had planned this trip since the beginning of the year; two years if you count the discussion we had at the end of our Korea trip in 2012.
This trip was a huge deal because Japan was one of the destinations in my travel bucket list. Some people seek the serenity of a beach, while others climb mountains to see the world above the clouds. I, on the other hand, prefer navigating through the uncaring crowd of big cities. I was excited to overload my senses with the noise, smell and bright lights of Tokyo. I both dreaded and looked forward to getting lost in the vastness of Shinjuku Station. I wanted to eat Japanese food in Japan. By the end of April, we had booked our round trip, discounted tickets to the land of ramen.
After confirming our booking, I could’ve posted online something like, “Booked!” or “Super excited!” as some people are wont to do. But my pre-travel anxiety prevents me from behaving that way. You see, the pre-travel anxiety package includes fear of jinxes. I’m a logical, grown-ass woman, but I’m still afraid of jinxing plans by talking about them before they actually happen. I only talk about my plans to people whom I trust not to wish ill things that would spoil my dream. And there are a lot of shit that can happen, first and most essential of which, is being denied a visa.
Earlier this year, news came out that Japan was granting visa-free entry for a few Southeast Asian nations. My friends and I thought that it’s as if the universe were conspiring to make our trip happen. Filipinos went crazy sharing articles online about this new policy. They were tagging friends, writing posts that went something like, “Now we know where our next trip will be.” The articles said that Thais and Malaysians can now enter Japan without a visa. But for Filipinos, it was a little vague. I got tired of all the speculations and called the Japanese Embassy to ask if Filipinos could now travel to Japan without a visa. An impatient and tired-sounding woman answered with a quick “No.” So we were back to fixing our documents.
Before my friends and I applied for our tourist visas, one of my close friends, three colleagues, and a former high school classmate went to Japan. It was both comforting and stressful—comforting because it meant that the Japanese Embassy was more lenient as they announced they would be, and stressful because they all made it to Japan. What if I didn’t? How would I deal with the disappointment, envy, and sadness?
But I refused to dwell on thoughts about not making it. A lot of my journal entries this year are about our Japan trip, preparing for it, or referencing it in some way. But I never wrote about what I’d do if my visa application got denied. (In the back of my mind, my backup plan was to go to Korea.) I would squash negative thoughts as soon as they surfaced—real The Secret-like “attract what you want” mind-over-matter shit. All I thought about was getting my visa, the places I’ll visit when I get there, and the outfits I’ll wear.
Speaking of outfits, you know how some people like to pack last minute and make it seem like they’re proud of it? As if to say, “oh my god look at how much I don’t care about this trip” or how “I’m suuuuuper busy I don’t even have time to pack until the last minute!” That’s so not how I roll. This was Japan, where the street style ranges from kooky cosplayers to serious salarymen in three-piece suits. And it was fall, the perfect weather for sweaters, scarves, and boots. I wasn’t going to waste an opportunity like that to lack of planning.
So I had curated my travel wardrobe weeks before our trip. I even had an outfit calendar which included details like what accessories I’ll pair with what outfit or what type of bra I will wear on a specific day cementing my status as an uncool person. But you know what’s cool about planning? Having enough space for five books and tons of pasalubong in your luggage because you didn’t bring any unnecessary clothes with you. Another cool thing is not being reprimanded by the Japanese woman at the check-in counter for having too many hand-carry luggage in the form of shopping bags.
|I spare no small details when it comes to planning my outfits.|
I made my outfit calendar after I got my tourist visa. I was ecstatic. I was flying to Japan for sure. Then that happiness slowly devolved to worry. It was three weeks before our flight and only two of us had visas. A week before our trip and we still had one friend without a visa. Our flight was on a Wednesday and he submitted his documents to the travel agency Tuesday, the week before. I was worried because he didn’t give us enough time to plan for contingencies.
My main concern was our hotel reservation bill, which will be charged to my card that Saturday. The three of us who already had visas at the time had an intense discussion over Viber on what we’ll do about the reservation if our friend got denied.
Do we cancel our reservation until we’re sure he’ll be joining us? (But then we’ll have to rebook which might cost us more. Or worse, we might not find a hotel with an available room because the dates are too close.) Do we ask him to pay for his share even if he can’t come with us? (We ran this idea by him and he refused to pay if that were the case.) Do we split it among the three of us? (This meant we would have to shell out an additional 6,000 pesos each.) The bickering frustrated Allan, so to shut us up he said that he’ll just pay for our friend’s share as long as he gets a room to himself.
I felt terrible for bitching about the reservation. But I also knew that this time around, my worries were valid and not caused by some jinx-based fear. The thing that I really resented was that the three of us were arguing because one person was inconsiderate of everybody else’s time.
Thankfully, our friend got his visa three days later. It was finally time to relax and stop worrying. And I did relax. I actually did more than relax. I suddenly felt apathetic about the whole thing. This always happens to me the day before a trip. I get myself hyped up for months, then I stop being excited when it’s almost about to happen and just focus on getting everything prepared. It’s almost as if I’m afraid that if I want it too much and I’m this close to getting it, someone or something will snatch it away from me.
|On our way to Nippon!|
On the day of departure, most people would be excited and proud to post on Facebook that they’re at the airport waiting to board their flight to Japan. But not me. No, sir. It’s too risky. There are still two more things that could go wrong. One, the immigration officer in Japan might send me back to Manila for whatever reason. And two, the airline might lose my baggage. (My curated wardrobe!) Those things didn’t happen.
When traveling, there are things that are in my control and, as much as possible, I prepare for them. Those things out of my control that may prevent me reaching my destination are the real sources of my anxiety. However, once I’m already there, I worry less because I accept that traveling leads to situations I have no control over. I just need to get to where I want to be. That’s all that needs to happen for me to calm down.
|Anxieties are exhausting.|
I thought I’m a fun, spontaneous person and for a time I tried to be like that because that’s what people liked. But I can’t smother the slightly neurotic planner that I am—I just have to be on top of things. I worry about details and the “what if this or that happens.” And I overwhelm people with my questions and concerns which makes me very uncool. But the upside is once I’ve ironed out a plan, I make stuff happen. And it will happen as long as I stay quiet about it beforehand.