A Travellerspoint blog

August 2014

The Flight & My Madrid Whirl-Wind Tour

Anxiety Rating: Fluctuating between a 1 and a 8 over the last two days

sunny 91 °F

Hello dear readers!

I have not only made it to Madrid, but I successfully spent 48 hours here! Let me give you a little play by play and catch you up on the things that you have missed:

Part 1: The Flight and Arrival

I arrived at the airport on time, and by on time I do mean three hours early, at which time I quickly realized that I didn't know which ticket counter I had to check my bag at, which was an awesome start. The company that I booked my ticket through and the company that was servicing the flight were different hence my confusion. And after inquiring about it, to my dismay, I realized the queue with the enormous crowded line was indeed where I was supposed to be. As soon as my mom and I crowded into the line, I could feel my blood pressure rising. It was too crowded, too loud. I was surrounded, and the fact that I was leaving was suddenly all too real. I was hit with this horribly judgmental and condescending, "What in the world do you think you are doing? Why in the world are you doing this to yourself?" feeling. My eyes darted around, unable to focus, and I stripped off my scarf in attempt to rid myself of some of the heat that had flooded my body. I also hadn't eaten lunch yet, and at 1:30, my hunger pangs were starting to transform into what felt like a powerful nausea. While we slowly inched forward through the maze, I explained to my mom how I was feeling, hoping talking about it would calm me down somewhat. But at that point I was a little far gone for her gentle reasoning. Luckily for me, though, we began moving swiftly through the line, and as soon as I had my bag checked, my discomfort eased.*

  • Note: That's the way it often goes for me. The anxiety starts suddenly, persists for a period of time (which depends on a variety of factors like what it is that is stressing me out, if I can leave and gather myself, if I have someone to talk to, etc.) and often leaves just as suddenly. Other times as you will see later, I get so wound up, it is more like a slow fall after the crescendo.

From there, I waited for my travel companions to check their bags before saying my goodbyes and moving on to security. Saying goodbye to my mom caused an uncomfortable dropping sensation in my stomach. All of the denial I had built up was coming down in sudden terrifying jolts. My bag was checked and I was staying goodbye. I could not longer avoid it. After a series of hugs, I managed to extricate myself and get in line. Luckily again for me, I was randomly assigned to the express version of security and whisked through without ever having to take off so much as my shoes. My travel companions were sorted in the express line as well and we were able to continue onward to find our gate all together. We did without much trouble, and I managed to get some food in me to soothe my stomach, but then the waiting began once again.

Waiting is definitely one of my triggers. In the busy, think-on-your feet moments, I am usually fine because I am so forcibly in the moment that my anxiety is shifted to the back burner, but as soon as I slow down enough, all my fears start flooding back, sometimes at double time, and its like I am paralyzed. It is like your world closes in around you, so that all you can see and think and feel is that anxiety and its bodily manifestations: flushes of heat and cold, nausea, rapid heartbeat, cycling thoughts (and no that's not thoughts about bicycling but rather when whatever I think about cycles back to my anxiety and I cycle down and down and down because by focusing on my anxiety and fearing it, I feed it). With this in mind, you can probably imagine why places like airports are difficult in particular. There's a line for security; there is a line to check baggage; there's a line to use the bathroom; there is a line to buy a five dollar bagel! And when you are done waiting for all that, you have to wait for your flight.

Interestingly enough, I was fine when I got on the plane. We had t.v.'s in all of our seats and I had an isle seat to calm any rogue claustrophobia. Before getting on the plane, I made a list of all of the various encouragements people had given me, so I could read them if I got too panicky. I had bought myself some extra snacks in the event that there weren't enough meals on the plane and I had all the entertainment on backpack could hold. And everything was fine. Flight went smoothly; I didn't sleep as much as I wanted to (read: at all) but I was relatively comfortable and entertained. The flight was probably the least anxious part of the whole ordeal.

When we finally got there after 8 hours in the air, everything was a mad dash. No waiting involved, so my anxiety stayed quiet. My group got off the plane and quickly went up 5 escalators, (well, as quickly as a large mass of people can go up 5 escalators), went through Customs (basically they just stamped our passport, no questions, no nothing, easy peesy), and piled onto the underground tram, along with everyone else. The tram took us to the main building where we would retrieve our suitcases. Everybody got their luggage and we boarded another bus to take us over to Terminal 1 where we would meet our program director and be transported to the hotel.

Part 2: El Hotel

We arrived at our hotel, got a bit settled, and we decided to grab lunch. A group of us wandered around the neighborhood for a bit before we finally settled on a place to eat that would satisfy everyone. Madrid is beautiful in a New York city way, lots of little shops and restaurants crowded together, people walking everywhere, while a combination of buses, cars, mopeds, and motorcycles clog the streets. After lunch we meandered back to the hotel, exhaustion and heat finally getting the best of us. When I got back I tried to set up my internet, with less than successful results, my iMessage wasn't working, I didn't have a phone, my internet was cutting out. Not good.

So I gave up and finally gave in to the pull of sleep. I woke up suddenly about an hour later with a sick feeling in my stomach, and my mind just started turning. I kept thinking about how I couldn't get on iMessage, how I had made this big commitment that was going to last four months and I was just at the start of it, how I wouldn't see my family or friends or boyfriend for four more months, how I was alone and trapped in this big city. It hit me like a ton of bricks as I was laying there, and before I knew it, I was in a full blown, category 8 (out of a possible 10) panic attack. Nausea flooded me, and I was suddenly cold, even under all my blankets. I got up to refill my water bottle and wandered aimlessly around the room a bit, lost in my anxiety. I couldn't think about anything other then the things I was feeling and how much they scared me. Any time I thought about trying to do something to distract myself (watch a movie, read a book, write, etc), all my mind could think about was how much more freaked out I would get if it wouldn't work. In a last ditch effort, after about 30+ minutes of sitting up, laying down, walking, rocking and just generally trying to shake off the feeling that I was trapped in my body, I was able to get online and send panicked email to my mom, explaining what was happening. Luckily for me, she had the day off and messaged back right away with some words of advice. While we emailed back and forth, I also googled "Anxiety and Travel" to see if I could find any coping strategies that would pull me out of my funk.

Only when my mom and I started talking did I finally start the slow process of winding down. I was even able to skype with her a little bit and that helped the process along immensely as well. Talking to her, I felt less alone, scared, and isolated. Everything felt less pressurized. I was able to get on the internet and connect with someone I was used to seeing or talking to a ton, someone familiar and comforting. That made the next few months in general seem less foreign and stressful. I saw that my panicked mind had been wrong. I wouldn't have to go though everything all alone. I still have my family, boyfriend, and friends to help me along when I do need it. That's not to say I would or will be in constant contact; I just simply won't be flying blind, cut off from my support network, for the next four months with really only myself to rely on.

After talking to my mom, things calmed down somewhat. All study abroad students on our program met for a brief meeting with the study abroad director where we got some common sense advice and were given our cell phones. Then we were tossed out into bustling Madrid to find dinner on our own. My exhausted roommate and I ended ducking out right across the street for something quick and easy, and after we ate we returned to our room to relax and go to bed before day two.

I definitely chalk up my stress during the first 48 hours of the trip to lack of sleep, dehydration, and overstimulation. The past two days, including my second day in Madrid and a day in Toledo, were no less hectic, but I have managed to get my footing, or at least I would like to think so. My stress level has gone down for the time being, though I am sure it will spike back up just in time for me to meet my host mother and in time for me to take my placement exam on Monday. Although, I do feel much better prepared to handle it with the first few days under my belt and with reliable connections to my support system back home firmly established.

Thank you for reading my long-winded account of my turbulent, first 48 hours as a world traveler, and check back soon for more updates!

Afectuosamente,

Alison

Thank you to the Helen Barr Rudin Grant for making this blog and my adventures abroad possible*

Posted by TrixiStella 15:19 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

As I struggle not to pack the kitchen sink...

Current Anxiety Rating: 5

We have now come to … *drumrollplease* … the packing portion of the travel prep. (*Insert jazz hands here*)

In the interest of preparedness, I researched packing so extensively and for so long I think my friends were thisclose to holding an intervention. This causes some interesting phenomena. For instance: More sentences than I would care to admit start with, "You know what else I read?! I have to bring…" I have also been manically packing away different odds and ends away for months as I have found them (A head lamp here, a book there) just to get things started. And evidently it has now spread to blogging, so we have come full circle.

I thought I would offer up a list of what I am bringing with me prior my four month trip, and later when return, I will update the blog with a list of things that were necessary, a list of things I didn't know I needed, and a list of things I really didn't need to lug around Europe.

Alrighty then! Lest I dilly dally any longer, I present to you my Packing List:

*Note: Bear in mind I will be abroad from late August to Mid-December, so there are a lot of bases to cover with regard to clothing; also I am a compulsive over packer.

Clothing:
- 4 dresses (3 sun dresses; 1 formal-er dress)* (one worn on)
- 3 cardigans of various colors (Blue, black, white) *(one worn on)
- 4 pairs of shorts
- 3 pairs of jeans
- 2 long skirts* (one rolled up in the bottom of my carry-on)
- 1 medium length skirt
- 1 set of pjs
- 12 shirts (mix of tank tops and short sleeves)
- 1 pair of work out shorts
- 1 pair of flip flops
- 1 pair of comfortable walking sandals *
- 1 pair of flats
- 1 pair of converse*
- 1 pair of running shoes
- Underwear and socks
- 2 belts
- 1 pashmina-size scarf*
- 1 swim suit

Electronics:
- Laptop*
- External Hard drive*
- 2 small flash drives*
- Chargers galore!*
- Camera*
- iPod*
- Head phones*
- 2 Adapters* (one in carry-on)
- 1 Surge protector

Health and Cleanliness:
- Make-up
- Lens Cleaner
- Old glasses*
- Contacts*
- Toothbrush
- Deodorant*
- 1 Bottle of sunscreen
- Small bottles of shampoo/ conditioner/ toothpaste*
- Razor
- Prescription Medications*
- Small first aid kit

Odds And Ends:
- 2 soft cover books
- Neck pillow
- Journal and pen*
- Purse
- Small theft proof daypack (Carry-On Bag)*
- Money Belt
- Gift for host mom
- Eye mask*
- Eye plugs*
- Quick dry towel
- Empty water bottle*
- 1 tiny collapsable bag
- 1 big Ziplock

Money and Documentation: (aka Stuff to Not Lose!)
- Some Euros*
- Debit Card*
- Photo copies of travel documents (passport, visa, etc.)*
- Actual travel documents*
- Insurance info*

*The starred items were either worn on or carried on in my purse or backpack

Now this may seem like a lot of stuff, but anxiety tends to bring out my inner girl scout. Four months away from home feels like quite a long time when it is stretched out before me so immediately. And when it comes down to it, I just feel more comfortable knowing that I will have my normal cold medicine in the event I get sick abroad. I feel better knowing that I have plenty of ways to entertain myself on the plane and bus rides because it keeps me distracted from any nagging claustrophobia. I still have about two days before I leave so I will go through and make some cuts to this list, but as of now, all of these things fit between one checked bag (50lbs or under), my purse, and my carry-on, which is a backpack, with even a little extra room to spare, so I not too concerned.

I leave for Spain this Wednesday so keep your eyes peeled for a post about my plane ride!

Afectuosamente,

Alison

  • Again, thanks goes out to the Helen Barr Rudin Grant for making this blog and my adventures abroad possible*

Posted by TrixiStella 08:02 Archived in USA Tagged packing Comments (0)

Deny. Deny. Deny.

Anxiety Level (out of 10) : 4

Hello there,

Time for another lovely, pre-departure update:

It seems that I am now less than two weeks away from my departure date, and oddly, it couldn't feel farther away. I am still situated up at Lawrence, doing on-campus research (studying 17th century theater!), which I think definitely has something to do with it. With all my belongings still comfortably situated in my dorm room (nary a box in sight yet), my travel bag squirreled away under my bed (outta sight, outta mind), and the lovely people I will miss so much surrounding me, it is hard to fully wrap my head around the idea that I will be leaving the country in less than two weeks. It just seems so disconnected from where I am and what I am doing.

But, sometimes as I am laying idly in bed, my imminent departure manages to creep into my head all sneaky-like, despite my best attempts to (in the words of today's blog title) "deny, deny, deny." I still can't tell if I am doing myself a disservice by not thinking about it. Don't get me wrong; I have googled packing lists, travel abroad trip tips (say that ten times fast), international cellphones, bankcards, and all the rest ad nauseam, but for me, making lists, making plans, is completely different from trying to actively picture myself saying goodbye to the boyfriend, the family, and (what feels like) my peace of mind for four months, a practical eternity for the intensely anxiety-prone, control freak inside of me. When I try, my stomach sinks so low that for a second I feel like I may have misplaced it all together, and all the "what-if's" rush eagerly to the surface.

It's as if I am researching some dangerous stunt like solo skydiving, and every now and then I realize that, oh wait, I am actually the one who has to jump out of the plane. For the first time. All my myself. And the instructor will be yelling instructions in another language...Now, I am not saying that studying abroad is particularly dangerous, especially if you are sensible and are traveling to a safe area, but there is an enormous amount of variables to keep track of when one travels. (New languages. Plane departures and arrivals. Hotel bookings. Pick pockets. A new schedule. Unfamiliar people and places. You get the idea) And for someone like me, variables can often feel like the enemy because they increase the "what-if" factor (technical term), which in turn increases anxiety because I don't know what to expect.

With something like travel abroad, the "what-if's" and worst case scenarios become practically infinite. Am I pretty sure that I won't be stolen and sold into sex trafficking thereby forcing friends and family to pull a Liam Neeson and kill everyone in their path until they rescue me? Yes, I am pretty sure that neither of those things will happen (knock on wood). But am I positive that I won't have an awful panic attack on the plane or experience severe anxiety once I get there, rendering the rest of my stay very unpleasant? No, I am not positive that those things won't happen. So for now rather than allowing myself to dwell on all the worst case scenarios, I shall continue my googling and denying until I have to face the music! Wish me luck!

Afectuosamente,

Alison

  • *Again, thanks goes out to the Helen Barr Rudin Grant for making this blog and my adventures abroad possible**

Posted by TrixiStella 06:44 Archived in USA Tagged update Comments (0)

T-minus 19 Days! Get Excited! OR Terrified!**

**Traveler's choice (¿Por qué no ambos?)……….Current Anxiety Rating (out of 10): 3

Welcome to the chaos, friends, family, and curious onlookers!

I suppose with the threat of departure almost upon me, I should bite the bullet and take some time to start this blog while I still have some shreds of sanity left before the pre-travel brain-blitz.

For those of you who don't know, I am currently in the midst of feverishly preparing for my trip to Spain. I will be participating in a four month long study abroad program in Granada (located in the southern part of Spain), which will include a month of intensive-language classes from September to October followed by a semester of classes from October to December. The program also includes six excursions to different Spanish cities during our stay (Locations: Córdoba, Las Alpujarras, Madrid, Ronda, Sevilla, and Toledo). After four years of high school Spanish classes and two years of college classes Spanish, I am excited to get of the US (for the first time! Eeek!) and see Europe but…

Well, let me just back up for a second.

Last year, I applied for, and was lucky enough to receive, the Helen Barr Rudin Grant to study abroad in Spain. When applying for the grant, all applicants were asked to submit a proposal, describing how they would bring back their experience and enrich the Lawrence community if they received the grant. While it isn't all that flashy, my idea was this: A travel blog. But a blog beyond just the normal accounts of places visited and homesickness and packing lists (though I will probably talk about all that, don't you worry). I wanted to write about something else.

Most of you probably know this about me, if not now is a relevant time for me to share that I have anxiety. Anxiety as in heart-racing, nausea-inducing, palm-sweating, the walls-are-closing-in anxiety, and although I don't have as much trouble controlling it as I once did, I still felt alienated by those constant fears when I was looking at all the study abroad websites, blogs, and pamphlets. Although the writers warned of the nervousness before leaving and the homesickness upon arrival, they came nowhere close to describing the feeling of terror, or even dread, I sometimes feel when thinking about boarding the plane and being so far from everything I know.

And thus this blog was born.

I will talk about all the normal things that you would see on your typical study abroad blog, but I will also chronicle all my ups and down, what triggers me abroad, and how I deal with it. My intent is to document my travel experience while at the same time showing that although these experiences can be nerve-wracking, that nervousness is completely okay and surmountable.

….

Alrighty! I suppose that will suffice for an introduction today. And don't worry; the rest of the posts won't be so formal and serious! Just had to get the introductions out of the way. Check back for more updates in the upcoming weeks and thanks for reading!

Afectuosamente,

Alison

Posted by TrixiStella 12:08 Archived in USA Tagged welcome Comments (0)

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