Suddenly I realize that it’s time to leave. Gasp. I need to move to my next destination and my stuff isn’t packed. Everyone is waiting. I must have lost track of time. Oh my gosh, what do I do? I hurry as fast as I can and grab anything I see. I shove things in my bag and run out the door with a half-zipped, overly heavy bag, leaving a lot of stuff behind. Scene changes. Now I’m at an airport. I barely make it through the gate. I don’t exactly know where I’m going but I run to my flight. My flight is about to take off. Oh wait, my passport is missing. I close my eyes tight and pray ‘Please be a dream’.
Sometimes it happens in a dorm room. Sometimes it’s a bus station. But usually, it happens at airports. Sometimes I’m part of a group or I’m traveling alone. Often I realize that I left something behind in my hotel room: a toiletry bag, clothes, or a passport. I delay the departure by going back to my room at the last minute. Do I ever make it to my next destination? It’s never clear.
This has been a recurrent anxiety dream. I had an interesting conversation about having a recurrent nightmare about via ferrata after our intensive via ferrata expedition in Quebec. A few friends in the group said they had nightmares about whether their carabiners were clipped to the safety line. That reminded me of my own recurrent nightmare that sometimes happens in real life. (I hope their dreams never happen in real life.)
I don’t exactly remember but it must have started when I began to travel full-time back in 2011. Maybe before that, I’m not sure. Just like any dreams, the details are never vivid, but the anxiety and terror are oh-so-real. When things are going unbelievably bad, I close my eyes and pray ‘Please be a dream’, but it continues and I panic even more. Sometimes I tell myself ‘It’s okay, you’re dreaming’ while things are happening, but it’s not always true in my dream. The location and storyline changes, but the core message is always the same; I lose stuff and miss my schedule.
What is my subconscious trying to tell me?
After five years of traveling to more than 50 countries, I still feel like I don’t get the hang of it. I’m not talking about the aspects of traveling. When I am actually in the mode, I excel at whatever I do. I blend in the culture, submerge myself with the surroundings, capture people’s stories, explore the beauty of nature, and so on. I can deal with just about anything, anywhere, and I do it well even alone. I’m talking about the preparation and the logistics of traveling: getting to the airport on time, packing what’s absolutely necessary, wearing the right clothes, pulling out the right amount of cash, and so on.
As a digital nomad by choice, I’ve been on more flights than the average person. But I still get nervous before traveling. Do you ever feel like you never quite get it right? For example, even though I know exactly how much time it takes to get to the airport, I’m never on time. I either have so much time on my hands I could watch a movie, or I have to run to the gate from the moment I arrive at the airport. It never seems like I have just the right amount of time. Same goes for packing. It’s not a secret that I’m a bad light packer. Well, it doesn’t help that I’m a photographer traveling with 15kg of gear. But besides that, I always either pack too light or too heavy. When I’m really determined to pack light, I overcompensate by not having enough clothes. Often times my bag is way too heavy for the length of the trip. On my recent trip to Quebec, not only did I not have enough clothes, but my bag was too heavy also. Imagine that.
Maybe repeating the same situation like this started giving me the anxiety that I will never get it right.
I’m lucky that these disastrous situations in my dreams happen all in my head. I never experience anything that would hurt me physically or emotionally and give me a trauma. I am fortunate. Though I sometimes worry about these things happening in real life. You know the feeling when you’re witnessing something so unrealistic, it gives you a sensation like everything happens in a slow-motion and you’re watching it from above? The ‘I can’t believe this is happening’ moment. While I realize that I forgot my passport, left an important bag in a hotel room, or missed my flight, I would pray ‘Please be a dream’. But what if it happens for real and I am in trouble for real? What do I do then?
In my nightmares, it never brings me to the ending where I would sit in my airplane seat and say “Ah, I made it”. I always wake up in the midst of the tornado of unfortunate incidents. In real life, I get to say “Ah, I made it”. At least most of the times.