Roy Tang

Programmer, engineer, scientist, critic, gamer, dreamer, and kid-at-heart.

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travels ustrip2019

I had written about travel anxiety before, but I’m revisiting the topic because the recent US trip reminded me how much of a problem it is for me.

The US trip was a new experience because I would be abroad for 40 days with multiple travel legs, it involved 4 international flights (back and forth) plus three domestic flights within the US, and on one leg and several flights I would be travelling alone. I had travelled abroad before for a longer period (3 months for London in 2015), but for those 3 months I was based in the same place and didn’t need anybody’s help to move around the city, etc.

I can get a bit crazy in planning for possible problems. Loss of passport is probably the worst-case scenario, followed by getting sick/injured while abroad (especially since I’m wary of the expensiveness of US health care), and of course there’s the possibility all your other stuff getting lost or stolen. In case of catastophe, I set up an online URL (known only to me) where I can access emergency info such as my passport details, contact number for relatives, and so on. Of course I also have paper printouts of needed info.

By my own count, I had ridden on an airplane 23 times now in my lifetime (19 international, 1 domestic PH, 3 domestic US), but I still worry a lot about any given flight. There are multiple possible points of failure for any one flight, some of them unique to the US, specifically:

  • need to arrive at the airport on time, without forgetting your travel documents
  • need to pass security/immigration/customs. Added feature this time was the stricter TSA screening. And the customs form I needed to fill up as I entered the US gave me some worry as well, because I was carrying some foodstuffs meant to be given to relatives and I wasn’t sure if I had to declare them or not (apparently the default answer is just don’t declare them? IDK). I had a similar issue on the way back into the PH, but even though I was given a customs form to fill up, no one actually asked for it?!? Β―\_(ツ)_/Β―
  • need to pray that your checked luggage doesn’t get lost or stolen from. Additionally, in the US, the TSA may open your checked luggage outside of your presence, and if you’re using a non-TSA approved luggage lock, they will break your lock to do so. I had the misfortune of getting this souvenir from the TSA because of this (I have since purchased TSA-approved locks)
  • need to make sure no one else claims your checked baggage at the carousel
  • will I even be able to sleep during the long haul flight? Undoubtably yes, but only in very short bursts that I presume are not healthy. Airplane economy seats are often very uncomfortable for me and and have very little leg room, and the seat backs are not conducive to me sleeping. I am so uncomfortable on airplanes that I’ve come to realize that me preparing movies/books/comics/games to entertain me during the flight is a waste of time, as I typically won’t indulge in those activities when I’m not very comfortable. Typically, a long haul flight goes like this for me:
    • Try to sleep
    • Wake up after 2-8 minutes due to some noise or due to my neck hurting
    • Check the flight status/time to see how much longer I have to tolerate this nonsense
    • Stare for a while into the void, doing nothing, hoping I can somehow make this flight go by faster
    • (Optional) Get up and go to the 0.5 square meter lavatory so I can stretch my legs
    • Make tiny adjustment in neck or butt or leg position(s) and hope that helps me sleep better
    • Repeat

The start of my trip gave me some anxiety as well, when I went to the check-in counter at NAIA, the Asiana lady could not scan my machine-readable passport, presumably due to a fold on the relevant page. She said she would process me manually but warned me that there was a possibility that they would reject my passport at my US entry point since a machine-readable passport was a requirement. I even had to sign a waiver absolving Asiana of any liability in case I was not allowed to enter the US! Basically they gave me reason to be worried during the entire length of the 18-hour trip to SFO. Spoilers: there was no issue at the US border, and there was never any further issue scanning my passport at any point including at the e-Gate as I was re-entering the PH. (Props to NAIA for having e-Gates now.)

Another issue I encountered was because this was my first time actually visiting relatives during a trip, so I was not prepared for the Filipino culture thing of having your relatives give you stuff to bring back home. I always pack as lightly as possible and have a small luggage unit specifically because I don’t want to have to worry about lugging around a lot of weight. Because of this, on my way back to Seattle from Houston, and from Seattle to Sacramento, I had to handcarry a large paper back with stuff for my folks and siblings. I did not have a spare bag to carry the items, and on the trip to Sacramento, the bag was even slightly ripped, I did not have a contingency plan for if it fell apart. Luckily, things worked out lol.

I mentioned in the previous post that I don’t really do much shopping, but my parents did, and we ended up having 3 additional checked luggage pieces ((all of them near the 50lbs limit), which meant I had to carry one myself during my flight. (We were flying back on the same day, but had separate flights). This added to bit about my anxiety, as what if some customs official asked me what I had in the large luggage and I had no idea? Luckily again, things worked out.

Aside from the flights, I also had to arrange for lodging, as not all the places we were going to had friends or relatives we could crash at. I ended up using 3 different AirBNBs, one each in Anaheim, Los Angeles and Seattle. AirBNBs come with their own set of anxieties:

  • will I be able to find the place?
  • will there be an issue with the check in process?
  • can I trust the host not to steal my stuff or spy on my with a hidden camera or something? The thing about AirBNBs is you basically have to trust strangers; one of my issues this time is I was travelling with a laptop, so I was worried that it might not be secure to leave the laptop at the AirBNB when I went out.
  • is the AirBNB area secure? Can I walk around the area at night?

Happily, I encountered no issues with the AirBNBs I rented and had pleasant stays all around.

“Luckily, things worked out” is generally the outcome to be expected for most of these overthinking-type anxieties I guess. I know it’s not rational to worry about all of these things a lot, and I understand the odds are low for any particular risk, but sometimes I can’t help myself. Often I can manage the happy-go-lucky “eh, I’m sure it’ll be fine” attitude for any single problem, but in this instance the fact that I had to worry about so many different flights (not to mention iteneraries like theme parks, meetups, etc) made it extra challenging. I guess I just need to remind myself not to worry too much. While there are certainly a lot of possible “things that can go wrong”, most of them are easily recoverable from, and the odds are very low anyway. I’ve survived this long in a harsh environment like Metro Manila, so I can probably survive something going wrong in more “civilized” (?) countries like the US anyway!

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