03 February 2014

Type A Travel Woes

About 35,000 feet above the South China Sea, the universe finally completed a lesson it's apparently been trying to teach me for a long time. I'm absolutely piss poor at traveling.

The Lunar New Year, or 설날 (Seollal) as it's referred to in Korea, is a massive holiday all over Asia. Little kids love it because they get paid to bend at the waist in front of their grandparents, adults love it because their 78 hour work weeks finally subside for a day or two (if they're lucky), and people like me love it because it means we can get the hell out of dodge (or in my case, Suji) for a much needed long weekend post winter intensive season. After much deliberation (about 25 minutes) I decided to book a flight to Hong Kong for the Chinese New Year.  I figured mainland China isn't really my jams, but I loved Taiwan so Hong Kong had to be somewhat similar, right?

Here's where I began to go wrong.

When I decided on Hong Kong I based my decision off of two things. One, a coworker recommended it and said she might want to tag along too. Two, it seems like a pretty cool place on TV and I really like orange chicken. Okay that last part is facetious, but I really didn't have any particular reason for Hong Kong, it just seemed like a good idea. The tickets weren't even that reasonable. Despite the fact that I'd chosen to fly on the red headed Asian stepchild of Spirit Air, China Eastern Airlines, my ticket still cost me 1/3rd of my monthly salary.  After booking my what should've been incredibly cheap flight on a whim, I figured as long as I got a hotel and scanned some Hong Kong travel columns a few times I would be set. So I put it out of my mind, even though it was mid-January.

One week later.

I'm sitting at my desk smack in the middle of another 13 hour day of instructing brilliant Korean students on how to bubble in the circles of a standardized test properly, and I realize I haven't done any research for my trip to Hong Kong still. I'm not entirely sure where I'll be staying, where I should stay, what I should do, where I should eat, or what I should wear. I seriously didn't even know what the weather patterns would be like in Hong Kong in early February. So I decide to spend two precious hours of test proctoring scouring the internet for information to help me make informed tourist decisions.

This is what I hate about myself.

I am a planner, to my very last breath I'm sure I'll be instructing whoever is still beside me on what music to play at my memorial and what kinds of cheese to serve the people who actually came to say goodbye.  Most people say, "oh I wish I could be as organized as you, you're so good at putting things together," but if they were in my position they would be wishing to be themselves again.  How could they understand how much stress and anxiety I heap on my own shoulders by having to plan, prepare, and process every last thing in my life. I check my alarm to make sure that it's set at least five times before I go to sleep every night. My morning routine is exactly the same every single weekday, day in, day out, I have everything timed and set up perfectly so that from my first alarm to the minute I step out the door to go to work I know just how long it will take me to get ready.  Do I enjoy being this person? Absolutely not. Could I change and be a little more relaxed, a little less timed and calculated? Sure I probably could, but I have no idea how.

Back to me being a shitty traveler.

I scour agoda, booking, United to see what my pitiful miles might get me, kayak, hostelworld, hotels, hostelbookers, ebookers because you never know what deals the Brits might have... before finally exhausting myself to the point of apathy and choosing a hotel based on the name.  The Imperial Hotel.  Sounds British, might serve tea, located near an MTR stop, decent reviews but none I really bothered to read, in my price range: done.  Hotel booked.  Travel partners informed.  Brain overloaded and I'm done planning for the day.

Come a week later I'm up at 4.00 in the morning on Foursquare, searching out the best yet still affordable restaurants in the area of our hotel and beyond. I find the restaurant, I look up the closest MTR stop, can we take a bus? Should we walk? What do we wear there? Is it a dress up place or can we just do jeans and sandals? What do people say to order? What's best on the menu? Are there pictures of the food? I wonder. Put my findings into a google doc, save it to my drive multiple times because I'm afraid of losing my 'work.' Share the google doc with the two guys I'm supposed to be traveling with, hear nothing back from them and later found out they didn't even open it, much less read it.

And this is the point where I wonder, what in the hell is wrong with me?

What started as a simple 4-day vacation from the hell that was my January work schedule had now become it's own monster entirely. It's become something else for me to stress out about, something to keep me awake until the early hours of the morning on the internet, my eyes squinting to stay open, not satisfied until I feel like I've really done all I can do to prepare for this trip. This 4-day trip that is supposed to be relaxing and stress-free and away from all the duties I've allowed to run my life.

It's here I take a deep breath and realize I am not good at letting go.

Since I was young, I've always known I need to be in control. I am what some people would call "a control freak," and I lose it a little bit when I am in unfamiliar or unsatisfactory circumstances. I hate feeling like I don't know something, or that a certain event isn't within my realm of control and could quite possibly go 'wrong.' The unknown completely freaks me out.

 A few days into my trip to Hong Kong I hit the pinnacle of this lesson. As I was weaving my way in and out of tourists and locals alike, all lining the streets to watch the New Year parade outside of my hotel, I began to feel that all too familiar feeling. My heart is racing, I'm clenching my jaw, I want to expletive punch someone in the expletive expletive face because expletive these expletives. And then I just lose it. I want to cry but I don't because I'm there with Alex and Andy and I'm sure they already think I'm psychotic enough. As I'm pushing through throngs of people to get to the MTR stop I need, the feelings of anxiety and stress and need for solitude or calmness or control overwhelm me. I can't deal with these crowds, with the people all doing things I don't understand and would never do in my entire fucking life. I can't deal with the noises and the bright lights and the unclear directions from crowd control officers. I can't handle Alex and Andy making fun of me and calling me a crazy person, I just want to sit down and close my eyes. I want to go home. I want to be alone and I want to breathe.  This sounds like a scene from one of those end of the world movies, like I'm describing some psychotic turn of events that will lead to my demise. Of course it won't, it's just a crowd, just a place and time that will soon be through with, just a small ordeal in a world full of events much more harmful. I can tell myself those things over and over, people can tell me to chill out, calm down, it'll be okay, but the reaction to unfamiliar or uncertain events never changes.

And this is why I am a terrible tourist.

I am needy. I am bossy. I am too much of a planner. I don't trust others. I am short tempered. I am nervous and anxious and my shoulder muscles are always clenched, not because I want them to be uncomfortable, but because that is just the way I am. Am I always a complete psychopath? Have I always had control and stress issues that can ruin even the simplest of holidays? Some questions I still don't have the answers to, nor do I necessarily think I ever will have solidified ways to respond to them. But I do know one thing: I am a terrible traveler. I love the world around me, I like to see beautiful things and do things that excite me and eat delicious food and experience new cultures. But? I am not good at it. I don't know how to be good at it.  This both terrifies and saddens me.

Lesson learned. Next time I'll bring the Xanax, you bring the foursquare guide.


  1. um...excuse me but EYE had an amazing trip to your house in October which was all planned out by you.....and we had the BEST time doing cool stuff which as I reflected later on my trip....probably cost you a few nights sleep and some stress just knowing your mom would be in your space for 6 days. But you instinctively knew how to make it fun for me. That...is the positive side of being a 'planner'. Thank you again!! Planning ahead is a wonderful gift, we just have to keep a sane balance between planning and controlling.

    Sorry this trip wasn't the best. Sounds like you need to come to Cabo and just sit on the beach with me and Jen this winter.

  2. Yup, I will plan that. Wake up. Eat fish tacos and beers. Sit on Beach. Swim, Sleep, Repeat.