It’s no secret that I travel a lot.
In the last four years, I have had the chance to travel to South America, Europe (several times), Sub-Saharan Africa (several times), and Asia. In my life, I have been to 15 countries, and already plan to spend at least a couple days in three more before September 1. I’ve taken trains, sketchy busses that picked me up on the side of the road, motorcycle taxis, countless airplanes, and have driven way too many miles for someone who tends to get carsick.
Yet here I am, at 6am on a Saturday morning, in the Newark Liberty International Airport Amtrak station, after arriving more than an hour early for my train back to Washington D.C. I could have slept in at least 45 more minutes and not freaked out the Uber driver who picked me up, coffee-less but still totally crazy, at 5:09am this morning.
I’m a nervous traveler, but a seasoned one. Part of my anxiety relates to the mantra “early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable,” but at this point in my traveling career, I would hope that I would be less crazy about it. Frankly, I am way less crazy about (specifically airport) travel than I was when I made my parents drive me to the Port Columbus International Airport at 3am for a 6:30am flight to Ecuador for my first study abroad. We arrived about an hour before any gate agents showed up, let alone were ready to check me in. And yet, here I am, sitting on the floor of this odd little train station, writing a blog post.
Little Kate, very new to international travel, in Peru (on one of the floating islands in Lake Titicaca specifically) on a Friendship Tour with Suzuki Music Columbus back in 2012. This was my second-ever trip out of the country (the first was a 1-week excursion to Andros Island in the Bahamas in 2008).
So here’s what prompted this post topic: This morning, I woke up at 4:45am in a panic that I had missed my alarm. Rolled over, nope I was fine. Went online to confirm how to get to the wonky Amtrak station from the airport and it says you take the AirTrain from EWR. Simple enough. (I'm coming back to Washington D.C. from a very quick trip to New York City.) But then I read some forums about people arriving at EWR and it taking two hours from arrival to getting to the Amtrak station. Now, at this hour I wasn't thinking about those who have to go through customs or the traffic that populates an airport during the day. Two hours from then (given or take 10-15 minutes) my train is supposed to leave for Washington D.C. I jump out of bed, pack up my toiletries, brush my teeth, and run like an idiot down to the hotel front desk. I've missed the 5am free shuttle by a few minutes so I call an Uber and my driver arrives in a few minutes. The arrival at EWR estimated by Uber is 5:35. What? I'm right here! I can see the airport from the hotel! Well, we arrive at Terminal B at 5:15am and I'm thinking okay, I have a full hour and a half to get on the AirTrain before I reeeeeally need to panic. Breathe, Kate. So I somewhat hurriedly get on the first AirTrain that I can, and now (at the time of writing this text to my dad) I'm sitting at the EWR Amtrak station, almost an hour and a half from when my train is due to arrive, looking like a confused idiot and wishing I hadn't panicked until 5:30am.
I would like to reiterate this: I am not new to travel. Even though I travel constantly and am usually relatively chill about it, I can't help but have a guttural need to arrive early and know exactly where & when things will happen. I have flown halfway around the world by myself, navigated cities in languages I can only hope to someday pick up a few phrases in, and have jumped on random public transport, hoping that the ticket in my hand is the correct one. I have hauled overweight suitcases across international borders and have (thankfully) learned how to pack a little lighter, but I still get anxious when it's really time to go.
For every person who arrives at their gate or platform or what have you with moments to spare, there is at least one of us who would rather spend an hour (or more) waiting patiently, perhaps catching up on a good book or writing a blog post about their anxiety. Traveling with me involves a bit of scheduling, but because I have had the chance to do it so often, I also have become more flexible to amending or scrapping my plans entirely. If you’re new to travel, especially internationally, I’m your gal. I can share tips about which debit card to get (Charles Schwab), the least expensive places to stay in some cities, the best location for a good, affordable scoop of ice cream, how to score cheap flights (hint: fly a lot, ideally with someone who also does so if you’re on their reservation you get upgraded too), and so much more.
You can travel for years and still be nervous about the in-between. I’m not sure I’ll ever not be that person who wakes up before my alarm, even to catch a 6am flight… and that’s not a bad thing. I now know how to handle my travel anxiety, and I know that it isn’t unusual.
And hey – there’s nothing wrong with arriving just a little early.