"This is a mistake. I'm making a mistake."
These were my first thoughts as I woke up the morning I left for Argentina. Not exactly the conventional giddiness one usually gets the day they're set to go on a trip somewhere, but I've never been a totally normal person.
I remember the pit in the my stomach as I woke up March 20th. I had barely slept the night before, tossing and turning, my mind racing about all the ways this could go horribly wrong.
That's anxiety for you. It's something I'm all too familiar with, and even so, its weight seems to pull me under the waves every time.
My brother walked me in to the check-in area as we said our final goodbyes at JFK. I wondered if it would be my last goodbye. My parents were outside in the car.
I tried to keep my cool, but inside I was a mess. Why was I so scared? It's not like I'd never done something like this before (in 2011 I studied abroad in Italy). But this time I felt different: weaker, less sure of myself.
My feelings were overwhelming. My mind raced over flying alone, the farthest I'd ever flown, to a country I didn't know much about. How was it going to be at the airport? I hadn't spoken Spanish well in years. Argentina sounded nice in theory, but all of my research about safety in Buenos Aires freaked me out. It didn't help that in my wide scope of Google searches, I found story after story of people getting held at gunpoint on the streets of Buenos Aires.
My favorite anecdote: I was listening to a podcast about a woman who traveled the world. She casually mentioned her journey to Buenos Aires just days before I was heading there. My ears perked up. She explained how she was in BA for just an hour before she got robbed at gunpoint. After leaving the country and returning a few months later, she was robbed again (this time by someone who squirted ketchup on her. As the trick goes, thieves will often squirt a mysterious liquid onto tourists in hopes they will stop and clean themselves off. Sometimes a nice, old woman will offer to help as a distraction. Then they run off with all your stuff. My advice? Keep it moving until you can get into a store or a safer area.).
Lovely, right? And I didn't even LOOK for that story. It just slithered its way to me.
I'll spare you the details on the intense nausea and upset stomach I felt at the airport. But it was bad.
A few things thing I'd recommend to carry on board with you if you have anxiety like I do:
- An empty reusable water bottle (you can fill it up once you get past security)
- Advil (PM if you want to sleep on the plane)
- Pepto Bismol (it costs way too much at the airport)
- Headphones and a tablet/music device, if you have one (I filled mine with my favorite podcasts and two movies I'd been wanting to see)
- Journal (sometimes letting your thoughts out on paper can quell some of those uneasy feelings).
A few other things I find super helpful when heading to the airport:
- Dressing in layers, especially athleisure. I opt for comfortable leggings, a t-shirt, and a zip-up over that. Versatility is key, especially since planes can get chilly
- Copies of all my documents in case of an emergency
- Some (but not all) of my Argentinian pesos. I divided my money between three separate pieces of luggage (personal item, carry-on, and checked luggage) just in case something got lost
- Phone charger and adapter
- Two sandwiches that fit my dietary restrictions (I'm allergic to dairy)
- Extra underwear/socks. Because you really never know when you'll need it.
I was lucky, though. The Aerolineas Argentinas flight was half empty, and I didn't have to share my window seat with another person. That extra wiggle room meant I could stretch out my legs come nap time.
Something else I wasn't expecting: a USB plug-in to charge my iPhone or tablet. It was clutch. On an 11-hour flight, I was scared of my phone dying before I could get to Argentina, then running around like a nut looking for a functional outlet. Thankfully, I was able to charge my devices on the plane as we swam the sky at 35-thousand feet.
The flight itself was relatively calm, except for 3 moments of turbulence. With a shaky stomach and no one to hold onto, it was especially rough. Sometimes it feels like there's nothing you can do when you're flying alone. I like to practice my meditation with deep breaths as I hold on for dear life. It's better than nothing.
Once the plane touched the ground, I checked my phone to see whether it had connected to a data network.
Though I don't advocate using your phone data often while abroad, I bought the cheapest international plan AT&T offered just in case I needed to use the internet and didn't have WiFi.
Here's a quick look at what AT&T has to offer. The plan lasts 30 days after you activate it. I went for the least expensive Passport.
I was only planning to use Passport in case of an emergency, otherwise I'd opt for just WiFi. Unfortunately, when I landed in BA, my data did not work. It could have been the harried, exhausted state I was in, but for some reason, my phone did not connect to a network at Ezeiza Airport. Once returning to the airport to fly back home, I realized the airport had free WiFi, but the WiFi network was a bunch of numbers and not something easily recognizable at 4 in the morning.
I reluctantly gave my mom a quick 30-second call to let her know I had landed safely.
After that, I used a locutorio to go on the internet for a small fee. I messaged my friend Natascia on Facebook to let her know I arrived and to make sure she was awake when I got to her apartment.
My final step was one of the most stressful: getting a taxi. In this case, a radio taxi or remise is considered the most secure way to get where you need to go in BA. Not all taxis at the Ezeiza airport are equal, and in the interest of safety, I used the company Tienda Leon. It was relatively expensive, and there were definitely cheaper ways to do it, but it was 4 AM and I was alone. So I stuck to my guns and ate the 40 bucks.
My driver was nice, and luckily not very talkative. I got my first cultural experience when he (cautiously) drove through a red light. It was 5 AM on a Monday, and the highways were already filling with commuters. The darkness still laid heavy on the city, and my nerves were bundled tightly in my stomach. With my eyes out the window, I yearned to see South America in the daylight. But that would have to wait until AFTER I took a nap.