Out of My Comfort and Time Zone: Pre-Travel Anxiety

by Keith Hoffman

I don’t have much of a problem going outside my comfort zone–probably because I spent most of my childhood outside my comfort zone.

So when my friend Nelson invited me to visit him in Peru it didn’t take me long to take him up on this offer.

Getting out of my comfort zone is not the issue—it’s everything that transpires before.

My pre-travel anxiety is a lot like my birthday anxiety—especially in that most people simply tell me the solution is to “just relax and have fun!!”

To me this is like telling a passenger on the Titanic to enjoy viewing the wonderful variety of fish in the ocean while they are plummeting to their watery graves.

It’s just not that easy.


Doris Day in a little known movie about Pre-Travel Anxiety

Every time I plan a trip I decide there is a lot to get done before I get on that plane.   I’m not talking about updating my passport and buying a new carry on bag.   I suddenly feel the compulsion to accomplish everything I have not accomplished in my lifetime in that week before travel.


  • Paint the bedroom a seductive color
  • Get checked for melanoma
  • Go to the dentist for that slight ache that is probably tooth cancer
  • Read Proust
  • Settle down into a long term committed relationship.

The small details such as packing get pushed into the background until a half hour before my taxi arrives.


Pre-Travel Anxiety is one of the few things Judy Garland did not suffer from.

And on top of that there is just so much that can go wrong between now  and getting on that plane.


  • Tooth Cancer (with no time for chemo before boarding)
  • Melanoma (see above)
  • A pet could die
  • My place could burn down
  • A pet could die while my place is burning down
  • Lose my passport
  • Credit cards stolen (that happened the day before a trip)
  • Show up to the airport on the wrong day (happened)
  • Miss the plane because I have to use the bathroom just as they make the boarding call  (happened—sorry again Steve)
  • Arrested by security for unknowingly smuggling drugs that someone slipped into my backpack or orifice


Like Dean Martin I am a wreck by the time I get on that plane

Oh!  And my flight could get cancelled at 11pm the night before the morning I am leaving.

That happened just this week…..

TUESDAY April 15, 2014—11:05 PM

I receive an email with a “Very Important Message” from Jet Blue informing me me my flight is cancelled.   They aren’t exaggerating.  This is certainly a very important message.

Oddly when things do go wrong I become very Zen (aka numb).   The email says to call Jet Blue to reschedule so I do as I am told.  The recording tells me the hold time is longer than usual and to please be patient.

WEDNESDAY April 16, 2014 12:10 AM

Again, they aren’t exaggerating.

Over an hour later I am still listening to the hold music which I can only assume is the same mix of easy listening Bryan Adams/Céline Dion songs that is played in hell.   Does anyone really need to hear Everything I Do I Do it For You again?  In this day and age why can’t I program the hold music to what I want to hear?  Maybe I could choose a little NPR to learn something while I wait?   I can’t even play Candy Crush for fear I will accidentally hit the wrong button and disconnect sending me to the back of the interminable hold line.

So I keep waiting.

WEDNESDAY April 16, 2014 12:50 AM

It begins to snow outside even though it is April and I’ve already moved all my plants outside to the back yard.

Mother Nature doesn’t give a s#*t.

I race outside in my long johns rescuing my potted plants with one hand while clutching my phone listening to Rod Stewart wonder if I think he’s sexy with the other.

Not tonight, Rod.  I’m in no mood.

WEDNESDAY April 16, 2014 1:20 AM

I am dozing next to my phone and hear a real live voice.

“Jet Blue may I help you?”

“Yes, yes, please don’t hang up!!” I yell frantically as I sit up and fumble to take the phone off speaker without accidentally hanging up.  I feel like a man on a dessert island who has spotted a rescue plane and desperately fears it will fly past him leaving him to die.

“Hi,” I say trying to be cheerful reminding myself that this man was most likely busy with other customers while making me wait so long– and not playing Words With Friends as I have been angrily fantasizing.

“My flight was cancelled and I’d like to get on a new one.”

“Great,” he answers equally cheerfully.   “I can get you on a flight on Friday.”

Friday???  But this is Tuesday….or rather Wednesday now…a new day has begun since I first got on this call.

“Um…it’s my vacation,” I tell him certain he will see the error of his ways.

Oh your vacation!  I didn’t realize.  We’ll get an extra plane up and running right away!

 But it doesn’t happen that way.  For the next ten minutes I try everything.  I flirt, cajole, mildly threat, and play the victim.     I stop short of asking, “Do you know who I am?” since unless he is a devoted fan of Bigfoot he probably doesn’t.

And just like that my long planned trip to Peru is  shifted by two days.

And most remarkably even though something went wrong pre-trip –I have lived though it basically unscathed.

And I am absolutely certain there is some great spiritual lesson in this.

If only I didn’t have so much to get done before I fly in two days.

And there is so much that could go wrong….


Once that flight takes off the fun can begin



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Keith Hoffman lives with his artist husband, dog and two cats in the small town Lambertville, New Jersey 72 miles outside of New York City. He has completed a memoir entitled The Summer My Sister Grew Sideburns.

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