Fear = Control – a tale of transformation

What’s to fear? Fire breathing dragons at a market in Budapest.

Since we’ve been home from Europe, I’ve been talking to people a lot about travel. A few times now, I called myself a travel evangelist. Since I discovered Norwegian Air’s low cost flights, I feel like we can go anywhere.

It’s not just the cheap flights that make travel feel possible. A year ago, when my husband told me that he wants to travel to Italy together, I told him we’d need five years to save enough money. It wasn’t possible in my mind. I really didn’t believe that we could put together the money to go. My mind started to spool out the sequence of things we’d have to accomplish to save up, plan, purchase, get away from work and actually go and I just shut down. Not possible. I felt bad for not believing in his vision, but I simply didn’t.


Things have changed for me over the past year or so, and I’m still trying to put my finger on what it is that shifted to allow for these adventures we’ve been having. Going to Europe isn’t the first. Last summer we took off for two weeks on a rambling excursion through Washington state that culminated with watching the solar eclipse right under the line of totality. I’ve since done my biggest solo backpacking trip of 40 miles on the Rogue River Trail. Vinnie spent three and a half months working for a World Cup snowboard racer, bringing his total number of days in Europe in a four-month period to 90.

Something cracked open and let a bunch of light in on what I believe is possible. It definitely started with going to Washington. Initially, we were simply talking about going up to see my sister for her 40th birthday. Then I saw some incredible photos of Mount Rainier National Park, and my imagination caught fire. I wanted to go there to hike those trails and see those glaciers. So we decided to go. This wasn’t difficult in the monetary sense as we’d be driving, staying with my sister and then camping in the national park. This made the trip feel doable. Once we realized that the total eclipse was happening towards the end of our trip, we added on a few more days so that we could stay far enough north to get the big view. Suddenly, we had a two-week trip planned. Well, perhaps planned isn’t quite accurate.

What I’m coming to learn is that planning is not the way forward. It may be that intention is a better word. We had the intention to go to certain places and to see certain things. We had a time frame, which had some flexibility in it. We had a car full of supplies, maps, water and a willingness to hit the road together.

I should note here that Vinnie and I have incredibly different styles to life and travel. We’ve adopted the name Patty Perfect Planner for the part of my personality that really wants to be in control: dates and locations set out, destinations settled for each night, possibly lodging arranged, costs for attractions researched and a final trip budget number firmly in mind. Vinnie, on the other hand, is the Master of Chaos. By which I mean he wants none of the things on Patty’s list – he’s completely open to let the road take him where it will. He’s camped outside for whole seasons and he’s perfectly willing to end up sleeping in the car, calling beer and beef jerky a sufficient dinner and heading out the next day to do it all over again. We’re so different that we find plenty of opportunities to laugh at ourselves. The Travel Tales of Patty Perfect Planner and the Master of Chaos could be coming to a blog near you soon so you can laugh too.

Our romp through Washington was good training for our trip to Europe. I planned out the first part of our trip, then relinquished control to Vinnie for the second part so we could see the eclipse. Not having an itinerary made my stomach ache, but he assured me that he’d take care of it and I should just enjoy the view out the window. And I did. But it’s funny and odd how relaxing takes concentration for me. Letting go can be a bitch.

I’ve called him the Master of Chaos for a number of years now, but on this trip to Europe, I started to appreciate and accept his approach – and even to find some joy in it. At one point, when we didn’t know which country we were going to be in by the end of the day, he was oozing excitement. This is how travel should be, he said, we’re just making it up. And I have to say, thanks in part to a few super handy apps on my phone, it worked out well for me too. Places and people drew our attention, and rather than worry about sticking to an itinerary and having to change bookings, we just rolled with it.

These experiences are reshaping my interior life. The voice of Patty Perfect Planner has faded significantly, although she still pipes up when things go a bit or a lot sideways. Patty certainly had her moments when we missed our flight out of Prague, but she wasn’t as forceful in her worry and fear as she has been in the past. I even laughed as we sat in the plastic molded chairs at the airport as the truth settled in: we missed our flight.

Patty Perfect Planner and the Master of Chaos enjoying a backpacking trip in the rain.

As I’ve started to practice noticing what’s happening in my life, I’ve started to see the correlation between fear and wanting to be in control. It’s so very natural to want to have a firm grip on any situation that is new, unknown, uncomfortable. Traveling with Vinnie is helping me to see that new doesn’t have to be scary and big adventures don’t have to be planned. Control is not all it’s made out to be – it squeezes the air out of place, squashes spontaneity and dulls the colors of everything around me. Control doesn’t leave room for genuine, in-the-moment living. Control is a future condition and it robs me of the present.

In the first 24 hours that we were home from our 27-day trip to Europe, we were already pricing airfare to return. When we saw how incredibly cheap tickets to London are in the fall, I couldn’t stop laughing. When we were preparing for this trip, a few people said they were so excited for us to take this trip of a lifetime. Trip of a lifetime? I’m thinking of it now as simply the first trip this year. Why would we settle for doing this once?

One of the biggest benefits to the this trip has been acknowledging that I can let go of control: that I don’t have to have it all figured out in advance, that I can’t possibly anticipate what might happen, that whatever happens, we can, indeed, handle it. With this has come the blossoming of my imagination for travel, for my expanding belief of what is possible. I don’t know if we’ll get back to Europe this September, and in some ways it doesn’t matter. What matters most is that I believe we can do it – if not this year then next – and that now I know we can travel well together without a plan, free to wander and enjoy.

One Reply to “Fear = Control – a tale of transformation”

  1. I view travel plans like I do my calendar, something which reveals my intentions with some commitment, but nothing that is real until it is happening. Nothing wrong with all that as long as I am willing to let it go for whatever might feel more important, more soulful, or more relevant. My efforts to control are for security and peace of mind, but when I realize I actually have no ultimate control, aliveness sets in and that eternal now is mostly all that matters. This blog of yours is part of the motivation for my having taken the intentional name — Give It Up.

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