I got an email this week from my sister Carol, who just got back from a trip to Seattle. On their way to the airport to return home, she and her husband stopped at a botanical garden to see a bonsai exhibit. Twenty minutes later, they returned to the rental car to find everything – all the luggage, daypacks, her purse, wallet, and the keys to the Subaru that was waiting at the airport back home – GONE. What a mess, she wrote. It was interesting getting through security at the airport with not a scrap of ID.

When I read this, I thought, AHA! This is why we middle aged people tend to fuss and worry when we travel. We’ve been around long enough to know how shit happens. At various times, we’ve been robbed, gotten lost, run out of gas, and found ourselves with no place to stay for the night. For the most part, these experiences are a drag and we prefer not to repeat them, so we try to take appropriate precautions. We make reservations, buy travel insurance, sign up for AAA, and research the heck out of a place before we go. (One website advises travellers to email themselves images of all their important documents and cards in case they’re stolen. Carol would have found this useful when she had to cancel all her credit cards in a hurry.) We take all these precautions, and still we worry.

I was talking about this last night with two friends who are about my age. Mary Ellen described encountering unexpected fear on a recent trip to NYC when she had to go out alone to find breakfast. Ginny talked about an anxious night alone in a Chicago hotel room, just before a big photography gig. We wondered what happened to the wild women we once were. Was it child-rearing that did this to us – two decades of hyper-alertness to possible dangers? Or maybe it came from running a business (all of us do), which requires we constantly anticipate problems. Or maybe it was just middle-aged nerves.

The young don’t seem to worry this way. I was struck by this when we met my niece Rebecca and her friend Kane in Italy last summer. We were on a vacation, she had just arrived for a summer internship – her first time in Europe. We took them to the Infiorata Flower Festival in Spello arrying our usual gear: water bottles, sun hats, hand sanitizers, phrase-books, maps, and train schedules. Rebecca brought…well…actually nothing, except a big suitcase containing some cute outfits and a large supply of makeup and hair products. She didn’t have a phrase-book, was a little vague about the address of the apartment where she lived, and didn’t seem to own any comfortable shoes. Kane had almost no money on him because his credit card company didn’t know he was abroad so they blocked the card. And they were…FINE!

I am currently making arrangements for my upcoming trip to India (six weeks and counting!!!) While some of the trip will be an organized tour, I will also be travelling solo some of the time, and with a couple of women for a week at the end. Many of the arrangements are completely out of my hands, and the information I’m getting is vague at best. There’s a part of me – the anxious part – that wants to seize control of things. But from what I hear, India simply defies any attempts to manage and control the experience.

I have to let go every day and give in to the uncertainty of it all.

One thing that Mary Ellen and Ginny and I agree on is that most of the anxiety occurs before the event. Once our feet hit the ground, we’re usually fine. Even when the shit hits the fan and something goes seriously awry, we’re still fine. That’s when our many years of experience with such things comes in handy.