March 22, 2016

Waking Up in Lisbon

As I wrote in "Stages of Emotional Coping Leaving Hens on Ice," transitioning from life on the road to stationary, mediocre employment has its challenges. The coping still continues many months after my August departure. Some days, I coped fine, filled with excitement as I applied to new job prospects. Other days, I coped by joining another ice show for 2 months. As I still find ways to cope in March, I now wonder what may be clinically wrong with me. But pushing that aside, my recent coping strategy was a surprise visit to Europe to see my old show and hen friends.

Since September, my old Hen troop has been touring Western Europe in a similar route to my first year with Hens on Ice. When I bid farewell to dear friends in August, I vowed I'd try to visit during the European tour. It would be a great excuse to visit Europe and see my friends.

Visiting their first week in Europe seemed a little crazy, and visiting in winter was not an option. I wanted to lock a plan to visit in the spring, but there were obstacles. It's hard to justify a European airfare with no income. I had friends' weddings that conflicted with potential opportune times to visit. And Hens on Ice refused to create a new "ambassador" position, where they'd pay me to visit my old show whenever I wanted for moral support and bad jokes. Things were just not lining up.

I refused to give up and fully move on with my life. With a little new income and learning of the group's full week off in Portugal in March, I returned to the airfare hunt. The crazy side of my brain also flipped around this time with an idea - what if I made the trip a surprise and just showed up? I had the connections and the insanity to pull it off.

Free lodging.
I had mentally prepared to take this trip, so why were airfares so expensive? I scoured every shady travel website and horrible itinerary to make it work, trying to justify a 24-hour layover in Istanbul, or that I'd be the exception to the India-based travel agency scamming. After weeks of different searches and even some dreaded phone calls, airfares randomly came down to an affordable price on a mostly-reputable airline: United. Sold. Please stop calling me, Rajeev.

I was all set until I realized that some of my unsuspecting friends (or possibly ALL my friends) could be planning side trips with a whole week off from the show. I needed to fish for my friends' plans subtly, by asking things like, "I hear you have a week off in Lisbon; are you excited?" or "What are your plans for the time off in the most amazing city in the world?" My friends had a mix of tentative and set plans. Anything that was even borderline tentative then got my not-so-subtle assault of love for Lisbon. The following are some examples of my attempts to keep my friends in the city to which I was secretly traveling:

"I LOVE Lisbon! It was my favorite city from that tour!"

"There is just so much to see and do, you really need a few full days to soak in all of Lisbon."

"There was this one bar that had a huge night Sundays with really cheap drinks. I can't remember the name, but you'll definitely want to stay for that and the other good bars during the week."

"You're leaving Monday? I just have a feeling you're going to really want to go out Sunday night and enjoy Lisbon all day Monday. I want to live vicariously through you and make sure you enjoy Lisbon at least until Tuesday."

"You don't need to plan any side trips over there in advance. Just wait to see how you feel on Monday. I actually don't think you're allowed to book anything in advance in Europe."

It seemed to work mostly, but not locking down some friends' plans 100% gave me anxiety and nightmares. Also not having a set plan for my surprise or "reveal" gave me anxiety and nightmares. So for 5 weeks, I woke up in sweats from nightmares of spending a week in Lisbon alone, or my "reveal" being awkward, poorly-timed, and met with indifference. Suddenly that airfare wasn't so cheap with the added therapy and Xanax costs.

Galavanting <3
On top of this panic, I also felt awkward and guilty not telling any of my other close friends or coworkers about this trip. I talked to people like I'd see them the next day, yet I knew deep down I'd be boarding a flight to Europe. In a few days, they'd see something on Facebook about me being in Portugal and question our friendship. Then I'd come back to Florida with no friends. More anxiety, more Xanax.

But in spite of the craziness, the searches, the anxiety, the doubts, and the nightmares, I knew it'd be worth it. And it was. I couldn't have asked for a better trip. Now I am waiting to hear back from the city of Lisbon to be their head of promoting tourism.

KEEP READING! The Hen's Biggest Race Ever!
Bucket List Travel - The Salton Sea!
Driving in Opposite Land.

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