My first piece of advice to you: if possible, avoid renting a car in Naples and trying to drive to Benevento with just a few handwritten directions and no GPS. This is a sure way to be traumatized forever. Why do I say this so adamantly? Because that is exactly what I did last year. It was horrifying. Driving a car in Naples is like trying to carry your grandmother down a football field while dodging an army of linebackers. After that hellish experience, I swore I would never drive in Italy again.
This year I was planning my return trip, which would be a combination of family research and food writing (I call it a business trip, nudge, nudge). As I went about planning, the central focus was how to avoid driving a car. I vowed to arrange everything in advance so as to avoid driving in the chaos and stress. Trains, buses, taxis, and planes were a-okay, but NOT rental cars. No. Never. However, as we all know, whenever we think we can control something in our lives, the universe steps up to say, hold on, I think we better shake things up here.
Damn. I really thought I could get away with this. I would be staying in small villages far away from tourist areas and away from public transportation. So, why not hire a driver? It would probably be cheaper than renting a car, and I would be providing employment for someone! Do you love how I am justifying this? I would get to stay in quiet peaceful places, and never have to get behind the wheel of a car. Well, that fantasy was quickly snuffed out.
It was an unrealistic idea. Too expensive and not practical. It became crystal clear that unless I wanted to spend my days inside my B&B room, I would have to bite the bullet and get a rental car. It was time to confront this enormous fear. It would probably be really good for me and build character, blah, blah, blah. I didn’t care. I was scared *#@*less.
As the inevitable car ride drew closer, I became petrified. My digestion came to a standstill and sleep was fitful at best. I now have an understanding of what it means to be petrified with fear. I tried to distract myself during the preceding days, but every now and then I would remember what I had to do and would break out in a cold sweat. I was in a total panic. What was the worst thing that could happen? I could die, or worse, get horribly lost at night in some hill town and lose cell reception, never to be seen again. Before trying to go to sleep at night, I would imagine horrible scenarios of getting trapped on the autostrade, cars honking, taking a wrong exit, running out of gas, the list goes on. Probably, most people would not be so terrorized at the thought of driving in Italy. But this fear really gripped me. Maybe these seem like trivial issues, but as with many fears, they take on a life of their own and become larger than life. Finally I faced the fact that it had to be done.
Here is how I prepared myself for the car trip. First, I purchased a Vodafone SIM card which provides the best cellular data and GPS service. Next, I spent a large amount of time, let’s say it was under two hours, studying Google maps and memorizing the route. I rehearsed each step in my head. Okay, I admit I was a bit obsessed. I had a good car charger and a full charge on my phone. I planned to leave at a time of low traffic. The night before, I listened to podcasts of meditations and spiritual affirmations. I imagined my spirit guides at my side. And finally, I imagined myself doing the dance of joy when I reached my destination.
The day arrived. My host family, sensing my anxiety, helped me load my luggage and get seatbelted in the little white Smart car. They all gathered around, waving and smiling, as if sending their nervous teenager off to college. Trying to be brave, I smiled and waved and pulled out onto the street. My palms were drenched in sweat, but I managed to hang on to the steering wheel. I listened attentively to the stern voice on the GPS. I had her and my guides, and I was on my way.
I did have a few moments of panic, but I made it safely to my destination. No wrong turns, no honking, and I am alive. I felt a certain sense of accomplishment and, well, joy. I knew that eventually I would have to get back in the car again, but I could relax just a bit with the knowledge that in each moment, I knew what to do or had the ability to figure it out. I could feel the tight grip of anxiety loosen ever so slightly. I now could climb in that car and have the freedom to move about the country as I so desired, not letting my fear limit or imprison me. It was a great feeling.
When I pulled into the B&B, I got out of the car, and even though I probably looked like a strange American woman, I stood in the parking lot and did the dance of joy.
Thanks for listening!