Really, how could all this go wrong?

I'm usually a really mellow traveller. I like long-haul plane flights (ok, except with a one-year-old). Half the fun … well, maybe not fun, but allure? challenge? of travelling is the little hiccups along the way. The slightly bigger hiccups make good stories – like, how I ended up at a birthday dinner an hour late and covered in tyre grease (I'll save that one for another time).

This time, heading tomorrow to the US to research The Lucky Escape, I'm jangly, and I've been trying to work out why. Partly, I'm sure it's the intense coverage of politics in the last few months, and the pervading uncertainty of travelling there, no matter who you are. After all, Mem Fox, right?

Partly, it's because I'm having to travel without a certain small person. It's just not possible for this to be a family trip, and I'm very uncertain how that will pan out. It's a lot to ask of everyone here.

And partly, it's friggin small print. Let me explain.

A few days back I noticed one line in my car hire reservation (in the six pages of terms and conditions) saying that I would need to present TWO credit cards to hire my hire. Two. I don't have two. After several calls and emails to the company in Australia – three people, three different answers – I eventually got up early and called LA. Four calls later and I learned they knew nothing about this two card requirement. Who knows how it got onto my agreement, but apparently I'll be fine with my one credit card. Finding that out, however, took two days, during which I had plenty of time to imagine being abruptly stuck in LA with no car and no way of hiring another one, while my tight road trip deadline slipped unattainably over the horizon. I would end up having to fly home at great expense with none of my goals met. I don't consider myself a catastrophist, but I started to wonder if maybe I was.

We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality.
— Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Of course, the trouble with these little niggles (even when resolved – there was another one about whether I'd applied for the right visa. I had, but more hours imagining disaster) is that you wonder what else you've missed and not covered off. In the usual vein I'm used to travelling (where even if you get stranded, it doesn't matter so much, like when the whole family came on the Paris research trip last year) this doesn't bother me.

But introduce a reason you need to be home on time, when you said you would be (refer back to previous small person comment) and that looks rather different. Oh, so that's what responsibilities can look like. It's a nasty, nauseated, blotchy-faced feeling. And out of my control.

One thing that I'm learning in my PhD (you enjoying all these segways?) which is about understanding the brain science of storytelling, is that we are all about anticipation. These big factories we haul around on top of our necks spend a lot of time trying to work out what's gonna happen, and what the consequences might be. Even when we can't really do a darned thing about it. Great when the consequences seem minor. Not so much when they're big.

So, how could this little 3200km road trip go wrong? In myriad ways. But I'm trying not to think too much about that. It is truly, mostly, out of my control. So I'll attempt to channel my old unflappable self. One thing at a time. If you haven't heard from me by Sunday, though, something might be up ;)