I’ll never forget my first international trip when I was a freshman in college. Traveling with a study abroad group, I was terrified to go so far from home with a group of proverbial strangers for the first time in my life. However, that trip turned out to be a life-changing experience that sealed my already engrained obsession with all things British. I fell in love with the U.K.. Now, nearly 9 years later, I am saying goodbye to my fur baby and traveling solo for the first time to embark on my Ph.D.
While I’ve traveled domestically by myself before, I’ve never solo-traveled internationally, and let me tell you… it is equal parts feeling like a totally independent badass and having near-panic attacks about double- and triple-checking that I have my passport, wallet, phone, meds, border patrol papers… all while navigating through airports and managing luggage—that’s right, by. my. self.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m about to have round 2 of the nervous sh*ts.
Speaking of ‘the loo,’ let’s start by talking about some of the ways traveling by yourself is harder than traveling with a buddy: you have to bring all your luggage with you into the tiny, little stall every time you’ve got to go. There’s no one to ask to watch your luggage for you. Now, I’m a light traveler, but it’s still difficult to maneuver everything AND be caught hauling my Starbucks into a grody stall.
Now, when I travel, I like to schedule at least a two-hour layover to, again, try to alleviate some of the anxiety of solo travel. Especially when navigating the behemoth Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta airport between flights. I like to have time to find my terminal, get some food, and peruse the massive duty-free shopping mall that boasts such designer names as Dior and Coach and Chanel, oh my!
Literally, I love flying through Atlanta. If you’re ever gonna get stuck in an airport, this is the one to be stuck in! There is an endless supply of places to eat and things to do. They even have a bookstore and a Starbucks in the international terminal… which, as any of my friends can attest, is my kryptonite. It’s a dangerously wonderful wallet-emptying combo for me.
But I digress…
So usually, I schedule enough time to dawdle in America’s greatest airport playground, but this particular trip, I somehow forgot to budget for the hour difference between time zones. So my leisurely two-hour layover suddenly became a “WHERE AM I GOING AND WHY IS THERE ONLY ORGANIC FOOD AT THIS TERMINAL? WHERE’S THE CRAPPY FAST-FOOD COMFORT FOOD?! I’M TRAVELING ALONE, DAMNIT!!!”
But, of course, while that’s going on in my head, I’m trying to act super cool like I totes do this all the time. Nbd.
Plus, I’m super compulsive about wanting to be one of the first ones on the plane. I like to have time to board, get my seat, claim some highly-coveted overhead bin space, and relax before the massive cattle call of humans stumbling over carry-ons, that are wayyyy too big to be classified as ‘carry-ons,’ try to muscle their way down the aisle, not caring that OW! Your bag just flattened my face!
This is why I recommend, whenever possible, UGRADE! Especially when traveling alone, it just makes life so much easier and more pampered. My flight actually had a selection of wines that were altitude tested by a Master Sommelier to ensure that they would still taste amazing at 30,000 feet. HELLA YES! Fill’ er up, flight attendant!
*side note* I’m obsessed with Delta biscotti. Y’all, you just don’t even know… unless you fly Delta. (Hey Delta, how about sending me that check for the product placement plug?) Ugh… I wish.
So as I settle in for my long flight across ‘The Pond’ with my altitude tested wine, the nerves start to subside, and I start to embrace my inner badass. I mean, I’m traveling across an ocean to another country BY MYSELF! I navigated my way through an insanely huge airport (and got to ride the really fun Plane Train!), and will soon be exploring my beloved Britain with no parent, professor, or boss pulling the organizational strings or masterminding the itinerary. It’s pretty empowering to conquer this adulting milestone! I think I’ll celebrate by watching Beauty & The Beast on Delta demand (come on, Delta, that’s three plugs now! Thats at least gotta be worth some extra biscotti!)
But as the sun sets, I realize that I have no buddy to awkwardly use as a human pillow. In fact, I don’t even know who the heck is sitting next to me, or if I can trust them not to steal my passport while I’m sleeping. Uh oh, new surge of anxiety! Who said this flying solo thing was so great!?!!?!
Oh wait… I did.
Well, human pillowlessness aside, I love sleeping on planes. Not because they’re comfortable (cuz they’re not), but because when I wake up, I’m some place new and exciting and I’m ready to have some big adventures. Let’s GO!
But wait, I almost forgot! There’s more!
Before the adventures officially begin and that Independent World Traveler Badge is officially mine, there’s one more fun– and by fun, I mean insanely stressful– thing about flying international by yourself yet to tackle: border patrol.
Now, having flow international to the U.K. several times before, I’m familiar with navigating Heathrow and the London Underground, but passing through Border Patrol still FREAKS me out! I have this irrational fear that I won’t look like my passport picture, or my name will be accidentally misspelled on my border patrol papers and I’ll end up being interrogated in a medieval dungeon by one of those beefeaters in a ridiculously poofy hat!
Okay, while the likelihood of this happening is basically nil, would it really be too much to train border patrol agents to smile? I love your country! Really! I promise! Pleeeeeassssee let me innnnnn!
Actually, in all seriousness, border patrol isn’t really that bad, although, as an American inbred with an innate sense of ethnocentrism (fancy world for ‘the world revolves around us’), it is weird having to stand in the line marked “Foreigners.” Still, after now quadruply and quintuply checking that my papers are in order, I can’t help but hold my breath until my passport is stamped and I’m through to the other side.
Let’s pause for a massive round of applause over the fact that I DID IT! I MADE IT! I SURVIVED!
Not only did I survive, but I owned this LIKE A BOSS!
And, to greet me at baggage claim is my British Bestie waiting to help me carry my bags!
The moral of this story: you should travel by yourself internationally at least once in your life to prove that
1) You CAN do it
2) You ARE a badass capable of planning, organizing, navigating, and being responsible for everything between Point A and Point B
3 Bringing Starbucks into a bathroom stall really IS as gross as it sounds and…
4) Let’s be honest, it really is much more fun to travel with people whenever possible cuz… human pillow.
As I bask in the glory of my own badassery, it’s time for the real adventures to begin! Stay tuned…
Until we meet again, this is Stephanie, signing off.
Check out my Instagram at @stephanie1391 for more photos and fun!