Its truly a surreal experience travelling along for the first time. There’s no one to hurry you along as you dawdle towards the gate when the plane is in the final stages of boarding, no one to hand your passport back to for safe keeping, no one to curb your spending habits when you go overboard on your outlet shopping spree. But there is complete freedom of choice when it comes to where you want to go and what you want to do on your adventure. And the feeling of elation that comes when you realise that this is YOUR adventure.
As someone who is quite close to their family – including a 1 year old groodle who I haven’t been separated from for over 3 weeks since I brought him home – driving out those gates was with the most mixed emotions I’d ever felt. Even writing about it now, 3 months later, I can still feel the churning in my stomach from the nerves and excitement, the tears stinging in my eyes, the squeeze of my little sister’s hand in the back seat, that deep breath out as we got onto the highway. That feeling that this is really happening. One last jam session to the Dear Evan Hansen soundtrack in the car, sharing harmonies with my sister and having our parents tell us to quieten down multiple times, shaking their heads at our insanity. We strolled through the entrance at Sydney airport, acting as if everything was normal, like this was just another short holiday.
Walking into the departures tunnel alone is where it really hit me. After a few teary goodbyes, “have fun”s, and “be safe”s (my mum’s favourite line), I gave my family one last hug, looked back for one last wave and walked past the infamous sign and into the beginning of my journey. With that last wave, I was ready to turn around and cancel the whole thing. If you ever have this feeling, ignore it. I promise its the best thing you’ll ever do.
One perk of travelling solo: endless upgrades. I went from close to the back row of economy, to the fourth row of economy, to the second row of premium economy all between the self-check in and the boarding gate. I consider this an absolute bargain, especially because I paid less than $750 for my ticket. (Shoutout to STA student discounts!)
The plane touched down in LAX after 14 long hours. I was running on a mix of adrenaline, caffeine and 3 hours sleep. Gathering my things from the seat, I disembarked the plane and off to customs I went. I turned to double check with my dad – the designated important document keeper – if he had everything we needed. Only he wasn’t there. So I ran through the checklist myself.
Backpack? Check. Handbag? Check. Travel wallet? Check. Phone? Ummmm… yep jacket pocket – check. I was ready to go.
If you’ve never been through a customs point in the USA, here’s a tip: they don’t mess around. Small talk is not their forte, and neither are jokes or dazed passengers getting their birthday wrong – oops. (Almost had myself in a sticky situation there.) You will be greeted by a barrage of cell-like cubicles that you will feel like an absolute criminal at, fingerprints, mug shot and all. It may seem overwhelming, but its pretty simple really. Just hand over your passport, visa and make sure you know the address you’ll be staying at when you arrive.
Off I went through customs and into yet another security checkpoint. There’s a certain “curse” at airports that seems to follow some people around, one that guarantees they will be pulled up at EVERY checkpoint and given an in-depth security check. I was lucky enough to be one of those people this time round, and had the privilege of multiple officers digging through my bags, and then getting annoyed when I didn’t repack my bags fast enough. I mean come on, there’s a process to these things, a certain way to organise!
Anyway, back to the airport. Navigating is usually pretty easy, so there won’t be much trouble there. It may seem as though you are running on nothing but adrenaline – and this is true – so boarding another 5 hour flight will seem monotonous. But trust me, once you get there you will not regret it.
“Cabin crew, prepare for landing.”
This will become your favourite sentence, a holy grail, a proverb even. The moment those wheels hit the ground is the best feeling. You can finally stretch out your legs and say goodbye to the stranger that you spent the last 14 hours subtly fighting out the arm rest space with. No more stale plane air. No more minimal leg room. Disembarking that plane will be such a relief. Exhale and take it all in.
You’re doing this. You’re flying solo. The next few months are right around the corner, and its all up to you.
It’s time to begin a new adventure.