With half a decade of non-stop travel under my belt, I can talk about a lot of subjects related to travel. The one thing I cannot talk about, however, is what it feels like to travel for the first time. Recently my assistant Amy made her very first trip outside of US/Canada. I asked her to write about her experience traveling abroad for the first time.
In the comments, feel free to share your first time traveling outside of your home country. Everyone remembers their first time and everyone has a different story.
Here is Amy:
Growing up, my parents weren’t all that big into travel. While we had family vacations, they were always short road trips. So when I graduated from high school, I had been in only 5 states (all of them bordering my home state of Texas) and had never flown in a plane. When I finally did fly for the first time, I flew Dallas to Lubbock. That short haul flight was not all that impressive, nor was Lubbock, but it did prove to me that I could do it and there was nothing to be afraid of.
In the past ten years or so, I’ve definitely broadened my horizons. I’ve been to 34 US states, including Alaska and Hawaii. I have lived outside of my home region for a significant portion of time, and I definitely love the rush of adventure. That 18 year old that was afraid of flying? She herself grew into a glider pilot, and married an airline pilot. I now easily jump on and off flights, fly standby and can calculate the best routes better than the average gate agent.
However, one thing still eluded me – foreign travel. For a long time, I didn’t have a passport (read about the remedy to that here). I couldn’t go abroad because I couldn’t go abroad. But after getting my passport, nothing really stopped me other than time. When TBEX asked me to speak in Costa Brava, Spain I knew this was the time. I was going to finally travel to a foreign country.
I will admit to having a little fear of the unknown. The US is such a vast place, it is easier to stay in your comfort zone and explore it. Could I get around on my own, safely, without understanding the language? Was customs scary? So many questions – but the only way to answer them were to experience them myself.
Arriving in Spain
I had to get a connecting flight through Toronto, so I had to speak to Canadian customs first. They asked a few questions and sent me on my way. Spanish customs was insanely easy. Both times I went through their customs station, they didn’t look at me or say a word. They just stamped my passport and I went on my way. To be honest, I was a little disappointed as it was happening that it wasn’t more of an adventure.
What little Spanish I knew was of no help. In Catalonia they speak Catalan, which seems to have its roots in French and Spanish. I did OK though. Most people knew at least a little English, and I could usually muddle my way through our interactions. I learned to order a “Coca Normal” to get my morning caffeine fix, and quickly learned that jamón ibérico was something I wanted to eat in large quantities.
The actual logistics of traveling were interesting. At home, I live in the suburbs. I travel by car. The end. In Spain, I traveled by bus, train, subway, cogwheel train, gondola, taxi, boat and lots of walking. I loved how mass transit could actually take me from where I was to where I wanted to be, and how so much was walk-able. It is something you don’t really value until you’ve experienced it. As I drove around in my car after returning home, I realize I missed it.
Customs going home compared to entering Spain were different like night and day. It took me almost two hours to make it through US customs in Toronto. While it was far from scary, it was ridiculous. I had to grab my bags that were checked prior to getting into line. No less than 8 people handled my boarding pass while I was in the customs line. Three people scrutinized my passport. The redundancy was just maddening! When I finally got to the customs official, he was polite and efficient. But, there has to be a better way than what I encountered to let US citizens reenter their homeland that saves everyone time, money and stress.
Will I tackle international travel again? Most definitely, yes. There are some very amazing places in the US, both places I’ve been and places I still need to travel to. While I want to see it all, it is very limiting to stay in the United States. The world is a big place, with some pretty fantastic things awaiting me beyond the boarders of my own country. If I hadn’t gone abroad, I would have missed the mystical Vall de Nuria in the Pyrenees and sail boating in the Mediterranean. I would have never fell in love with the city of Girona, nor would I have experienced some of the most fantastic food I ever had the pleasure of consuming. My thoughts about Spain would still be one dimensional, words dripping off pages of books. Instead they are vivid, full color memories I’ll treasure always.