Five years ago I had never flown alone, I had never travelled without a suitcase and I had never even had to change flights before. A lifetime of package holidays and having everything sorted out for me had made me lazy. The world was just what had been chosen for me by the tour operators I flew with, a series of seaside hotels where everyone spoke perfect English and I never had to work anything out for myself. Flying out to North Carolina to start my semester (eventually year) abroad I was suddenly faced with visas, flight changes, solo travelling, finding cheap flights and above all working out how to fit my entire life into one tiny suitcase.
At this point, ‘packing light’ wasn’t exactly a thing for me, so wrestling down my weight to the luggage allowance was a trauma to say the least but eventually it was done and I was off on my jollies, facing the nervous journey ahead of me and hoping nothing went wrong. Thankfully on that first flight it didn’t and I suddenly realised that it wasn’t such a terrifying thing after all, I had done it.
And so started my year-long adventure, meeting people from all over the world (my host university had a huge international base) and picking a different destination stateside to visit every other weekend. I soon learned tricks on sifting out the decent cheap hotels from the scary (LA horror story for me) and jumping on deals that even allowed me to go to Jamaica for spring break for a SUPER cheap price. Living there and going on so many trips allowed me to figure out how to fit a weeks worth of things in my carry on (cheaper flights) and how to really travel on a budget.
Back at home I was able to fly out on mini trips to visit friends I had made in the states in their home countries. I got the hang of travelling alone and had the luck to get a position of study abroad adviser back at my own university. This let me help other people who were preparing for their own study abroad adventures, as well as those already there sending news back.
From there I met a friend who told me about a lovely family who were looking for someone to stay with them in Spain for a few months, something I probably wouldn’t have considered a few years ago and something that allowed me to see a whole new country with some lovely new friends. You can read more about my au pairing adventure here.
Over the years, I’ve connected with people from all over the globe, opening my eyes to the local side of the destinations I visit, not to mention some free stays. Studying abroad gave me that confidence to make those new connections, travel out on a whim to a place I had never thought of visiting before and say yes to new experiences that ultimately got me where I am today. With a world of experience under my belt, I was a far better candidate when applying for a job in travel and could pop in some first-hand nuggets of knowledge when talking and writing about far-flung places I was still getting goey-eyed over.
Seeing new places and meeting people from all over the world on the way is the best feeling and something I would recommend to everyone and from my experience. It doesn’t have to be expensive, you just have to go for it you never know what you might find along the way.