According to the New York Times, in 2018 over 40% of Americans have never traveled internationally. This summer, I was lucky enough to watch my 17-year-old sister join the ranks of the other 60% when we went on her first international trip to Europe.
She was nervous boarding the plane, passport in hand and surprised as she discovered the new things that have become second nature to me because of years of traveling. Watching her range of emotions, I couldn’t help but think back to my own first time traveling abroad.
As a teenager, I desperately wanted to travel and have adventures, constantly proclaiming how amazing world travel was despite never having left my home country. When I finally decided to plan my first international trip, I would confidently tell everyone how amazing this trip was going to be and how ready I was to explore the world.
But secretly, I was terrified.
I was on my way to visit my sister in the Czech Republic during my senior year of high school. I wrote in my journal during a layover at the Munich airport, right after my first international flight.
“Right now, I smell very musty and not much else. It’s a smell vaguely of feet. There’s a guy in a white t-shirt and jeans in front of me holding an open newspaper, but he’s staring straight ahead like a zombie. I feel like I look like that: pale, scary, and zombie-like. And scared.”
In my fear, I wrote a list of all the potential things that I thought could go wrong.
“What if I miss my connecting flight? What if I can’t understand the language? What if the weather is bad? What if I can’t find my hostel? Or, worst of all, what if I go and I hate it, and I’m just not the person that I thought I was?”
But I went anyway. I saw amazing sights and met amazing people. I learned and I loved it.
I look back on this list of potential “disasters,” years later, and all of these things have in fact gone wrong on at least one trip. I’ve been stranded in a New York blizzard, unable to verbally communicate in Slovakia, hopelessly lost in Budapest, and flooded in the Namib Desert of all places.
I’ve always been a bit of a control freak, but if there’s anything that I’ve learned from traveling it’s that you can do much more than you think you can. If I could go back to my first international trip and tell myself one thing; it would be to just take everything one step at a time and enjoy every moment.
I encourage everyone and anyone who is still a part of that 40% of Americans that have never left the country to take that first international trip. If you’re not ready to dive into a solo backpacking trip across Asia or the intense hike to Machu Picchu, take a smaller step. Get a group together and tick off that first international destination on your bucket list that you’ve been dying to visit. Or hey, take a Cluventure.
Wherever you go, and whatever you do, it will be worth the risk. And that musty feet-like smell from long flights will always stick with you until that first glorious shower.