The first time I ever traveled alone was to spend a few weeks of my summer at George Washington University in DC. At the time, GWU was hosting a youth leadership program focusing on medicine. Everyone there, including myself, wanted to be a doctor or study medicine after we graduated from high school. We all felt independent and ready for what came next. I believe our sense of adventure might have stemmed from our journey to DC…all alone. Since then, I have traveled countless times across the country and several times overseas alone.
Have you ever traveled by yourself? The first time is always nerve-racking. I wanted my parents to walk me to the departure gate at the airport rather than leave me at the start of the security line. Nothing says “Have fun!” more than a TSA security check. For some, their first time traveling alone is the day they report to the MTC. Not only are you emotional from having to give mom, dad, and your best friend an 18-month goodbye hug, you also have the nerves of navigating domestic and foreign airports on your own. Over time, you become a pro. However, for all you firsttimers, you don’t have to travel completely alone. You can keep me in your pocket with these words of wisdom.
Write out your full itinerary. Sometimes, this is simply your flight confirmation email. If you have flight connections, car rides, and hotel stays, make sure to write out where you will be, how you will get there, and helpful contact information (phone numbers and addresses of your hotel or taxiing service). Going through this process will help you organize your traveling details. It can also serve as a reference while you are traveling for where to go or what to do next. I recommend sending the final itinerary to your parents or roommate back at home. If anything were to happen, your itinerary will tell them exactly where you are during travel. They would also be able to help if you forgot something.
Make sure you have enough time. If you have a connection, make sure you have 30 minutes to an hour between flights. Not only do you have to make your second or third flight, but so do you check-in bags! If you are connecting internationally, you will want 1-2 hours minimum for your connection. Additional time between flights also give you cushion for any delays.
Pack Carry-on items strategically. Simply put, use your smaller personal bag/purse/backpack for what you plan to read or watch on your flight. Consider a light sweater and socks if you are wearing short sleeves and sandals. Planes tend to be cold. Also, keep your ID, phone, and boarding pass in an accessible yet protected pouch/pocket. All other items that you don’t plan to use in-flight, should go in the larger bag that will be stored in the overhead compartment. If this includes your laptop, keep it in a spot where you can easily remove for security checks.
Don’t rush (unless your flight leaves in 20 minutes). When we rush, we forget to take our phones out of our pockets, leave our shoes on, or worse, drop all of the contents of our purse on the floor. Take it easy, and you should only have to go through security once.
Follow instructions on the signs. I want to say “take off shoes, empty pockets, and remove scarves” but, some airports overseas don’t have the same regulations as US. Fortunately, all instructions are depicted on screens, posters, or signs as you wait in the security line. Follow what they say, and you will be clear! However…..
Put your laptop in it’s own bin. This is universal. I suggest packing your laptop in a way that you can easily remove it from your bags. It will save you time and keep the line moving.
Wearing socks? If not, I strongly suggest putting that spare pair on immediately after taking off your shoes. Don’t make me describe how dirty those floors are.
Listen to the security agents. They can spot first timers and are usually nice and forgiving to this group of travelers (in the US, that is). I no longer have this luxury.
Locate your departure gate. Once you leave security, there is a board or screen listing all upcoming departures and their gates. Follow signs to your gate.
Be mindful of your time and seating. Only shop or browse if you have more than 25 minutes until boarding. If you are like most of us ladies, 20 minutes can easily turn into 40. If you find a cozy seat with a charger outside of your gate’s sight, set a timer on your phone to buzz when boarding is about to begin.
Connect swiftly. If you land and have to make a connection right when you get off the plane, there should be a screen indicating the gates for various connections. Follow signs to the gate. If you are connecting overseas, you might have to claim your bags and/or go through an additional security check. Be prepared and stay focused until you are where you need to be.
Missed flights/trains happen. I have missed flight connections a couple of times because of delays (almost didn’t make it home for Christmas Eve) or my slow pace (I thought I had 30 minutes not 3). I have also missed a train connection in Milan, Italy. That was truly the worst. In summary, missed flights can be frustrating, but they can always be resolved. Take a deep breath and make your way to the airline counter. Don’t call mom first. It’s better for you both when you can tell her the solution. I made this mistake, and just ended up crying. I’m sure I looked like a lost two year old at Disneyland. Once you have your new travel schedule, call mom and notify her of your hotels and rides.
Keep track of your belongings. Don’t leave anything unattended. When you are not using your ID or passport, keep them out of sight and safe. If you need to go to the restroom, take all of your bags with you.
Trust your gut. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.
Call home for emergencies. Even if you are abroad, the few dollars are worth your safety.
Keep cash and hard copy of itinerary. Wherever you may be, have fun this summer! Travel with less stress and like a pro!
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