Guest Post: My First Time…Traveling Alone That Is

My week is being filled with preparations for a booze-infested JUNOS weekend, so I’ve stepped aside to let Suzy Guese take centre stage. My very first guest post! In case you didn’t know, Suzy’s a fellow redhead who has done some pretty kickass travelling, and she’s renting a place in Italy for the summer. Dreamy much? Check out Suzy Guese for more travel with redheaded temperament.

Those firsts in life are burned in memories forever. I’ll go a little more innocent here to keep things PG. Most of us can recall the first time we had to go to school. Others may remember the first time they were able to do something like ride a bike, drive a car, or the simple act of tying a shoe. There is one first it seems most remember with utmost clarity: the first time flying on airplane, riding a train, or boarding a bus to somewhere else all alone.

For some reason traveling alone brings about this unique emotion. It could be that we are leaving the familiar for something else. The first time you travel alone instills an urge, a fear, but also a thrill. It could also be that we don’t pay attention normally when we travel in groups or with family. Someone else is on the look out for baggage claim so you don’t have to.

I boarded a plane for Washington D.C all by myself when I was 16 years old. I know. I was not that young, but I felt like I was one of those 5 year olds the stewardess has to carry around. I was just waiting for her to lean over the aisle and say, “Little girl, you need to move up front and sit by me”. From Denver, this is about a three-hour plane ride, and only one can of soda consumption away. The direct flight is laughable to me now. I almost feel embarrassed for the wide-eyed look that was no doubt strapped across my face.

My sister was interning in D.C., lending me the excuse to cross off that first of flying alone and visit her. I sat on the airplane, overly conscious of my belongings, not wanting to talk to strangers or be recognized as a first time solo travel flyer. I wanted to be cool when I knew I wasn’t. I sat nervously munching on pretzels when a patch of turbulence hit. Well, there goes my cool.

If you are with someone when there is turbulence, you can latch on to them for comfort. When you are alone, you feel like hopping in 13B’s lap and holding on for dear life. Fighting back these urges, I remained in my seat so to not seem strange.

As the flight finally ended with a safe landing and solo travel turbulence behind me, a new dilemma presents itself: finding baggage claim. That initial panic came over me. Where is my sister? My bags are lost. Then suddenly, you put it all away because you have to. I shifted towards independence and opened my eyes. My sister was waiting at the other end, as a sigh of relief came over me. Now she can do all the work, or so I thought.

A pool of the Potomac’s waters encases a space around the Jefferson Memorial. My sister and I spotted pedal boats, peddling around US history with views of the Washington Monument. We both agreed this would be a great activity to round out the day. As we loaded in the blue plastic “boats”, I found myself doing most of the legwork as my sister’s little legs grew tired. Oh the joys of being younger yet taller. I was alone so to speak just as I was when I took the flight earlier that day. If you made the trip alone, there will be aspects at your destination you will have achieve alone. Pulling the pedal boat weight was mine.

Traveling alone, even if it is a short plane ride and familiarity meets you at the airport, creates something in those born with the traveling gene. You look out the window as the rest of your cushioned life is behind you. This is one first where protection and security is not guaranteed. You just have to face it. You are relying on all these others to get you there safely, depending on them, while experiencing independence at the same time. Like that five year old filled with innocence, you’re allowed to be afraid, but then you realize. I’m all grown up, traveling alone.

When was your first time…traveling alone that is? I don’t think Candice wants things to get that personal in her comments.

Follow Suzy on Twitter.

  • April 14 2010

    Nice article Suzy! I do remember my first time as well. Flying to Europe was the first time I flew alone, and I was anxious. I was doubly anxious because I had a connecting flight to figure out on my own, and when I landed in Germany, naturally everything was in German. It was a lot of fun though and I found my independence from it as well as discovered that travel gene. I still get that quiet anxiety before traveling, but it is part of the fun and experience.

    • April 14 2010

      My first was to Europe as well. :) Feels very rewarding when you’ve actually reached the destination, doesn’t it?

  • April 14 2010

    When I was 6, my parents stuck me on a plane by myself to visit my grandparents in Florida, armed with coloring books and full set of crayons. I usually flew by myself about twice a year as a kid: to visit grandparents, an uncle in Omaha, an aunt in Portland. I’ve probably flown alone more than I’ve flown with people, and I love it! I love hours of uninterrupted time to read, listen to music, sleep, watch movies–it’s much more annoying when my mother is reminding me to drink plenty of water or a friend wants to chat the entire time :)

    • April 14 2010

      Travel is ALWAYS the best time for me to catch up on reading, and I’m so grateful for that. Lately I’ve developed some jittery nerves when it comes to flying though…it’s always less painful if friends are around.

  • April 14 2010

    I think it’s wonderful for kids/teens to experience traveling alone, within safe boundaries of course (having a flight attendant keep an eye on younger ones, and a trusted older person meeting the older ones at the airport), because developing a sense of independence and self-confidence can only help them in life.

    Although my family traveled quite a bit while I was growing up, my first “solo travel” experience was a business trip (to a conference) in my early 20’s – it was exciting and I felt very grown-up. I think the only thing I was afraid of was been seen as a ‘child’ to my peers, but as you’ve said – you have to face your fears head-on because that’s sometimes the only choice!

    • April 14 2010

      Trisha, my first time flying EVER was when I was in my early 20s! Haha. And technically, I’m still in my early 20s. Damn.

      • April 14 2010

        Haha, yeah me too – in my head, that is! Double-damn. Whatever. When we meet at TBEX I promise to not treat you like a child. :)

  • April 14 2010

    Thanks for all the comments guys! I’m glad I’m not the only one that was an older first time solo flier(I’m looking at you Candice and Trisha). Christine, I would have been terrified at 6 years old to go it alone, but at the same time, it does sound like fun. The benefits of flying alone are wonderful, until that man sits down next to you and wants to chat for 9 hours.

    • April 16 2010

      I had a TERRIBLE bus ride like that once. I need to make it a blog post.

  • April 14 2010

    I remember when I was 16, a long time ago, I travelled to Belgrade, in the then Yugoslavia, from my home in Manchester, England. I went by train, for about two days, through France, Italy and Yugoslavia. The best part of the trip, apart from having no money for the countries I was travelling across, was on the Yugoslavia leg when I was joined by locals eating lunch and drinking. They gave me a swig of Slivovic (peach brandy, and laughed loudly when I nearly choked on it. It was such fun!!!

  • April 15 2010

    I remember my first flight, I was 12 and with parents, I found it exciting! My first solo flight was at 23 though when I left to see the world on my own. Wasn’t as exciting as the first time.

    My neices went on their first flight aged 6 weeks. I don’t think they are going to remember it as much as my sister did.

    • April 16 2010

      I was 22 for my first SOLO flight. It’s kinda ridiculous that all the travel I’ve done has only been in the past three years.

  • April 15 2010

    That’s interesting, I’ve never thought of the first time traveling alone as a milestone. Perhaps it’s because 80% of the flights I’ve taken in my life were alone. I first flew from China to Canada when I was 6, alone. I then flew back to China when I was 12, alone. I flew to Halifax and back when I was 15, alone. Earlier this year, I flew to New York twice, alone.
    I guess for me, flying alone is more normal than flying with someone. Perhaps I should write an entry about my first time flying /with/ someone, haha.

    • April 16 2010

      Hahaha do it, it would be an interesting take on the whole thing.

  • April 15 2010

    my first time flying alone was coming back to Canada from France. I was 16 or 17. I was deposited at my employer’s grandfather’s apartment the night before (he did not speak english, i barely spoke french), he called my cab driver the next morning and i was instantly lost at the airport. My flight was delayed 16 hours, I couldn’t understand what the airline people were telling me and when they figured out I was ‘english’ they treated me like I was 2 years old… then I had lunch with my cab driver and his friend, and he said inappropriate things about me to his friend thinking i didn’t know ANY french (he was wrong :P )… LOVED the hotel room I got. Woke up 1 hour after what we were told was wake-up-call time, to find out in the lobby flight was further delayed…

    ..and those are just the highlights ;) I traveled alone by bus a lot before then, but I still get anxious travelling alone by plane!!

    • April 16 2010

      Ok, now that’s a story you must tell me more about sometime, hahaha.

  • April 15 2010

    This article brought back some memories for me! My first time traveling alone (well, flying alone, there were people waiting for me at my destination) was when I was 18. I remember being petrified ahead of time that I would get lost either in my connecting airport in Philadelphia or at my destination airport, LAX–which couldn’t be more different from little ol’ Vermont! But it was so much easier than I expected, and it was such a great feeling when I arrived and realized “Hey, I can do this!”

    • April 16 2010

      My first time flying solo was the first time I ever had a connecting flight, I had NO clue what I was doing, hahahaha. Just follow the crowd is how I get by!

  • April 15 2010

    Suzy, you last paragraph I love! Those words are so wise.

    And I don’t remember how old I was when I first flew alone. I must have been old enough that it wasn’t a big deal at all, because I don’t remember it at all. But the first time I flew overseas alone (or overseas, period) I had just turned 26 a few days earlier. So no fear there. I was already all grown up.

    • April 16 2010

      Hehe, still a big deal to me when I was 21 flying for the first time. I remember landing in London and seeing Big Ben and stuff from the sky. It was mind-blowing.

  • April 16 2010

    That’s so true, isn’t it just? No matter where I’ve been since my first plane ride, down to Costa Rica, nothing will ever replace that experience for me. I hold it up on a pedestal almost! I always say now that every time I’m on a plane, I cherish the experience because I know that in that moment and during that journey, I’m actively creating a more understanding, wise, compassionate person. And that’s just awesome.

    Nice article, ladies! :)

    • April 16 2010

      Totally! And it’s good to cherish the experience, I’ll be sad if the day ever arrives when I think, “Meh, another plane?”

  • April 16 2010

    I think I was maybe 18 when I first flew alone, and I remember specifically thinking “Look as cool as possible during the entire flight” – which then to me meant keeping my aviators on, listening to music, and checking out the stewardess’s. First flight ever thoe, I was 12 or 13, I had an ear infection, and the pressure from the flight made me teary eyed the entire flight, 10 hours to Glasgow i think, and I was trying to hold back crying like a sissy. Then some old lady saw how much pain I was in and had some ear drops for some reason. I think she saved my life. And dignity.

    • April 16 2010

      Lol, rockin’ the aviators! I was hungover as hell. That was pretty awful.

      • April 18 2010

        Haha, can’t go wrong with the aviators. Ever. Especially during hangovers. When i flew from Sydney to Fiji I still had a glow on from the night before. Then as soon as we got up in the air my hangover kicked in hard. The turbulence, cheap airline food, and leftover booz in my system led to me spewing my guts out in a 4×4 plastic bathroom. I played it off as “motion sickness”, however inside I was cursing the bottle of whiskey and potatoe vodka I finished the night before. Bad choices seem to lead to way better stories thoe. lol

        • April 21 2010

          LOL! Ehh, I’m sure the night before was worth it, right?

  • April 16 2010

    My first time travelling alone was actually a couple years ago when I was 23. Unless you count going to the grocery store by yourself, in that case I’m an expert. I like travelling alone, I sorta wish I would’ve done it much sooner.

    • April 21 2010

      Me too, I felt so proud of myself when I landed in Paris solo.

  • April 16 2010

    Loved this! “Traveling alone, even if it is a short plane ride and familiarity meets you at the airport, creates something in those born with the traveling gene. You look out the window as the rest of your cushioned life is behind you. This is one first where protection and security is not guaranteed.” Totally! My first traveling solo experiences were even less exotic—taking the hour and a half bus ride home from school. But you’re right, Suzy, it totally awakens something in us travel fiends.

    I was wondering when you two red-heads would hook up. ;)

    • April 21 2010

      Hehehe, we have yet to meet, but someday!

  • April 19 2010

    My first time flying solo will hopefully be Saturday when I head for Paris. Sure I’ve flown before but always with someone else. When you have someone with you they can watch your bags when you go to the loo or head off to the cafe for a bit of food.

    Going solo is both extremely exciting and utterly frightening. I know everything will work out fine but you can’t help but miss that safety net when you have someone by your side.

    Great post Suzy and while turbulence won’t have be jumping into 13B’s lap I may reach for a beer or 2.

    • April 21 2010

      Hehehe, maybe you’ll find yourself next to a pretty lady? I never get seated next to a handsome man, unfortunately.

  • April 21 2010

    Thanks for all of the comments here on my guest post! I enjoyed reading about everyone’s first times flying solo. And a huge THANK YOU to you Candice for hosting me on your sassy site. Agreed with your comment above. I always get to sit next to the big man that takes up two armrests or a woman with her dog.

  • October 18 2010

    Just came across this blog today as I pack my bags for the the first time in my LIFE! I always had someone in my life including my ex-wife of 14 years to take care of this stuff for me. I am 50 now and feel like a 12 year old. I am an anxious person anway even when not traveling. I work for a Wine Retailer in South Florida as a Wine Consultant and I won a 3 month long contest for who could sell the most of certain Italian Wines. I felt elated to win a free all expenses week trip to Italy and the Vineyards. I have never been out of the Country before and I hate to fly. Since everything in life causes me Anxiety, traveling with 2 other colleagues who I have never met, flying on long flights, packing my own suitcases and being in a foreign country has me with the worse case of Jitters and Nervous, Sick Stomach I have ever had. Everyone tells me to Calm Down…you will love Italy. Look at is an Adventure. All I can look at it now is this unknown fear that is causing me to pack extra Immodium AD and Pepto Bismol….and LOTS OF XANAX. I feel so silly being 50 and being so NUTS about this trip. I leave in two days……OMG!!!

  • April 10 2011

    Love it!

  • August 05 2011

    Always scary to travel for the first time. I have done it too. It was the experience of a life time though.

    • August 05 2011

      Definitely, despite my latest blog post. Hehe.

  • November 20 2011

    Hi everyone!’I’m so excited to travel by my self alone, And I’m so excited to this . I’m going back to my country to Philipines. And enjoy ..I’m so motivated to this on my own.

    • November 22 2011

      Keep us posted on how you do, Marie!

  • January 13 2020

    I really appreciate this post and I like this very much.

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