Three years ago today, I boarded British Airways for my first international flight. Thanks a mill, Facebook; reading that wasn’t depressing, at all.
I don’t even remember the first time I stepped foot in an airport.
It must have been around age three, travelling with Mom to visit her family in Missouri. I can’t recall the stewardess’ name or what snack was offered. The airline of choice is lost in a peninsula of Deltas, Uniteds and Frontiers (it was probably American.)
What I remember instead is an instant love of airfare - a love that never wavered, aside from a flicker of nervousness on a California-Missouri flight shortly after 9/11.
By the time I attended university, I had lost count of my various aero journeys. There were the several trips in and out of California, the majority of which concluded with the Missouri plateau. There was the time Mom decided to show St. Louis to my sister and I, and again when she took us to Disney World for Leeners’ twelfth birthday, booking us a suite in a time share resort thanks to her then-job at Wyndham. In to Atlanta and out of DC when the Wefler girls took the East Coast, a trip that Mom refers to as our Planes, Trains and Automobiles experience. She’ll often say we took everything but a boat - not exactly true, since we took a ferry.
And then there was my first solo flight, as a sophomore taking summer courses.
This wasn’t like my other journeys. Instead of going away on holiday, I was heading home for my beloved grandmother’s funeral. I would get into Springfield on a Friday, say goodbye to Grandma on Saturday and return to the Springs on Sunday.
It was a great plan - in theory.
A storm hit when I was meant to fly out, as it often does when I schedule departures. The flight was rescheduled for Monday, leaving early in the morning so that I could still get to work and classes.
Again, it was brilliant - in theory.
Another travel obstacle hit - the missed flight. I was able to get a replacement fairly quickly and was all set - until I got stuck in DFW for most of the day.
My gate was invaded by excited travellers and their flight to Puerto Rico before I finally made it back to the Springs. I called in to work, notified the professor of my first class that I would be absent and got there in record time for my second, prepared to give the speech I’d even practiced in the airport. (Mom did point out that it probably wasn’t the brightest idea to mention Communism and Russia when I was standing near a heavily-secured area, but I was determined to get that A.)
Oh, and in case you were wondering, it was the best speech I’d given yet.
From there, solo travel was a breeze, contrary to the opinions of many members of my family. I flew to Missouri several summers on my own, travelled back to Denver from Orlando on my own and when I went abroad for the first time? You guessed it. I was on my own.
Three years ago today, I told the annual goodbye to Mom and Leeners and boarded a British Airways flight leaving from Kansas City. Three years ago tomorrow, the plane touched down at Heathrow on a sunny August morning.
Having grown accustomed to Uber after Orlando and their introduction to the Springs, I called for one. It wasn’t until later in the trip, not until Bec, that I would learn how easy it was to take the tube to and fro, even in the direction of Greenwich.
But that day, I took an Uber, and although the ride cost me a grand $75 for service from Heathrow to Greenwich, it was memorable in other ways. For one, I had a fantastic driver who showed me around the city and offered to take me around the country, were I to ever return. For two, the 1st of August in 2015 happened to be the opening day of the UK’s big cycling race.
Three hours were spent in that particular Uber that day, with a thank you to God that there was a flat rate from the airport. London closed the Thames, which was the usual route to Greenwich. I saw more of the city than I’d expected I would on my first day, with bits of Uber driver knowledge on different buildings, landmarks and neighborhoods.
When I finally did get to the hotel where the tour would meet two days later, I knew more than the average tourist and was ready to crash. I fell asleep, woke up at a surprisingly decent hour and went downstairs to grab dinner.
And there, in the hotel’s Chinese restaurant, is where I had my first taste of crisps.
The next time I flew internationally, only a year later, was again on my own.
In all honesty? I actually prefer to travel on my own. I’ve done it on planes, trains, buses, tube carriages - and even the Greyhound.
Getting through security is easier. Finding the appropriate seat on the plane is faster. There are no set itineraries, you can explore whatever and wherever and best of all, there’s the thrill when you figure out how to get to a certain place, all on your own.
There are a lot of female solo travellers, too, despite what people are often told. The notion is no longer as rare as it seems. In my own travels, I’ve met so many women from various ages that decided the only way they would be able to see the world is if they went out and just did it. So, they did. One girl I interviewed for the Indo even did a trip around the world, by herself, at 24. I’m part of a Facebook travel group for women with serious cases of wanderlust; likely more than half have travelled solo.
Don’t let anything hold you back. If you want to travel, go for it. If your friends, family or significant other aren’t willing, do it without them. Only 40 percent of Americans own a passport, according to a BBC article from January of this year. You can be one of them. Solo travel doesn’t need to be daunting.
After all, Lewis Carroll once pointed out that “in the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take.”
And after everything I’ve seen and done, that quote will never apply to me.
A special shout-out to Leeners for finishing her scrapbook of our East Coast trip and keeping the flight tickets.