By: Glenne Fucci, IATG ContributorJuly 15, 2016
July 2015. I’m at Incheon International Airport in South Korea after ten weeks of living by the North Korean border. My life is packed in two overstuffed suitcases, and I am en route to Australia via Vietnam. I approach the counter to check-in, concerned about communicating with the ticket agent about my almost certainly overweight bags. She scans my ticket and in broken English asks me about my Australian visa. “What visa?” I respond. She then tells me I can’t check in to my flight without a tourist visa. Somehow in my haste to pack up and wrap up my internship I failed to re-check if I needed a visa to enter Australia (I had lived there previously when there wasn’t a tourist visa requirement), and now I was at the airport, watching the security line grow ever larger, and my chance of getting on my flight ever smaller. With my luggage cart overflowing and no working cell phone (I had shut it off days earlier), I did the only thing I could think. I ran to the side of the line, tore out my laptop and prayed to the wifi gods that I could pick up a signal strong enough to allow me to buy a visa online. Stress sweating with my belongings strewn about the airport floor, I bought the visa and proceeded to beg the ticket agent that proof of purchase was sufficient to allow me onboard. Whether it was actually sufficient or whether she just wanted to get rid of me we’ll know never, but I did end up in Australia the next day!
Although I wouldn’t describe the visa debacle as “fun,” it does encapsulate the challenges of traveling alone. More importantly;
traveling alone teaches you independence, self-sufficiency, and how to get yourself out of the thorniest situations all by yourself.
It shows you that while it is okay to rely on others, you're more capable of functioning by yourself in this world than you ever thought capable. Think about it – if you go to a place in which the food is “different” than American food, you’ll figure out how to deal. You’re not going to let yourself starve just because you’ve never tried a new cuisine, rather you’ll find a way to adapt to your surroundings. When you’re forced to make decisions on your own, forced to do things outside of your comfort zone, you’ll do them because you need to.
Now, that’s not to say that traveling alone isn’t intimidating. It’s unbelievably hard to pack up a couple of suitcases, give your family and friends hugs goodbye, and board a plane to the other side of the world all by your lonesome. You don’t know what to expect over there. You don’t know if you’ll make friends or have access to wifi or a grocery store or even clean water. You worry about communicating with people who speak a different language. What if you get lost or can’t read the metro signs? You worry about the food and the locals and every other possible thing that could go wrong. I get that this is partially dependent on where you go in the world, but the principle is the same – the unknown is a scary thing.
However, the unknown can also be incredibly liberating. Heading overseas for a trip, study abroad program, or job allows you to re-invent yourself, even if it is only for a short while. For me, traveling overseas by myself brought me out of my introverted shell. I had to put myself out there, had to make new friends, had to take risks (the safe kind, like which direction to turn when I forgot my map), had to be willing to try new things and new experiences, and most of all, had to figure how to do all that without my team of friends and family close by. All of that mixed together is the ingredients for creating independence, fearlessness, and adventure.
The other thing about traveling is that it is truly a gift.
We’re lucky here in the U.S. that we can travel freely across the country and the world. Travel educates you about the world and all that’s in it. No matter where you go, you’ll see a historical landmark or a natural wonder or a interesting new fashion trend. Whether the temples of South Korea, the beaches of Bali, or the cities of Europe, I can say with the utmost confidence that every country, city, or town I have visited has enriched my life in some way. If you’ve been dying to visit somewhere, don’t let friends’ reluctance to accompany you hold you back from visiting your dream place; take advantage of the ability to move about freely. If you have the means and are offered a domestic or international internship, choose the international one. Sign up for study abroad programs or immersion workshops in far away lands. It will be scary. I’ve totally been there, but you’ll learn so much about the world and yourself that you’ll eventually forget you were apprehensive in the first place.
Independence doesn’t come easy to us all, but throw us out of our comfort zone, thousands of miles from home, and we’ll be forced to be. Traveling alone is scary, intimidating, and overwhelming, but it allows us to feel like we can tackle anything, big or small. There’s a whole world out there, full of incredible people and places, we just have to have a little faith in ourselves; knowing that we’ll not only survive, but discover better versions of ourselves on the way!
Where’s one place you’ve always wanted to visit, but never have? Well, it’s time to start planning your trip! Whetehr it be doing research about the location or looking up flights and hotels to start saving for, now is the time to begin the travel process! Don’t let fear of the unknown hold you back!
Glenne is a third year law student hailing from NYC, University of Michigan ‘13 grad and Beyonce enthusiast. Currently residing in Korea, my interests include duathlons/triathlons, traveling near and far, documentary films, consuming sugary cereal, watching mid-2000s teen dramas and singing my heart out at Betty Who concerts. You can watch me attempt to navigate Asia and beyond on Instagram @glennefucci.