My first opportunity to travel overseas came at an early age: I was only eleven when my social studies teacher presented an opportunity to travel to Italy to our class. I was immediately on board and excited by the idea of getting out of my small town and “seeing the world.” But there was one condition: I would never agree to such a plan unless one or both of my parents traveled along. The comfort of having familiar faces in an unfamiliar land was almost as critical as having someone who could carry the wallet so I didn’t have to worry about paying for things. My parents signed up, we all went to Italy, and I had a marvelous, responsibility-free experience. And since it worked so well the first time, almost every foreign trip after that followed the same model. Aside from my study abroad in England, I never went overseas that I wasn’t with a family member who could rescue me if I ran out of money or needed someone to apply sunscreen to my back.
The trip I took to Kenya at the end of May was the first overseas trip I took that did not follow this model. It felt strange to leave home without Tim, without my parents, without any blood relative carrying the wallet and assuring me we’d get to the gate on time—it made me feel as though I’d left the suitcase with all my essentials at home. Though this trip wouldn’t be made with a relative, I was with the next best thing: my best friend and neighbor agreed to leave her husband and three little girls at home and travel with me. Being the veteran visitor to Kenya after three previous visits, it was up to me to be in charge and keep our ship tightly pointed to the destination. I was in the complete opposite role from what I’d played in the past. I felt the weight of the responsibility squarely on my shoulders.
And that weight fell pretty quickly when United (ugh… I know… Why did I book with United? Read about my regret in another post) canceled one of our return journey flights. What ensued was more than a week of back-and-forths trying to figure out how we were going to get home. When United continued to screw up flight after flight after our trip began (of our eight flights, only one went smoothly and it was operated by Lufthansa), I felt the responsibility of figuring it out, making it work. All those years of giving the responsibility to others came due at once. I was holding the figurative wallet, and all my figurative money was missing.
But I survived. I conquered some of my fears (like navigating customs at Nairobi Airport—it wasn’t as bad as I remembered!), made phone calls, organized resources to resolve our travel issues, and made it back home in one piece and only six hours late. And, amazingly (only a twinge of sarcasm here), my friend made it back to her husband and little girls in one piece too. We kept it together, the two of us, and even laughed at some of our misfortune to turn those lemons into lemonade. I took the lead, but without her following closely behind, I may have found recovering from some challenges a little more difficult.
So, I survived. I proved to myself that I can travel internationally without having someone else—at least partially—take responsibility for me. I am stronger, wiser, and more independent than I knew. Am I ready to sign up for a singles trip any time soon? Probably not. I still prefer traveling with at least one other person, but now I can honestly say it’s mainly to have company to pass the time on planes and someone with whom I can marvel in the sights along the way, not because I am afraid to be alone. If my situation dictated it or an amazing opportunity presented itself, I could go it alone and know without a doubt that I can handle my own wallet just fine. And I might even enjoy it.
But the next time I travel, I can tell you who will be holding the wallet… Tim.