I was always the quiet and reserved individual from an island of fewer than 60,000 people, but the craving for traveling is in my blood. I’ve felt it for years, and I can’t wait to be able to explore and see the world in all of its forms. I love immersing in different cultures and seeing beautiful sites.
I love to go on spontaneous adventures in car rides, take the scenic routes by train/subway, and visit faraway destinations by plane.
So when the world is feeling better, I’ll be booking my first flight to any place I can visit.
For now, the intention of this post is to reminisce about my first solo travel experience, with just the things I experienced at the airports.
My First Solo Travel Experience
My first solo travel experience was back in 2015. I had just graduated from college and wanted to do something different for that summer before getting a job and being a fully grown adult.
So, when my family from Canada invited me to stay with them for the summer, I excitingly agreed.
BOOKING THE FLIGHT
As my parents and I weren’t familiar with online booking, we went to a travel agency and asked for their assistance.
The roundtrip flight for one adult was around $1,200+. There was an extra $20 (more or less) surcharge for the travel agency’s service.
The trip was about 17 hours long going to Canada, and about 16 hours long returning back to Saipan.
Saipan to Canada itinerary:
Saipan (SPN) > Guam (GUM) > Honolulu (HNL) > San Francisco (SFO) > Edmonton (YEG)
Canada to Saipan itinerary:
Edmonton (YEG) > Tokyo (NRT) > Honolulu (HNL) > Guam (GUM) > Saipan (SPN)
My first long layover was in Guam, which was around 8 hours. I don’t remember the exact hours of my flights, but I do remember having to eat at the Guam airport. I didn’t eat a lot because I wanted to avoid using the plane’s bathroom.
At some point at the gate going to Honolulu, a woman approached me (or I approached her, I can’t recall), and we started having a conversation. She had a unique name, but I no longer have any memory of it. She mentioned that her final destination is San Francisco, and we were practically on the same flights until then. So, with my being worried about having to trek Honolulu alone, I asked if I could tag along with her until then. She was kind enough to agree, and I’m forever grateful for that gesture. So, we got on our flight and went to our respective seats.
During all of my flights, I practically slept the entire time, waking up only when they’d give out free snacks. I’d pull the tray table down and, using my comfort blanket as my pillow, I’d lay my head down on the table. It was a pain in the back, but I was too tired to worry much about it. Before landing in Honolulu, I had to fill out a customs form – I guess because Saipan is only a U.S. territory, not a U.S. state.
When we landed, I was also completely nervous, as they had a more systematic way of transitioning in and out of the airport. I remember having to ride in the airport shuttle bus that would bring passengers to baggage claim. I got my luggage and brought it over to the section where all other layover luggage was. Upon exiting the area, passengers gave their customs forms to the customs officer. Because I was with someone who was more experienced in traveling than I was, I simply followed her until we reached our gate.
Here comes the interesting part.
While we were waiting to board, she mentioned that she was going to buy some snacks and asked me if I wanted some. I politely declined and just sat in our area as she left to get her snacks. By the time we were boarding, she was nowhere to be found. I was anxiously looking for her, but I couldn’t find her. I eventually boarded the plane, and as I was going to my seat, I was paying attention to the other passengers who were already seated, but I didn’t see her. When I sat down on my aisle seat, it was easy for me to see who was passing by, and she had yet to make her appearance. I eventually decided to wait until we landed to see her again. I wanted to thank her one final time for all her help and say goodbye to her before parting ways.
When the flight landed at SFO airport, I patiently waited outside the gate, and I still didn’t see her. Could she have exited the plane before I did and simply just went her way? Definitely.
But, to this day, I actually believe she was my guardian angel who was there to help me with my first solo travel experience. HNL airport was the airport I was most worried about going through, but because she was with me, I was able to calm down and memorize the path and procedures for the next time I have to go through it. If it weren’t for her, I would’ve probably been looking like a lost puppy.
To whoever this woman may be, whether you are my guardian angel or just someone with a knack for helping others, I just want to thank you for the help you provided me. Thank you for taking me under your wing even after meeting each other for less than 10 minutes. I hope you’ve been doing well, and I wish you the best of luck with your current and future endeavors.
I am not promoting talking to strangers and asking to tag along with them in unfamiliar situations. I may not have been on high alert when I decided to talk to one, but I was also lucky that the one I did manage to communicate with was as helpful as she was.
I don’t know what got me to randomly tag along with a stranger, but I was fortunate to remain safe.
Other than the mystery woman, my layover at SFO went pretty smoothly. I actually don’t remember how I spent much of it, which is why I’m assuming that it went well. The signs were easy to follow and I found my gate immediately.
Landing at YEG airport was the most stressful for me. At this point, I was extremely tired, and I haven’t eaten a full meal during my entire trip (big mistake). When I was being questioned by the customs officer, I felt like my mouth did the talking, but my brain and body just wanted to sleep. I was thankfully let through, and I got to meet up with my cousin. Let’s just say that due to my lack of energy, and mini interrogation by the customs officer, I cried for about three minutes while being comforted by my cousin. To onlookers, I had hoped it just looked like I was so excited to see her (even though I truly was).
Three months later, I was heading back home. My itinerary was the same, except for my layover in Tokyo. The only interesting things that happened were that I saw airport dogs sniffing through the luggage in baggage claim, and my luggage being checked by airport security. I was worried about going through customs again due to my experience at YEG, but thankfully, because I was just there for a layover, it was an easier process. I also did take a while to find my gate and had to look for someone who knows English to help me find my way. Eventually, I found it and the rest of my trip went smoothly.
Lessons and Advice I learned from this solo travel
1) Pack some dried snacks to munch on during the flight.
2) Focus on finding the gate first, and then look around the area for food courts and restrooms.
3) EAT during layovers.
4) Avoid wearing a belt and jacket before going through a security check. Saves the hassle and time.
5) Earrings and necklaces are actually fine to wear when passing through security checkpoints.
6) Airport Wi-Fi isn’t great.
I am forever grateful to have experienced traveling by myself.
I felt like I was able to learn more about the process of going through airports, as I had to do everything by myself. I’m thankful that the flights were smooth and landed safely at each stop. I’m thankful that I didn’t experience delays or deal with any rude passengers and employees. I’m thankful for all who helped me along the way, especially the mystery woman. I’m thankful that my luggage and belongings were safe and in one piece. I’m thankful for my parents who practically stayed awake during my entire trip as they wanted to be sure that I landed at each stop safely.
Solo trips may seem scary, and to some extent, they are, especially when it’s our first time. But, this helps us learn to be more independent and responsible. We worry only about ourselves and get to do things we might not do when we’re with others.
I hope that all of you are able to travel at least once in your lifetime.
Even if it’s just a drive or train/bus ride to the next city over. I feel that a change of scenery and environment is always good for the soul, especially when you’ve been hustling through life.