In the past month since I actually posted a blog post (see, what had happened was…), I have had some stellar opportunities and experiences that, I promise, are worth not having posted in quite sometime. Back in September I got to live out a childhood dream by going to Tokyo for a week’s vacation. Dream or not though, I was super nervous about going before I even hit the airport. I was excited sure, but I was also about to do basically everything that I’ve been told was dangerous from birth: travelling, internationally, alone, as a female, staying in a hostel (again, lone female), and then wandering through a huge city thousands of miles away from home with virtually no contact at my disposal outside of Facebook and KakaoTalk in the rare moments when I had Wi-Fi.
By the end of my trip any traces of nervousness were a shadow of a memory and I actually tried to plan it out to stay longer. I had never felt so free doing simple things like managing to successfully navigate the subway alone, or when I made it on my own to the hostel, or even just ordered my first meal by myself. It was like all of a sudden I had this grand epiphany in the middle of Harajuku that I was small but absolutely capable of handling situations like a proper adult…sort of. But sort of is better than not at all!
Though I had plenty of opportunities growing up to go out and see most of the continental United States, with a couple of cool trips abroad sprinkled into the mix, I always had my family or someone else with me. Coming to Korea was the first decision I had ever made to go anywhere where I was truly going to be by myself. Even in college I already knew several people straight on arrival, and I wasn’t far from home at all. To say it is scary to suddenly decide you’re going to hop on a plane and just go, metaphorically of course, where “no man has gone before” is an understatement.You’re going to be at least a little nervous no matter who you are.
I actually almost cancelled the entire trip to Tokyo out of sheer, irrational terror. I suddenly had to make all the decisions on my own: where to sleep, how I was going to pay for things, what I wanted to do once I got there, how on Earth I was going to communicate. Not to mention the fact that if anything happened to me, how were my parents going to know? How was anyone going to know???
I am one of those people who worries about everything, a type-A control freak who would rather learn to fly the plane than allow my life to be in the hands of experienced pilots because that’s just how I am. The unknown is not a good look for me. If, like me, you’re worried about going abroad alone, whether it be to Korea, Japan, Thailand or anywhere you may need to cross an ocean, I have very sage advice to give:
I know, Earth shattering right? What would you do without me? But seriously, I spent quite a few days before leaving both America and Korea for parts unknown worrying about what was waiting on the other side. I’m not saying not to go prepared, I’m just saying not to hold back because you don’t know what’s going to happen. Once you get to the plane and reach your destination, honestly the hard part is over. Things you’ll probably worry about that you shouldn’t:
What am I going to do when I get there???
If you’re the type that likes to make a detailed list of what time and where you’re going for everyday of your vacation or trip that is absolutely, beyond fine. I actually envy you. If you’re like me with only a vague sense of what there even is to do, this is for you. If you’re going to an even remotely touristy area it’s totally okay to play it by ear while abroad. Sure you’re going to find cool things to do on the internet that everyone knows about, and chances are that they’re cool for a reason and something you should check out. But once you get there chances are that locals are also going to be able to tell you about equally cool, if not more so, things to do. That’s how I got dragged into a random dance battle while on the street in Tokyo and to say I planned that would be a flat out lie.
How many clothes is too much clothes…?
No matter where you’re going there is more than likely going to be a washing machine, and if not that, water and some soap for your clothing needs. Bearing this in mind, I would say not to pack a ton of stuff. Keep in mind seasons of course, planning for the Winter can be especially excruciating, but for the most part I say pack essentials that you can wear more than once (aka JEANS), and tops that you can layer so you can also possibly get away with wearing those more than once too. You’re probably going to be running around all day doing God knows what, there’s really no need to worry about packing all of your clubbing clothes plus a ball gown. Also, if you wear something twice in a row it’s basically vintage so there’s that.
What if something happens and I’m out there alone?!
Unless you plan on getting stranded in the Sahara Desert or a mountain range in December, I’d say you’re going to be ok. However, it’s obviously really important that someone know where you’re going to be with a way to get in contact with you like Facebook or even e-mail. I gave several of my friends and family back home deadlines of when they’d hear from me, whether through FB or otherwise, along with my hostel’s phone number and my school here in Korea’s contact info. If they didn’t hear from me they were to try and contact me first, then the hostel, then whoever was in Korea in that order for word on my sudden appearance if there was one. Though I’m sure if anything had actually happened my mother would have sent half the US Army out to find me which would have made my carefully made list of emergency contacts moot. In retrospect this may have been a bit excessive, but to be fair I was travelling to a country where no one knew me and my phone wasn’t going to work, and I felt better for having been prepared. Also, always carry some form of ID on you at all times. I was too nervous to carry my passport in case I lost it, but I had my Alien Registration Card from Korea and my American ID on me always just in case.
Also, always know where your country’s closest embassy is in any country. This is going to definitely come in handy when/if any kind of disaster strikes. See: literally any emergency movie ever.
I don’t speak a lick of the language where I’m going…
This was one of my biggest concerns but it turned out to be one of the things that I most definitely should not have worried about. You’d be amazed at what sign language and the 5 words you looked up online while you were in the airport can accomplish.
Whether you’re going near or far, for a long or short period of time, I say go big or stay home. There’s no use wondering ‘What if?’ because I would have kicked myself hard enough to leave a mark should I have actually given into the urge to stay home. Remember that any adventure is an adventure and should be treated as such: with no expectations, an open mind and a hearty dose of ‘Well, here goes nothing’. Go forth traveler, whether alone or with others, and may the Force be with you!