An Open Letter to Those of You Travelling Abroad for the First Time

To those of you who dream of new places, smells, sounds, and tastes…

To those of you who get homesick for a place you’ve never been…

To those of you who worry about getting on that plane…

This is the part of your trip that no one talks about-Those butterflies in your stomach that you get when imagining being away from what’s familiar,  those questions of how you’ll react when in an atmosphere totally foreign to all that you’ve known,  and those insecurities about  whether or not you’ll find friends to share your time with. 

These are thoughts that we all have before leaving the country that we call home for the first time.  It won’t always be easy but you will grow albeit in ways that you never expected. Here are a few words to the wise from someone who has felt all of the fear, joy, confusion, and elation that we travelers blindly seek. 

Getting lost is the only way to find your way

You will get lost; I can assure you of that. I can also assure you that you will find your way home, eventually. Don’t stress it. Carry a map and ask for help when you need it.  Take note of the major avenues and after a few days, that impossible maze of streets will transform into something that you recognize until you wonder how you could have ever gotten lost there at all.  

 Being lonely is the best way to get to know yourself

You will notice when you are in a place where no one knows you that a piece of your identity is directly connected with your friends and family that you have known forever. This can be a scary sensation and you will find yourself asking “who am I?” Don’t run from those questions- they are part of the reason why you wandered away from home in the first place, aren’t they?  Once you get past the shock of that feeling you will find that it is quite lovely and liberating. Who are you? Whoever you want to be- and you can decide that little by little as you go along.

Sometimes you figure out what you do like by experiencing things you don’t

When going abroad you will without a doubt encounter new food, fashion trends, music, concepts of time (shall I go on?). Some of these customs you will like and some you will not.  My best advice is to surrender to whatever the custom may be to try and enjoy the moment wherever you are, you will be surprised at what you can get used to with a little time and the right frame of mind.  When you feel uncomfortable, laugh it off.  Upon your return home you will carry with you some new tastes and doubly appreciate those customs that you missed so dearly when away.

 You’ll find what’s important by going without

You have to fit your life into one bag. Although there will be moments when you wish that you had that dress after wearing the same jeans and t-shirt for 5 days straight, you will also find that you can make do without.  What’s more, when returning to your belongings you will find them to be more burdensome than they were before. Sometimes you will think longingly about when it was time to move to the next city and all that you had to do is throw everything that you have to your name in a suitcase.  Who knows, maybe it will be time for a yard sale to simplify and get back to the basics.

 You make family out of new friends when you need a helping hand

Once away from your loved ones, you will realize how much you depend on them for love, direction, and support.  A sense of belonging is great but it is also easy to close ourselves off to new people when we already have plenty of friends Because you won’t have your posse of pals that have known you forever, you will be more willing to give people a chance that when in your comfort zone maybe you would not have. That is when people surprise you and you develop relationships more quickly that are sometimes even more profound than those that you have with people that you have known for years. 

Heather Houde