As I’m scrambling to get all my work done and my bags packed for Costa Rica before Monday, I’m reminded of how different it was taking trips as a kid. Mom held onto your passport and ticket. Dad shuffled you through the security line, talked to gate employees when your flight got delayed or moved, and told you everything was fine when something did go wrong.
Remember what it was like, not being responsible for your own itinerary or well-being? My major upsets as a child while traveling weren’t delayed flights or missed connections. They were things like that time I left my favorite polar bear stuffed animal on a plane and cried about it for two days; or that time our luggage got lost on the way to Italy, so we had to wear the same tourist t-shirt every day until the bags showed up. The worst thing that came of that? Smelling a little overripe.
But even when things got really silly, really messed up, I still felt safe. I could trust the adults I was with to figure out whatever went awry. I could write a whole series of blog posts about why being an adult sucks. Being responsible for your own destiny is one of them–but it’s also one of my favorite things.
The last time I flew alone to another country, I was in college and headed to Japan for a month and a half of study, and it was my first time traveling by myself. As a second year student, I had a mediocre grasp of the language. When I reached the other end, I was stuck in a customs line for over two hours. It had taken so long to get to baggage claim that my carousel was turned off and my luggage spirited away by airline employees. A grouchy woman employed by the study abroad company eventually found me–“I’ve been waiting for you for ages,” she complained, then helped me find my bag and put me into a taxi. “Give them this address.” She handed me something written in kanji I’d never seen before and slammed the door.
I didn’t even know who I was meeting on the other end. They’d given me no information about where I was supposed to be living or who my host family was. The driver talked to me the entire hour and a half drive out to Chiba, where my host family lived, but he was missing half his teeth, spoke a mile a minute, and used an Okinawan accent that was impossible to understand. I still remember having never been so afraid in my life. I’ve climbed onto the sloped roofs of 3-story buildings and fallen from the top of a climbing wall, but nothing compared to showing up totally clueless in a very foreign country.
By the end of that trip, I was fluent in Japanese, I had traveled all over by myself, and had even convinced my terrible school administrators to let me drop out so I could go sightseeing instead. (My completely fabulous host father assisted. “She is the opposite of in my way,” he said about me over the phone, when the administrators insisted they talk to him. “She does the dishes without being asked. The rest of the time she’s out learning how to be Japanese.”) It was good training for the totally disastrous month-long trip my ex-boyfriend and I took to Argentina in 2012: we missed flights, ran out of money, ran out of food, and almost got stranded at least twice.
As a kid, you have no control over where you end up–but you don’t particularly mind it. You don’t know any different, not until you hit those early teen years and the weight of your own imprisonment becomes suddenly unbearable. But as an adult, you’re responsible for everything. Every good and every bad falls under your purview. It’s both scary and freeing.
This is my first time leaving the country by myself since that fateful expedition to east Asia. I have beloved friends meeting me on the other end (you know who you are, my pretties); I have notebooks aplenty for recording my stories; and at the very least, I’ve got a return ticket home.
But the best part about going it alone? The not knowing. We have no reservations for the duration of our trip–just a general game plan: evacuate the city for the jungle four hours south, and rampage for a few days; then head to the beach and lay around until it’s time to go home. A trip no kid could make, parents or not.
So, I guess being an adult is cool sometimes.