Getting started

I was talking with a friend the other day.  She hasn’t been out of the country but still daydreams about taking that big solo trip on her own.  Like I was, there are a lot of “buts” that came up in the conversation that kept getting in the way: Expense.  Time.  Age.  Many of us go through the majority of our lives daydreaming about that trip we are going to take. But there never seems to be enough time, money, or as we wind down we might put those kinds of dreams off for “maybe in another life.”  There is no other life. This is the one we get and it is up to us to live it!

First off, that age thing is a weak excuse.  I have met people in their eighties who are traveling happily, continuing to test their traveling skills.  The others are challenging, but not impossible obstacles.  In future posts, I will work on creative ways to work around those, but here I want to just flat out say it.  The only obstacle age throws in your path is when you are too young to do all the things.  If you are in your late 30s, 40s, 50s, etc., this is the time in your life you get to start appreciating the things you might have been too young to notice otherwise.  

Making that trip might seem like a daunting experience. Here are the first things you need if you are thinking about taking that first big trip.

Get your passport

This is the document that will let you cross into other countries.  Unfortunately, the majority of Americans don’t even have one!  I didn’t until about five years ago.  We live in a big country and unlike Europe or other continents, we don’t have many neighbors we visit that require the use of one.  

Excuses people use for not getting a passport

  • It will take several months for them to process your application and send you your passport.  Even pre-COVID-19 mine took about three months to get back.  The sooner you start, the sooner it will arrive!
  • You will need to mail in an official copy of your birth certificate.  I have yet to meet anyone whose birth certificate was lost in this process.  It’s not that scary.  Seriously. The cool thing about your passport is this can be used in lieu of your birth certificate for most purposes from here on out.  
  • It requires an investment.  I think mine was around $120 with fees and everything else to get started.  Renewal fees are much less once you actually get your passport.  Check the website for information.  https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports.html
  • $120 is not a lot of money, considering people will drop that much money on a day pass to an amusement park per person.  Think of this as your eTicket to see the world!
  • The pictures are terrible.  Yes.  Yes they are.  But you aren’t going to be gazing at your own picture for hours anyway, and Customs probably won’t look at it longer than about ten seconds to make sure it is you.  What you will hopefully be looking at is all the stamps you are about to start getting in the back of the book.

Start off small

You can just jump in with both feet, but you might just scare the hell out of yourself and have a rough time.  Then you’ll be throwing your passport across the room, cursing me for telling you to get out and have this awful experience.  Even a trick motorcycle rider learned how to ride on a two-wheeler first.  

Pick a country where you speak the same language.  This is actually trickier than you might think.  Though I have some experience with a few other languages, my accent sucks and my knowledge extends about as far in Japanese to order a bowl of noodles, and in Spanish, I can ask a variety of questions that inevitably end up with the person I’m speaking to switching to broken English, which is usually much better than my broken Spanish.

For my first International solo adventure, I picked the United Kingdom.  Not just because I had a lot of interest in the UK historically, ancestrally, and culturally, but also because I knew I could communicate with people once I got there.  Well, funny thing about that, American English is getting difficult to understand.  My somewhat pronounced Western drawl (which is especially obvious when conversing with people in the Queen’s English) meant that sometimes I had to repeat myself.  So eventually, I wound up sounding Canadian.  They talk like us, only they enunciate each word.  This is important.  American English is almost like speaking cursive.

Start saving

Travel is expensive.  But only because it is extraordinary to your daily life.  It really isn’t any more expensive than setting aside a Christmas fund or money for birthdays and graduations.  Some destinations are more expensive than others too.  I was warned about how expensive London was, but really I didn’t find it any worse than tourist traps in the US that aren’t far from my front door.  Lunch in Estes Park, CO is about as spendy as a meal in London.  

There are other expenses you might not be accustomed to, however.  Train fares, mass transport, and even pay toilets can be eye-opening.  Set aside some money for tourist crap to drag home, but use the brunt of it for experiences.  You don’t need to dust them and nobody can take them away.

A decent start on the first day of your adventure.

Published by Clinton A. Harris

I write stories and I talk about things as though I am an expert. Sometimes I am! I write about places I've been and interesting people I have met along the way!

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