I started crying in the Sea-Tac airport when I sat down at the gate designated for Frankfurt. I was overwhelmed, nervous, and afraid of the unknown. It was about to be my first time out of the United States. The destination was Florence, Italy, the location of my study abroad program and where I would be staying for the next six weeks. The round trip flight to Italy (through Germany) was booked, and weekend trips to the Amalfi Coast and London were already on the schedule.
My excitement for the past twelve months leading up to this moment was replaced by fear. People were buzzing around me, most of them speaking German. I tried masking my tears by looking down and hiding my face. I called my parents, hoping that hearing their voices would ease my nerves, and while they assured me that I would be fine, my nerves were still very much present. There was no turning back. And I didn’t want to go back. I wanted to go to Italy. But boy, was I scared. Little did I know, I was about to experience a very happy culture shock the second I stepped on the ground in Italy. Once I got there, I was instantly amazed by its beauty and was excited to spend the next six weeks with the other students in the program.
The second time I went to Europe was to work for a travel company after I graduated college. This time, instead of a six-week study abroad program, I was planning on working and living in an apartment in Italy for a little less than a year. I had not yet met any of the staff I was about to work/live with, and it had been two years since my last time abroad. My parents walked me to the security area at Sea-Tac when my nerves started to kick in again. What if this isn’t the right decision? I thought, though I knew those were the fears talking. I had wanted to travel so badly, and I wasn’t about to let go of my dream job just because I was feeling overwhelmed at the moment. I took off my jacket and shoes and set my carry-on on the conveyor belt, waving at my parents as I walked through the metal detector. Once I got through, security decided to go through my bag and take a look at my liquids. I was holding back tears as my dad shouted, “Bye, Ally! We love you!” and they walked away.
Then the security guy told me that even though my liquids were all under the 3.5 ounce limit, I had more than a quart of liquid, the total allotted amount for carry-ons. Puzzled by this rule I had never heard before, the man told me I needed to get rid of some of it and had already started separating a few things he suggested I “throw away,” including my favorite Michael Kors perfume. Immediately I called my parents, thinking for some bazaar reason they could take some of my liquids home with them (this was the nerves speaking) – even though I didn’t need them to actually come back to airport and pick up a travel sized shampoo bottle and four bottles of nail polish only to give it back to me when I would return months later.
When my mom answered, the tears I was fighting spilled onto my face as I choked out, “They – they want me to get rid of my Michael Kors perfume!” Realizing how ridiculous this sounded for a 21-year-old to burst into tears over a bottle of perfume, I wasn’t surprised that the security guy cautiously looked at me with wide eyes and took a step back.
“Can – can you guys come take some of my stuff so I don’t have to throw it away? I feel like I’m wasting money just getting rid of it,” I sputtered. Again, I realized how ridiculous this sounded, since I could simply keep the perfume and easily live without the $3 shampoo bottle and $2 nail polishes. My parents told me to throw away the unnecessary stuff, just like I knew they would. They reassured me that I would be okay and to call them when I landed in Amsterdam for my layover.
“I’m sorry, I’m just a little nervous,” I told the security guy. “You see, I haven’t been to Europe in over two years and I’m moving there for a little while so I’m kind of nervous but excited but it’s just a little scary, you know?” I continued to babble on even though the security guy could care less, but I was embarrassed for tearing up and wanted to prevent another episode from occurring.
Once I got the liquid situation sorted out, I made it to my gate sans-tears but still filled with nerves. From there, I got on the plane – there’s no turning back – watched a few in-flight movies, and safely made it to Europe just hours later.
Originally, I wouldn’t have thought that my second trip to Europe would elicit a similar overwhelming sense of nerves as the first time. Still, however, it did. Sometimes, the sense of the unknown and fears can take over right when you’re about to make the travel leap. This is okay – but remember – you have to push past it. Remember the reason why you wanted to travel in the first place. Write in on your hand as a reminder before you leave if you need to. Push past that fear, get on the plane, and do your best to relax.
However many hours later when you land in your destination, those overwhelming nerves will be replaced by overwhelming excitement and happiness. How do I know this? Because both times I went abroad, I cried on the day I left because I was scared of all the unknowns. And both times I returned from abroad, I cried because of how sentimental it was to leave the new friends, places, and memories.
So, is it worth it? Yes. That is a big, capital Y-E-S! YES, it is going to be worth it. You can do it. There’s a reason behind the saying “life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”