In my 19 years of life so far, I have rarely flown in a plane—and never alone. Come spring break of my 19th year, however, it was time. I had to fly alone. Honestly, I was very nervous. I was scared of getting lost, being confused, and not knowing where to go. However, I was going to visit my best friend at her school in California, and my spring break happened to be the same week as her birthday, so I was determined to make it work. Here’s my experience traveling alone, along with five lessons you can take away to become an educated traveller.
1. Buying the ticket
Me, being the college student I am, bought the cheapest ticket I could possibly find. I’m talking lengthy layovers, 3:00 a.m. wake-up and no carry-on luggage. That’s right, my dumb-a** realistically thought that I could go on vacation for four days with only a small backpack. Now, certainly it is possible, but not for a girl who needs three pairs of shoes per day. I really didn’t want to check a bag because I was worried my luggage would get mixed up during my layovers, and I just didn’t want to pay to check a bag. When it came time to pack for my trip, though, I caved and checked a suitcase.
Learning lesson #1: Be realistic. If you are already spending hundreds of dollars on a ticket, you might as well spend $80.00 more and actually be able to bring something to wear.
I am someone who takes hours to pack and also someone who waits until the day before my flight to pack. After packing my socks, underwear, and phone charger, I found I was already VERY close to the capacity of my backpack… I had to pull out the suitcase. Of course, now I had to plan outfits! I threw on The Bachelor, cracked open a bag of Starburst Jellybeans, and went to work. I only got two hours of sleep that night, but my outfits were on point (and that’s really all that matters).
Learning lesson #2: Pack wisely. You probably don’t need three outfits per day, but it’s better to be over-packed than underpacked, so go ahead and pack everything you own.
3. Navigating the airport
My dad dropped me off and there I was. In the mob of people (because spring break time, duh), I could hardly find my way through. I ended up in a line and after being there for about 15 minutes, I asked the people behind me if they’ve ever had a line this long to check a bag. Of course, they hadn’t. The reason being was that I wasn’t on my way to check baggage at all—I had been standing in the security line for the past 20 minutes. Yep. I had to get out of line, and lose all the progress I had made in this line that winded and weaved all throughout the lobby. The nice thing is, though, that airports have started using kiosks where you can print your boarding ticket and bag ticket all on your own, which made the process nice and quick. Soon enough, I had ditched the bag and went to reattempt security. Naturally, I got in the wrong line. Not that I couldn’t go through this line, it’s just that this one happened to be busier, and at the opposite end of the airport as my gate. But, hey, I had time. Next was the security dog. The dog you walk past at a steady pace, who sniffs out anything suspicious. Even though I was absolutely and 100% sure there was nothing more illegal than a little bit of water left in my water bottle, I was nervous. It’s kind of like when you’re home alone and you think there will be a murderer around every corner even though you know the door is locked and the security system is on. It’s impossible but somehow in your mind… possible. After approximately a million years, I was through! Besides a few delays to my second flight, the rest of the commute there was smooth sailing.
Learning lesson #3: Don’t be scared to ask people questions when you’re feeling lost. The airport is actually quite simple, so don’t stress too hard about it.
First of all, a bag of gummy worms has NO business being $7.65. Case closed. Why is this legal? Since my traveling days were 10 hours and 13 hours, buying food at the airport was unavoidable. I tried to fight the hunger for as long as I could, but eventually the hanger overcame me and I had to buy something to eat. Through my time in California, I tried to only eat out one meal per day; however, I didn’t always stick to that frugal goal. While my bank account took an extra hit from this, I have to say, my $17.00 burger (which didn’t include fries) was fan-FREAKIN-tastic.
Learning lesson #4: Be prepared to spend some cash (especially on food). You might as well just not eat on vacation because you will need to sell an arm and a leg to afford it… or just plan to spend more money on food than I did.
5. Heading home
This is where the awful begins. Originally, I was supposed to fly out Wednesday afternoon, with one layover, and I’d be home by midnight. Unfortunately, just as I was leaving for the airport, my flight was cancelled. Apparently, planes can’t fly in a blizzard. My flight had been rescheduled for the next day, with two layovers, and altogether 12 hours of travel just to get back to Minnesota. Are you kidding?! You might as well send me around the world the other way. I decided this wasn’t going to work for me. After being on hold for over an hour, the woman tried to tell me there was not a single seat on any flight that could get me to Minnesota in a reasonable amount of time. I didn’t buy it. My friend and I decided to drive to the airport to talk to someone face-to-face. We tried the “killing with kindness” approach, but this woman was not budging. She spit some major sass at us and refused to give me any kind of compensation. (Shoutout to United Airlines! I will never fly with your airlines again.)
So there I was, stuck with the marathon travel day. Later that night, I received messages that poor weather in one of my layover connections may cause another cancellation, in which case I wouldn’t be able to get home until SATURDAY. Once I landed at my first layover, my flight was delayed again. This would make it nearly impossible to catch my last flight once we had landed. After that, I went to customer service to try once more to get a different flight, but I was out of luck. I accepted my fate and boarded the next plane. By the time my second plane had landed, I had 15 minutes to get from Gate B3 to Gate C29… I have never run so fast in my life. I had made it just in the nick of time (or so I thought). My gate had been changed and my flight delayed an hour. While I was upset that I was on the verge of an asthma attack for nothing, I did finally make it home right at midnight. My own bed had never felt sooooo good.
Learning lesson #5: You get what you pay for. If you are going to pay for a flight, don’t pay for a cheap one that will make you hate your life.
If anything, this trip taught me how much I can handle. I never really got stressed or worried through all the delays and cancellations, even though I kind of wanted to pull my hair out by the end. While it was rough at times, in the end I got to spend a few days with my best friend and that is why I went through all of this. I had so much fun meeting her friends and seeing her new world. Even though I hit some bumps along the road, now I’ve gained a lot of travelling knowledge and I’m ready to leave the country all on my own!