Will I regret sharing this story? Probably 😂 but, for the sake of achieving the goal of this blog post, for educational purposes…
Last year saw me travelling by air alone for the first time ever, at the age of 18. Flying is stressful enough as it is. Now pulling it off all by myself? That was another story. I was terrified. But at the same time, I was beyond excited. I wanted to prove myself, I wanted to show that I was independent (y’know, as independent as a person who’s fully financially dependent on their parents, and expects them to talk to the doctor/banker/waitress/family friends/aunts and uncles on their behalf can be).
I mean, how hard could it be? Tbh I was more concerned (more like completely mortified) about the fact that a whole bunch of 8 year olds out there travel on their own all the time yet here I was worrying myself stupid over it.
Here’s the thing: Flying scares the life out of me. I’m talking teeth chattering, hyperventilating, shaking level of scared. Have I been on a plane before? Yes. Multiple times? Yes. Does that make things any better? No. Not even the slightest bit. I mean, this is a metal box in the sky we’re talking, it defies the laws of nature. This isn’t a car. If something goes wrong, if I grow tired, or sick (as I almost always do, thanks motion sickness) I can’t get out. Trapped. The lack of control over the situation is maddening.
My flight to Joburg from Nairobi was an actual nightmare. By the time we were making our descent, I was a frantic mess. The seemingly mean, old white guy next to me felt so bad for my anxiety-ridden self that he talked me through the entire landing (“God doesn’t plan on you dying today!”) and held my hand. How he let this random stranger cut off his circulation with their sweaty shaky hand is what I will never ever know. Someone out there sure has a true gem of an oupa.
After the stopover in Jozi, I was pretty confident. That’s it. The hard part is over now. I’m home free. If only I knew. I remember dozing off for a bit while seated at the waiting area at the boarding gate before waking up half an hour to departure time. Why Wasn’t anyone lining up yet? My sister had been texting me at the time and asked why I wasn’t on the plane yet. I quickly turned to the man next to me. “Are you also waiting for the flight to Port Elizabeth?” and he was like???? “This flight is going to Pietermaritzburg” That’s when I knew.
To cut a way-too-long-story short, I came to learn that I’d missed my connecting flight to P.E., and a couple of frantic phone calls, wandering around the airport in circles while crying my eyes out, help from my mom, later, SAA sympathised with me and gave me a new ticket free off charge.
This little list was written to ensure that you don’t run into the same predicament I did. Think of me as a big sister of sorts-I make all the dumb mistakes so that you don’t have to.
Unless you’re at total pro at the travel game (in which case why are you reading this in the first place??? Hahaha) then here are a few simple tips:
1) Official documents: Make sure you have your ID, passport, necessary visa and vaccination documents with you at all times. Preferably in a small bag/pouch so that you can keep ‘em close to you. Don’t let them out of your sight!! In the event that you do lose them, well then that’s a whole other story for another day (I’ve been in such a scenario as well, as you can see wherever I go, misfortune seems to follow, lol)
2) Packing: Of course this depends on where you’re going and for how long, but I feel like as a general rule, it is never too early to start. Pack even a week in advance, seriously. Unless you are part of the glorious 1% of the population who have packing down to a T, in which case, I’m jealous (teach me your waaayys!)
3) Luggage: Be fully aware of how many pieces of luggage you are permitted to have, and what the weight limits are. Overweight luggage will result in fines, and the last thing you’d want is to spend extra money, that could’ve gone to buying more clothes/souvenirs (unnecessary junk) from your travel destination.
4) Keep your valuables close, preferably in your hand luggage, that way it’s almost always in sight and guaranteed to reach. Things happen, luggage gets lost in transit etc so keep the most important things close. The last time I traveled, my hand luggage compromised of my guitar and my favourite journals.
5) Leave for the airport in good time: Try to ensure that you’re at the airport at LEAST an hour before your BOARDING time, and if you live in a high traffic area, then leave even earlier. You need all the time for check-in purposes. You’d be surprised how long waiting in line, having your documents, bags checked and making it to the boarding gate, takes.
6) Boarding gate: Know where it is, and be there before the boarding time. Listen out for announcements, don’t be like me and fall asleep while they’re being made and find yourself waiting at the wrong one.
7) MEMORISE your boarding time AND your flight departure time (note: These are 2 different things)
8) Dress comfortably (you are not Vanessa Hudgens flying into LAX, no one cares about what you’re wearing/who you are) because you’ll be doing plenty of walking back and forth, and standing in line, and sitting (sleeping) on the plane.
9) Remember what your luggage looks like. Nothing beats the boredom and frustration of figuring out your black suitcase from everyone else’s 200 black suitcases. Unless yours stands out, you could try tying a colourful band/ribbon to it to make it stand out when it’s going round the carousel – saw this tip online and thought it was pretty interesting.
10) Have money in the currency of the country you’re flying into, or a valid bank card, and a working cell phone line to keep family updated on where you are in case anything goes wrong.
So that’s it! If you have any more tips or travel tales then do tell me all about them! I’ve never been overseas and hearing all about it makes my daydreams feel a little more real 🙈
Ciao for now, friends!