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UMBC Across the Sea: The difficulties of traveling alone

Traveling is often as stressful as it is exciting, regardless of any outside factors. It is the nature of the experience, exploring the unknown brings up deep primal feelings of both allure and apprehension. This is made worse by less-than-ideal circumstances, and one of the most common of these for students traveling abroad is having to travel alone.

Traveling alone causes stress in two categories. First, it causes physical stress from dealing with luggage in a system that requires both a lot of luggage and constant vigilance of that luggage. Secondly, traveling alone can cause mental and emotional stress from leaving the familiar completely behind, alone in an increasingly foreign environment.

Airports since 9/11 have greatly increased their policy against unattended bags, to the extent that most will play warnings against unattended luggage on their PA systems. Therefore, it is just not feasible to go and do anything at all until bags are checked, as bringing a full-sized suitcase or two into the bathroom, convenience store or in line for a burger is inconvenient and rude. Even then, with the sizable carry-on warranted by an international flight, navigation around the airport is difficult and exhausting.

This can be remedied in part by limiting the amount of luggage taken before leaving and by reducing the size of that luggage. Students do have a tendency to over-pack, and taking little more than a week’s worth of close is fine in most cases and waiting to buy stationary abroad can also help keep packing light. Aside from that, things like vacuum sealed storage bags can help reduce baggage, and even just cramming as much as possible into stowed bags, while inelegant, has proven effective.

The second half of this issue is more insidious. Studying abroad can fill a student with a sort of nervous buzz of energy, which is in a way pleasant and exciting, but rapidly wears thin as the slow boring realities of international travel set in and leave no opportunity to burn that energy off. Having no one to really talk to, contending with new sights, sounds and cultures with no one to discuss these with: this can leave a student feeling small, confused and alone.

It may help to kill some of the downtime with something brought from home. A familiar movie or video game, or even just a favorite album to listen to. Also helpful may be a last call home before fully setting off or partway through your journey, this can grant a brief period to reflect on the sudden rush of unfamiliar experiences with familiar faces. If that is not possible, or if the prospect of calling home so soon sounds stressful in itself, it may be helpful to simply take pictures and notes to later share online once settled.

Ultimately, there is nothing anyone can do to completely eliminate the stresses of traveling or traveling alone. There are, however, things that can be done to ensure that the excitement of the experience to come can overcome those stresses. If one ever feels truly lost or overwhelmed, you can always look to your purpose for studying abroad, whatever that may be, and remember that that is what you strive for.