I was 12 the first time I traveled abroad to visit my uncle in South Africa. During my two-month stay, I swam in the Indian Ocean, experienced an exciting new culture first-hand, learned Afrikaans (one of the native languages), met so many amazing people, and even had my 13th birthday in the wilds of Africa, with lions roaring in the distance and hyenas eying my campfire-fried cake. It was incredible! But it was also terrifying, at times.
It’s no small thing, traveling to another country, but it’s even more complicated when you’re young and doing it for the first time. There’s tons to prepare for and consider, from getting your passport and packing appropriately to dealing with language barriers and embracing cultural differences. Your parents can help you, but here’s some advice, one international adventurer to another, that you will definitely want to keep in mind.
1. Take Packing Seriously but Not Too Seriously
Packing is important, but forgetting something isn’t the end of the world. The truth is you can usually buy what you need at most places you visit, or borrow from a friend. The only exceptions are things like medications, glasses, and other items specifically prescribed to you. While you certainly don’t want to forget anything, fixating on the possibility of leaving something behind can cause undue stress and anxiety and ultimately detract from your overall experience. Don’t get so wrapped up worrying about your luggage that it overshadows your excitement for travel.
2. Be Ready for Seasonal Differences
My trip took place in May while the weather here in the United States was beautiful, but the nights in South Africa were freezing. Luckily, I checked before I traveled and knew to take some warmer clothes. I literally wore my Under Armour Cold Gear every evening and most mornings I was outside. It can be tempting to bring all your favorite clothes to show off during your trip, but you’ll have a lot more fun if you dress according to the weather.
3. Beware of Culture Shock
I had absolutely no idea what culture shock was. It wasn’t until years after my trip that I realized I had suffered from it. Culture shock is basically when someone struggles to adapt to new cultural surroundings. For me, it resulted in homesickness, but it can also cause anxiety and other unpleasant emotions that can detract from your trip. Just knowing about culture shock, however, can help prevent it. If you go in expecting cultural differences, you’re less likely to get homesick and more likely to enjoy your travels.
4. Journal about Everything
I actually had to journal about my trip for school, but I can’t tell you how glad I am that I did. In the moment, it may seem like you could never forget about all the amazing things you’re doing and seeing but, take it from someone who knows, those impressions can fade overtime. You don’t have to start journaling full-time, but writing your travel adventures down will help keep the memories alive, especially when it comes to remembering how the experience made you feel. It’s well worth getting those thoughts and emotions on paper so you can revisit them again and again.
I learned a lot during my two months in South Africa but, most importantly, I found out there’s no better way to discover the world than to dive in and see it up close. Sure, it might be intimidating, but the experience is one you’ll never forget.
Contributed by Amanda Vosloh Bowyer