The first time abroad to a new continent is a memorable experience for anyone. My first time abroad was to Iceland at 19 years old, and I was in awe of everything! For me, it was truly a magical moment; I’m pretty sure I was high on pure excitement. Even just being in the airport in Iceland was incredible to me.
I invited other travel bloggers to reminisce with me upon their first time abroad outside of their home continent. Join me as we step into their memories to relive these precious moments with them!
Paroma from Year of the Monkey – USA
“My first flight ever was the one that would forever, change my life. I am talking of one warm August night, 15 years ago (Aug 7, 2002), when I boarded the KLM flight from New Delhi, India to United States of America, flush with excitement of starting grad school in a foreign land, a country I had dreamed of for so long thanks to Hollywood. While my friend was crying buckets of tears at the thought of leaving home behind, the only thing bothering me was to how to tie that alien looking seat belt! I was attending the University of Toledo for my Masters degree, and I still remember being picked up at Detroit airport by a bunch of other friends from the University and the ride to our apartment to the tune of “Turn off the lights” and “That’s not my name”-two songs that might be well forgotten by most folks now but are my dearest anthems due to the memory they invoke. Maybe I am the proverbial cockroach in the guise of a human, but I adapted pretty well to my extremely new surroundings, unlike most Indian students around who would often relapse into understandably depressing spells of home sickness. (I am sure at this point readers must be thinking of me as a stone-cold monster, but this adaptation has been my savior in some pretty tough situations). There was so much to learn, such as the motions of the tap for hot and cold water, American English vs British English and how certain words meant completely different in two countries (trunk vs. dickie of a car for example, hahaha), that bell-pepper and capsicum were one and the same vegetable, and that the p-word in front of a “cat” meant something entirely different in American slang. Also, did I mention that in USA bus doors open to the curbside while they do on the road-side in the crazy world of India? This was the first lesson that we learned after banging on the bus for a good 5 minutes as we watched the driver giving us a horror stricken look! This and many such bumbling incidents of extreme stupidity were our learning blocks to life in America. After fifteen years, I look back at these colossal idiotic mistakes with extreme fondness. San Francisco is my home now, where I am a scientist working in a biotech company. I am grateful for the American dream that am able to live and will always cherish the wonderful memories of those “fresh-off-the-boat” days.”
Lauren from Northern Lauren – Mexico
“Mexico was the first country I visited in the Americas and only the second country I’d been to away from my home continent of Europe. Oh, did I mention that I was moving there? Yep, you read that right – the first time I visited Mexico was to stay there for a year. And no, I had no idea what to expect. Now after living in both Guadalajara and Mexico City and developing an unforeseen love of beer, browsing through my iPhone notes from the first few weeks of my stay makes for some pretty entertaining reading. I distinctly remember three things standing out to me: one, you couldn’t flush the toilet paper (something which people still seem to want to debate with me to this day, even though, no, you really can’t flush the toilet paper in most places, I promise you). Two, the PDA was literally off the charts, even for me, a reserved Brit. Three, I couldn’t bring myself to go into shops, clothes shops in particular. I just had this all-consuming self-consciousness about it that made exploring the city during those first few weeks especially difficult. Oh, and as a bonus, I almost shat myself on a bus after eating some dodgy watermelon.”
Lien from Get Lost Abroad – Kenya
“Oh my god, I just set foot on the continent of Africa! Finally, this is what I have been dreaming of for years. My first sense that is stimulated is the smell. It is difficult to separate the different odor palettes, but it definitely smells like an enormous campfire. While my backpack is being bound with rope on the roof of a van, I cannot stop looking at the colorful robes of the local women. So, it is really true! The woman are carrying heavy loads on top of their heads. I see a basket full of potatoes, a net of oranges and a teapot, all balancing on their heads. I enter the bus together with more people than the bus was made for. Okay, the concept of your own personal space seems non-existent here in Kenya. From the open windows, I peek into the local lives on the streets. Children are playing with toys which would be considered as garbage in Belgium. In the meantime, my hair is swaying in the wind. I feel a deep sense of happiness, and I am sure that I will feel at home during my next weeks in Kenya.”
Nina from Nina Near and Far – Argentina
“I’m in the back of a taxi, trying to communicate with the driver through broken Spanish when he drove into an intersection without stopping. A car comes from the left; it’s bumper colliding with the front passenger door.
No one stops in Argentina. The residential roads are a slow-motion, gentle game of bumper cars. There are no stop signs, and everyone drives slow. Cars pull in to the intersection at the same time, tap bumpers, doors, tires. They reverse slightly, and keep right on driving while I, a frightened Canadian experiencing culture shock for the first time, cling to my seat belt and squeeze my eyes shut.”
Jade & Kev from Two Tall Travellers – China
“Our first time outside of Europe together was to China, when we moved there to teach English! Before travelling to Beijing, we were extremely nervous and kept wondering if we had done the right thing! There are many other Asian countries that seemed to be more accommodating and accessible for foreigners, so we weren’t sure what to expect.
However, moving to China turned out to be one of the easiest things in the world! Sure, not everyone speaks English, and there are many cultural differences to get used to, but on the whole, living in China became normality for us – so much so that we stayed two years!
If you’re worried about travelling somewhere because of what you hear in the media, or because it’s completely different to your home country, don’t hold yourself back. We would never have known how friendly the locals can be, or how impressive the subway system is in Beijing if we had listened to the scary stories on the internet.
Obviously, you need to use common sense, and don’t go travelling to a place that is actually unsafe, but push yourself out of your comfort zone! You might be surprised about the amazing places you’ll find once you book that plane ticket.”
Kirstin from The Tinberry Travels – Australia
“During my time at university, a lust to travel had developed and so, come my final year, I starting planning my escape and the place I had in mind was literally the other side of the world from my Scottish home – Australia! While growing up, there was the odd family holiday usually consisting of a caravan near the coast, but my first trip abroad to a different continent was also my first long term and solo travel expedition. It took 34 hours to get there, but the instant I arrived I knew it was the right choice. My first impressions came from a busy Sydney city centre, but even there I felt instantly at ease. I spent the next year in somewhere that, at the time, felt completely different but oddly familiar. I travelled, worked and made friendships that still exist 7 years later. Most people asked the usual question of “Weren’t you scared travelling so far away for so long on your own?” but I loved it. Exploring a new continent with just the contents of a backpack was the ultimate proof of independence and led to so many more travels in the years that followed.”
Author/Founder of This Big Wild World – Japan
“My first trip outside of the US was to Japan at the age of 9. It just so happens that my hometown in Indiana has a Sister City near Tokyo. At that time, my friend’s uncle was responsible for our relationship with our Sister City. He hosted a Japanese language and culture class for kids in our town and, since my friend was taking it, I also joined the class. He announced that he would take a group of the students to our Sister City for a homestay, and my parents were kind enough to support me going. This was a critical moment in my life.
So, there I was wearing a white sweatsuit that matched all the other students on the trip (no judgement, this was circa 1990) while holding on for dear life as a taxi navigated the streets of Tokyo . From there, we took a bullet train to our Sister City where we spent a week staying with a host family. Every single moment was a new cultural experience, and I loved it. I am so thankful that I had this experience at such a young age. I learned that whatever was thrown at me, I could figure it out! Also, I realized that you can genuinely connect with someone even if you can’t speak the same language.”
Kelly from Girl with the Passport – Germany
“Ever since I was little, I yearned to see what was just beyond the horizon. I don’t know why, but I just always felt this need to travel beyond the place I called home. So it comes as no surprise that when I finally booked a trip abroad to Berlin, Germany. I was absolutely ecstatic. I was so thrilled that I packed almost everything I owned into a giant rolling duffle bag that I had to schlep up and down the subway stairs like I was a Sherpa from Nepal, only not so grateful. Talk about a rookie mistake. But the vacation packing party foul didn’t dull my spirits. For the first time in my life, I witnessed, felt, tasted, and touched a world that was unfamiliar yet exciting and new. I experienced legendary pieces of history, like the Berlin Wall, that would leave an indelible mark on my soul; a mark of gratitude for the freedoms and privileges that I take for granted every single day. I also witnessed the atrocities of mass genocide that are reflected in nearby concentration camps; an emotionally daunting experience that provided me with a proper amount of perspective about life. Maybe, my problems weren’t as monumental as they appeared, heard, and felt in my heart. And that is why I have continued to travel ever since. Travel changes the very fabric of your being and allows you to see promise, hope, and gratitude in even the darkest of places.”
Julie from Always on the Way Travel – Canada
“Traveling to Canada for the first time remains special regardless how long ago it was. It was the first time I experienced other things as well.
I was in Canada to attend graduate school, and I had my first overnight layover at the Incheon airport. Apart from getting a bit nervous at the border at the Toronto International Airport, everything from figuring out public transport, opening a bank account, to getting a cell phone, was not as difficult as was expected to be.
The most exciting part of being in Canada was being in the middle of an international community. If you have not traveled to Canada yet, you will wonder what it is like to be in a city like Toronto and Montreal where people around you speak different languages and share different cultures. At my university in Windsor, I shared a house with five international students from Canada, France, Spain, Germany and South Africa. International students on an exchange program always have an open mind and are willing to share everything. We shared our passion for travel, language, and the food while embracing each other’s differences. As a result, I have never felt I was in Canada, but instead, in a mini-United Nation.
Public transport is accessible in metropolis, and taxi and Uber are helpful too. If you plan to travel around Canada, be aware that you are in the world’s second largest country, and that means it takes five hours’ flight to get from Toronto to Vancouver, and even longer by bus and train. So, plan your time and budget wisely.”
Rhiannon from Wales to Wherever – Peru
“Stepping off the plane at Cusco airport was like stepping onto another planet. The first thing I noticed was how brown everything seemed – and dusty. So much dust. Coming from the South Wales Valleys, I’ve always associated nature, mountains and trees with the colour green. I’d never seen a brown mountain before, so that big monster looming in the background with “Viva El Peru” spelt out in the foliage fascinated me more than anything. I took about 17 photos of the same view before my taxi driver lost his patience and drove off with my backpack in his trunk!
The next six weeks were intense. The smells, the tastes, the language, the weather – everything was overwhelming but incredible. I just couldn’t get over how one country can have so much diversity! In the space of two weeks, I travelled through rainforest to desert to metropolitan city to mountains and back again. There was this constant stream of new things to discover at every corner!
The biggest surprise of all was when I went out for a meal with friends, and the waiter brought out a spit-roasted guinea pig on a platter – head, tail and all! Needless to say, I stuck with my pizza.”
What country did you visit when you first traveled outside of your home continent? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below!