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Aug 23 2017
by Sarah Shih

7 Life Lessons I Learned From Traveling Without My Parents

By Sarah Shih - Aug 23 2017
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Traveling is often said to be a great way to broaden our horizons. The change in scenery not only encourages us to learn about the culture of other countries but also allows us to look at the world from a different perspective. It is even a chance to meet someone completely new, and by the end of a trip we always feel like we have grown in a way somehow.

My parents have always loved traveling, and my siblings and I naturally inherited some of their wanderlust. We started to look forward to the trips they had planned for the family every summer, always helping them buy travel essentials and packing for our trip with eagerness that rarely appeared otherwise. 

Then two years ago, during the summer leading up to my eleventh grade year, my mother forced us out of this comfortable routine of family trips with a project that seemed intimidating at the time. My siblings and I were to plan a three-day trip by ourselves. Not only that, my parents would not follow us on this trip. It was the three of us, my two cousins, a map and the itinerary we planned against the world. 

To say I was intimidated would be an understatement. The planning part was something I could deal with, but to venture in the streets of a country I only stayed in for two months each year was not only something I had yet to attempt, but also a true test. What would I do if an accident happened? Could I safely make it to where we lived with all my cousins and siblings, who were all younger than me? As someone who panicked easily, I did not have any confidence in myself for traveling almost alone.

Now looking back, I understand where the fear comes from, but I also realize that it is possible to overcome it. In fact, this family bonding trip without any adult supervision has become our yearly tradition. Not only have I started to like the freedom that comes with it, but I gradually built up confidence. Now on the brink of leaving for university, I feel ready for the independence that comes with it. 

Here are a few lessons that I learned from these trips that help me gain confidence when it comes to going independent.

1. Accidents happen, and that's okay. 

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Sometimes there were delays, and we couldn't make it to the train station on time. Before these trips, I would have panicked when things didn't go according to plan – yet now, this is something I have come to terms with. Plans are made as a guideline only, and it's far more important that we know ways to get us back on track when necessary. 

2. That being said, always have a back-up plan.

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One day, our uncle had invited us to have dinner with him. We thought we could catch an evening train after visiting a park and told him that we would arrive by 6:30. What we did not foresee, however, was the pouring rain that would slow us down or the completely different layout of the train station as it was being renovated. We missed the train and the next one didn't arrive until half an hour later. Had we prepared a back-up plan with different transportation or left more time for traveling, we wouldn't have had to wait for such a long time. Accidents happen, so it is definitely helpful to be prepared for them with back-up plans  

3. Let other people help/always ask if other people need help.

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My sister had originally wanted to plan out the entire trip herself, insisting that this was something she liked to do. In the end, we decided to do it together though, as transportation between different places actually got complicated. I believe it's important that we not only need to learn to help other people, but also to allow other people to lighten our load for us. We work faster that way, and it always feels nice to know that someone can help us out or that we have the ability to assist other people.

4. Stepping out of your comfort zone can be amazing.

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Before, I never would have ventured these streets myself, and I still had a lot of doubt one day before we left for the trip. With some mishaps with train tickets on the first day of the trip, my fear worsened throughout the day and I couldn't seem to truly enjoy what we hadn't planned for the day. But by the second day, as things started to fall in place, I started to genuinely have fun when I realized that a lot of things I had worried would happen, didn't. Now looking back, I am extremely grateful that my mom had pushed me to explore the city without help from her, and I had agreed to take on a trip like this the next year when it was brought up. I don't think I can imagine how many amazing memories – the laughs I shared with my companions, the stories I got to tell later – I would have lost if I had avoided this opportunity.

5. Sometimes it isn't about where you are, but who you are with.

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On some days during the trip, our itinerary included a lot of walking or long bus rides in between the locations we had planned. While I thought it would be boring at first, I soon found that with people that I always had fun with, the stale walks and rides became our source of talks that brought us laughter. At first I had doubts about if I chose the right university to commit to, but now I know that once I meet the people around me, I will still enjoy my experience. I may end up liking my university — or not — but I know I definitely look forward to the new place and the new people I will meet.

6. Always try to get enough sleep.

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Waking up at eight thirty every morning had seemed like an easy task. But with how exhausting a day full of sightseeing and excitement could be, and my underestimating the amount of rest I needed, I was completely wiped out the next morning and reluctant to wake up. The same happened during my senior year: it was tempting to watch one more episode on Netflix or spend one more hour on that calculus problem sheet because I had been procrastinating. Now I've finally learned to always manage my time so I can have enough sleep and thus enough energy for the next day. I definitely hope I can still keep this up in college. 

7. Time management seems difficult, but it is possible.

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During our first trip, I wasn't sure how much time to spend at each location. Is two hours at a science museum too short or too long? Should I aim for many places during one day, or just take our time and enjoy few sightseeing spots only? It took some trial and error, but eventually I had a better idea on how much time we generally spent before moving on to our next spot, and by the third trip I felt more confident about planning. Now I know that in college, it will take a week or two to learn how much time I spend on studying and other commitments such as clubs and chores, but when routines set in, I will have an idea on how to manage my time on the myriad of activities I will be responsible for. 

Traveling helps us grow by introducing us to a completely different world. It became even more different, however, when I took on a trip without any adult supervision. What I experienced during the trip was amazing memories, instead of nervousness like I had expected. I believe these trips are what helped me grow, and what will give me confidence as I eventually leave for college. And I can't wait for my new independence and other memories I will make in this four-year journey.

Lead image credit: Steven Lewis via Unsplash



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Sarah Shih - University of Western Ontario

Sarah is a First Year student attending the University of Western Ontario studying Psychology. In her free time, she can be seen reading or writing. If she is silent during a conversation, she is most likely plotting for her next article or the next chapter in her novel.

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