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The cold pressing into your seat. The rumbling beneath your feet. The experience of traveling on a plane, from the rolling take-off to the bumpy landing, is something that comes with much familiarity to many military teens. But the reality of flying alone may not be as familiar as it was to me just earlier this month.

It was just recently that I took my very first flight alone from Portugal to the Netherlands. Sure, I was with a school group, where I wasn’t truly by myself, but the first time traveling without my parents brought a wave of emotions, experiences, and lessons that I was so grateful to encounter. But when I took a second to pause and consider my time as a “solo” traveler, I realized that I learned four valuable lessons that could not only be applied to my life as a traveler, but to my unique life as a whole. I hope you come along for the ride as I break down my amazing trip, the wisdom that I gained, and what it truly meant to be “solo.”


S stands for stepping out of your comfort zone

Me standing in freezing temperatures outside of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

S can also mean standing outside in the cold! It was quite a shock for me that I felt so cold in the Netherlands, despite my last duty station being in Utah, which is known for its powdery soft snow. But I realized that the cold symbolized something: discomfort. If one wanted to achieve greatness and experience magnificent things, one had to do the most uncomfortable things. Often, being uncomfortable means stepping outside of our comfort zones, whether that be talking to the new kid at school, reaching out to a peer, or traveling to another country on a school trip. As military teens, our comfort zones are often more flexible than most teens, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have them. On this trip, I learned that if I wanted to manifest my full potential, I had to do hard things, knowing that they would eventually pay off.

O stands for observing yourself

An absolute beauty of a door in Amsterdam. But it's also here to remind you that it's ok to take a break. Shut the door for a little quiet time alone and listen to yourself.

Only you know yourself the best. On a trip where I was surrounded by multiple peers, our personalities were bound to clash. I found myself at moments simply enjoying the experience, but at other points wanting nothing more than a break. It’s natural to not get along with others or to feel exhausted simply just from showing up and having to paste on a smile. And that’s alright. The key is to listen to yourself. Before you make a decision and before you answer someone, it's important to reflect inwardly. Ask yourself what it is that you’re feeling and what is the best approach to take from there. No one will fault you for taking a break from a situation if it spares them a disgruntled encounter.

L stands for learning to trust yourself

A tram line in Amsterdam

L also stands for being left to fend for yourself. This trip's motto was simple: show up and grow up, or not get anywhere. For some background context, when I say I dislike navigating to places, I truly mean it. If given the chance to use Google Maps, I will not take it. But on this trip, that was not a choice. I had to become best friends with Google Maps and the walking feature, and I had to become dependent on me and me alone. I learned to read street signs (I know, shocker), time public transit just right, and perfect the art of punctuality. All of these things might sound mundane and probably familiar to many, but for me, it was something entirely new. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do any of these things prior to this trip, it was that I now had to do all these things confidently. I had to believe that I knew what I was doing, that I did pick the right address, that I did follow the right path, and that I would get to my destination safely and on time. It was more dangerous to doubt myself and my capabilities than to actually step foot into the unknown.

O stands for opening yourself up to new people and relationships

O can also stand for obvious. This statement is obvious. It’s a given, especially as a military teen. We’re often forced to make new friendships and meet new people. It's an opportunity that usually comes around every two to three years with a move. But there’s a major difference between being forced and being open to new relationships. One is a reality that is presented. The other is an active choice. In the Netherlands, I had to make the active choice of being intentional with meeting people. I put a smile on my face every morning, and I walked into every room trying to be my best self. The truth is, it was extremely difficult. Ever since moving from my last duty station, it’s felt like a chore to open up again to people. I wanted to guard my heart from getting hurt again. But just as I stated earlier, if I wanted to fully experience the best life planned out for me, I had to do hard things. This trip taught me to look at each person with hope, the hope of forming a connection with them. It might not always happen, but when it does, it's worth everything.


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