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Essay On My First Trip Abroad

By Sean Traynor, Editorial Adviser and Contributing Writer


I remember my first overseas adventure clearly – London. My parents thought that a London adventure, paired with another week in Paris, would be a great introduction to traveling overseas with a passport. The announcement of a trip to London brought up visions in my mind of Sherlock Holmes, Big Ben and the Tower of London.  My mind was racing to the history stories about the Tower of London, a royal residence that became famous as a prison, the Great Plague, the Great Fire of 1666, and also the Industrial Revolution in the 1860s (when children were sent to work as early as five years old) that spawned books like Oliver Twist. I also remembered the great advancements in modern London such as the London underground rail system, the Millennium dome (an exhibition center) and the London Museum. I was extremely curious to see if my imagination had painted an accurate picture of these events and sites from this area.

Posing for my passport picture with no smile as required, I was amused by the fact that my picture would probably never really mimic my face as I was amused by the many sites I would see in London. I was told to pack layers of clothes just like for a trip to San Francisco, as London is known for its fog and large swings in temperature.

My airplane trip was 11 hours long! You never think about planning to be entertained for that long. I brought a couple books, but I found myself watching the movies on the plane and thinking about the things we would be seeing on our vacation. The roar of the engines finally had me drifting off to sleep. The announcement over the PA system to buckle up awoke me with a start.  I looked out the plane window but the approach to the London-Heathrow airport gave no further clue to unravel the mystery of London.

The thing I didn’t think about before I traveled was the effect the time zone change would have on me. We arrived at the airport and I felt like a sheep being lead through a maze. We tried to quickly find our luggage, clear the passport control point, and hail a taxi, while working on only a few hours of sleep. I understood why my parents wanted an English-speaking country to be my first overseas experience because I couldn’t imagine dealing with speaking another language while we were working on only a few hours of sleep. It caused a haze in my head that made everything feel like a dream. Our taxi ride to our hotel was a blur of buildings and traffic. We decided to take a five hour nap to attack the early evening with a vengeance and renewed strength.

Our list of “must-sees” in London included many things, so when we awoke we immediately set to work checking the opening and closing hours of attractions. Our primary objective for the first evening was to experience a true London eating establishment. Since there wasn’t much else to do in late afternoon, we made our way to Leadenhall Market, a beautiful covered market in the City of London. Under the elegant Victorian roof there were stalls selling flowers, cheese, meat and other fresh food, and  shops, pubs and restaurants in the market building. We tasted various cheeses and made a meal out of the famous meat pies. The Dragon Alley scenes in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone were filmed in Leadenhall Market so we also enjoyed exploring.

We took a drive through the winding city streets of London and were amazed by the absolutely beautiful night lights in front of a clear night sky. There wasn’t fog in sight. We were able to find a vacant red telephone booth to take the traditional British phone booth picture. We then darted to the river to see the Tower Bridge with the lights illuminating the span across a pitch black background. Across the river you could see the London Eye (a Ferris Wheel on the banks of the river). We knew the Houses of Parliament (with Big Ben) was across the water from the London Eye so we zipped over to it experiencing the underground railway for the first time.

Throughout the week one of my favorite moments was when we were toured the Tower of London. I enjoyed the history related by the guides that made the walls come alive. This was one of the times that my visions of what I believed it would look like came true. Although smaller than today’s castles, you could walk through rooms and imagine the activities that occurred there. Its “crowning” achievement is the royal jewels display. Being in the presence of so many jewels and intricately carved gold ornamental pieces underscored the pomp and circumstance of royal occasions. I especially enjoyed the stories of the kings and how the Tower was used as a prison. It made the walls cry out to me and I viewed the small spaces with even more respect.

Even though English is spoken in England, we still had to adapt to many different customs from our own. First of all, the typical “American” breakfast of a pastry and orange juice was replaced with boiled tomatoes, extra thick bacon that looked like ham, and eggs. In addition, the English people drove on the other side of the road from Americans. This caused my parents to be extra nervous in the taxis as we went from place to place. What I really liked was the various types of transportation. Whether we chose a double-decker bus to stand on top to view the sites or take the “Tube” which is the name for their underground rail system, we were able to get to each place we wanted quickly and with very little hassle. It was great! I also enjoyed the individuality of the hairstyles, clothes, art, and music. No one seemed out of place because everyone was unique.

Yes, we saw all the normal museums, monuments and statues. My favorite moments though, were when we were sitting at a sidewalk cafe and watching the people and vendors. There was a wide variety of tourist shops that were contrasted with upscale shops. Harrods is an example of a department store that caters to a high-end clientele. We roamed for quite a while in their elaborate food section where most displays take days to create. It was an experience just to walk through the various floors of merchandise, even though we were afraid to fall in love with anything because of the price tags. Back on the street, the local people blended in by being different. They had dyed hair in interesting severe cuts, fashionable clothing that looked like it jumped out of fashion magazines and an air of indifference to the buildings depicting centuries of history that only hangs on people that see them every day.

The weather swayed back and forth between clear days and overcast days. In the early evenings a fog rolled in, blanketing the streets with an air of mysteriousness.  When we found ourselves with an extra day at the end of our trip, the fog made us decide that a trip to Sherlock Holmes’ residence was appropriate. Sherlock Holmes was a fictitious detective written about in books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Walking along the tree-lined residential street, you could imagine living in 1881, and living as Holmes at 221B, Baker Street, up 17 steps. Once climbing to the apartment we were shocked by how small the apartment was and couldn’t imagine living in those cramped quarters. The tourist spot was decked out with glasses, investigative instruments and things from the various Sherlock Holmes books. We enjoyed the trip out to see this experience and my brother even bought a deer-stalker hat before leaving.

We said goodbye to our adventures in London from a boat cruise on the River Thames. We saw close-up views of our favorite buildings and listened to more history of the area. We looked up and saw the London Eye where we had ridden a full circle a few nights before. It gave us a good perspective on where everything sat within the city.

The taxi ride to the airport made us smile as we remembered the week before when everything seemed to be in a fog. London had spoken to us over the last week and we clearly understood that this city was more than the beautiful historic buildings – it was a collection of stories that read like a intricate novel with many twists and turns. It has a unique character that makes it different than any other place I have visited since. Through the Roman influence, the fires, plagues, and conflicts, London has emerged as an interesting place that can offer something to everyone.

It’s summer in the Northern hemisphere, so probably many of you are thinking about holidays, or at least escaping outside now and again. So for this month’s collaborative post we’ve been thinking about travel. If you’re in the Southern hemisphere, well, maybe you will read this and dream of the summer that’s coming up.

Colombia, the USA, India, Bulgaria… PocketCultures contributors from around the world write about their first trip abroad (or – since we haven’t all had the chance to travel abroad – their first big trip). Read on to find out where they went and what they did!

Nuria (Costa Rica)

I took my first trip abroad when I turned 15 years old. My parents and sisters celebrated this special birthday, Quince Años in Spanish, with me in San Andres Island, Colombia. It was the first time I was ever on a plane, so the trip was really exciting although it was only about an hour! I remember the day before leaving, I did not feel so good and I had a rash, so I went to the drugstore but they told me it was only an allergy. So, I did not pay that much attention to it. But the next day when we were at the airport, I had a fever and did not feel that good the following days. Since I thought what I had was a simple allergy, once I noticed some itchy, red dots on my legs, I just scratched them all.

Getting my hair braided

Meanwhile, we visited several great places in the island: the Aquarium, Johnny Cay Island, the Hoyo Soplador (geyser) and Morgan’s Cave. I remember eating rice with coconut and getting my hair braided for the first time, which was a fun experience! After some relaxing and beautiful days in San Andres Island, we came back to Costa Rica. A few days later, my sisters got the same red dots I did while on vacation; and that is how we found out that what I had had was chickenpox!!!

The Aquarium, San Andres Island, Colombia

Anu (India)

I have yet to travel abroad, and I remember little of my earliest trips. The one I remember best, is however, a trip we made to the famous temple of Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh, India in 1984. That trip was memorable for many reasons. First, it was a huge family trip – almost 15 of us! Second, I had company – a cousin who was just a year younger than me. Being a single child, such opportunities to travel with company my own age were rare. The third reason was the trip itself, because it was the first time I actually went on a pilgrimage! The temple of Lord Venkateswara at Tirupati is one of the most famous temples in India, and also among the richest, and lest I forget to mention, also the most crowded. I have visited the temple 11 times since then, but that was my first trip, and thus even more memorable.

The temple is located amidst seven hills, and there is a road leading straight to the temple, but many people still prefer to climb the stairs as their offering to the Lord, and on that trip we elected to do the same. I was around 9 years old then, and climbing the roughly 2500 steps was a great sense of adventure! Me and my cousin therefore spent most of our time running ahead and then waiting for the adults to catch up! We climbed the hills at night, and reached the temple in the wee hours of the morning, after a gruelling seven hours climb (It doesn’t really take that long, but we had adults from 15 to 75 with us, and each climbed at their own pace! ) We were tired, but more than that, hungry!!


There was just one small shop, or rather, shack, open that early in the morning, so we headed straight there to see what we could find to eat. It turned out they just had idlis, so idlis it was! We ordered plate after plate, and the man just kept on bringing them, and somewhere midway, we lost count. Idlis were followed by Tea and coffee, and finally we were done! And then came the biggest problem of all – no one had any idea of how many plates we had to eat!! We hadn’t kept count, and the waiter and manager had lost their count!! Eventually, after much discussion, my uncle pulled out a 100 Rupee note and handed it over, saying that he could keep the change, since he had at least filled our stomachs when we really needed it!! At that time, !00 Rs was a huge amount, and the manager gaped as we paid him and walked out! That is the memory that has stayed back with me, even after all these years…. we had a wonderful tour of the temple and had a great experience at the sanctum, but nothing remains as clear as the expression of the manager!! Photo credit

Nargiza (Kyrgyzstan)

I was 17 when I first went abroad. But it was a year-long trip to the United States, so it was worth the wait.

I went to do an exchange year in South Dakota, where I lived with an American host family and went to an American high school. It was my first trip abroad and it was big. I still remember my first flight, sheer happiness of being above the clouds, going through security gates, getting out of the airport to face hot wind of South Dakota. I am glad I went abroad being at the age, when I could remember every detail of my trip. It made it priceless. Photo credit

Hay harvest in South Dakota

Liz (Australia)

My first trip overseas – to Canada – was at the ripe old age of 21. The trip was a gamble in so many ways – it was to be a year in duration (a ‘working holiday’), and the first trip away with my relatively new boyfriend. Into the unknown I went, with a backpack filled with things like aerograms to write letters home (this was in 2000, just at the brink of email and the internet becoming mainstream in Australia), and an actual paper diary to record the experience. Blogs were yet to enter the lexicon.

Toronto was our first port of call, and while in hindsight I realise Canada was the easiest introduction ever to international travel, I thought I was on the adventure of a lifetime. I breathed in every little detail and point of difference I could find (squirrels in parks! People saying ‘eh’ all the time’!) and soaked up every sight and experience. We spent the summer in Montreal and the winter in Whistler, interspersed with diversions to the UK, New York, San Diego and Mexico. The year away opened my eyes to the world, and sparked my interest in art, design, architecture, food and other cultures. I returned to Australia with many newfound passions, an incurable case of wanderlust, and a tentative turned permanent travel partner. Photo credit

A gray squirrel in Toronto's High Park

Carmen (Romania)

I took my first trip abroad when I was 15 years old. After finishing my 8th grade, together with my parents and my grandmother (father‘s mother) we were invited to spend two weeks in Bulgaria (our neighbour country). We took a friend‘s car to the border, then we passed by foot on the Friendship Bridge that connects the Romanian town Giurgiu and the Bulgarian one, Russe. Our friends waited for us with a car at the Bulgarian border.

In those two weeks we travelled a lot by car and visited several seaside resorts (Varna, Albena, Golden Sands) and other towns like Veliko Tarnovo, Silistra and Russe.

Veliko Tarnavo

I remember with great pleasure our Bulgarian friends and their warm welcoming, the interesting seaside landscape, with houses built on mountains, the bridge in Veliko Tarnovo from which you could see the train which passed under the city. But also a restaurant built on a hill in Russe, with has as many halls as the number of countries the Danube River passes through. We took our good bye dinner there, in the Romanian Hall, which had on one wall a mosaic map of the Danube route through the 10 countries and the motto “Our freedom came over the Danube”, as a gratitude for the Romanian soldiers who fought in the Independence War and helped them conquer their freedom too. I don‘t have any photos from those times but my memories are better than any movie! Photo credit

Sinan (Turkey)

My first trip abroad was to England, when I was 8 years old. Me and my mom went to visit my aunts living in Crowthorne, Berkshire and Letchworth, Hertfordshire for summer vacation. It was my first flight ever. We flew with Turkish Airlines Boeing 727 from Istanbul Atatürk Airport to London Heathrow Airport. This trip triggered my enthusiasm to airports and aviation.

Turkish Airlines Boeing 727

Both my aunts were living in the suburbs of small towns, which was a new experience to me, who grew up in downtown Istanbul. I really enjoyed playing in the garden with my cousins and other children. I learned climbing trees and riding bicycle that summer. Thanks to this trip I started to learn English and practice at the same time. During this vacation we went to London and visited landmarks of the city such as Buckhingam Palace, Harrod’s, Whitehall, Tower Bridge, Madame Tussauds Wax Museum and so on. My aunts bought me all the basic London souvenir toys; a Double Decker bus, a Coldstream Guard, a Royal Horse Guard, a British Policeman etc. not to mention some Matchbox cars as well. Back then importing goods was limited in Turkey, so these toys and our Duty Free shopping was like a magic for a child like me. Photo credit

LeX (Malaysia)

My first trip abroad was to Daejeon, South Korea. I was 22 years old and I went there to study. I travelled by bus from Penang to Kuala Lumpur, plane from Kuala Lumpur to Incheon, Express Railway from Incheon to Daejeon. I went Kuala Lumpur alone but met other Malaysian Students in KLIA Airport and of course met more people when I arrived the University in Daejeon!

The biggest impression was the culture of Korean people! Seniority culture, Pali-Pali Culture, the language and the city, Seoul is a modern city yet still can feel the tradition of Korean in the city! Photo credit

Daejon City

Ana (Argentina)

I was eight months old when I went -or rather, was taken- on my first trip. My parents, my grandparents and I went to Salta and Jujuy in Northern Argentina. I don’t have any recollection whatsoever of this trip, of course, I go by what my parents told me and the photos they took. One funny story that went down in family history goes that only two of us weren’t affected by altitude sickness: my mother and I. I, because apparently it doesn’t affect babies, or at least, not me, and my mum, because she was brave enough to drink some coca tea, an age old traditional remedy used in the Andean heights. The photo was taken in La Quiaca (Jujuy), the northernmost town in Argentina. The green sign behind us indicates the distance between La Quiaca and Ushuaia, the southernmost city: 5121 kilometers (3182 miles) –i.e. the length of the country. My parents look so young!

Sean (USA)

My parents took me to Spain, France, Austria, and Germany when I was 2, before my brother was born. I don’t really remember any of it. When I was 10, we went to Germany, France, and Switzerland, as a family. We stayed with some of my dad’s military buddies in Germany, and the families of some of our old exchange students in France.

We flew into Munich, and I believe we rented a car. A Renault, I think it was, and my dad did most of the driving. The European traffic circles freak my mom out!

I remember a lot, actually. One great memory was a beerfest in Rosenheim, in the Bavarian region of Germany. They had polka-style music, and four guys with a bullwhip in each hand would crack the whips to the beat of the music. I asked the little daughter of one of my dad’s military buddies to dance… she wasn’t interested. We went to “Vaison-la-Romain” in France, which was an old Roman village, with all the medieval turrets and walls still standing. We went to a couple other castles, the names of which escape me. I loved knights and armor, and middle-ages type stuff when I was a kid. I had lots of books about castles. We went to the beaches around Nice in France, and spent the day hanging out with a former exchange student’s family. We climbed up to the castle Neuschwanstein near the Austrian border, which was amazing. We climbed up Mount Brünnstein… I remember my dad’s military buddies pushing me to finish it, while my parents lagged behind with my little brother. I googled it, and I totally remember the little chapel at the top! I remember eating dinner starting at midnight in Provence, and being a very tired little boy by the end. They served eggs in aspic, which I didn’t care for, I remember. I remember being impressed that the little German kids spoke English very well, and being annoyed that public restrooms cost money. I remember the shores of Lake Geneva, and a little coach house that we stayed in.

It was probably the beginning of my love of different cultures, and travel.

Read more
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The good, the bad and the ugali: travel in East Africa
A plane ticket to happiness

About the author

Lucy (Liz) Chatburn
Lucy is English and first ventured out of the UK she was 19. Since then she has lived in 4 different countries and tried to see as much of the world as possible. She loves learning languages, learning about different cultures and hearing different points of view.
Other 502 posts by Lucy

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