How did you do that alone?
I would always get that question so frequently as an adult but they don’t know what happened when I was just 10.
I have a story I want to share. My parents and I made the decision to send me abroad to study on my own when I was 10. They believe I should be bilingual fluently in English and Mandarin. So they packed my bags and sent me to Taipei from New York City alone.
When we got to the airport, my dad saw his friend waiting in line for the same flight to check in. My dad asked him if he could take care of me for him. The friend agreed happily. Before saying goodbye to my mom and dad, my mom repeatedly told me, “You will need to transfer at San Francisco.” “What does that mean?”, I asked. “That means you will need to get off the plane and get on another one.” In my little head, I thought this is nerve wrecking. How do I know which plane?
I said my goodbyes to my dad and mom and followed my dad’s friend to the gate. Everything seemed fine. Flying “alone” isn’t so bad. It was finally boarding time and we went on the plane together. He sat in business class. I sat in economy class. When I sat down, two other kids arrived- a sister and a brother. They were being taken care of by the stewardess. At first, I did not understand why I didn’t have such service but took me awhile to realize because I had my dad’s friend. The stewardess who took the two kids looked confused when she saw me. She went to her other colleague and pointed at me and they were looking at a clipboard. The other stewardess walked over to me and asked “little girl, are you by yourself?” I pointed to the gentleman in the business class. “He is my dad’s friend”. “Very well”, she responded.
I remember so clearly how the two siblings were eating potato chips all the time and when they weren’t eating snacks, they slept. The older sister slept on the seats, the younger brother slept on the floor. When they went to the bathroom, I took the opportunity to see my dad’s friend because I was so bored. He placed me in his lap to play video games. Shortly after a stewardess came and asked me to leave as this was for business class only. I went back to my seat.
We finally arrived at San Francisco for a transfer. Everyone was trying to get off the plane. When I got off the plane and walked into the gate, I didn’t see my dad’s friend. I wasn’t sure where to go. I knew I was going to Taipei. SFO is not TPE for sure. There’s definitely not that many Asians in this airport. Something must be wrong, right? I recall of a woman in a dark brown trench coat with a carry-on roller who walked past me. She had a tag on her luggage – [something something I can’t read], Taipei. I followed the lugguage all the way to the gate but during this time, I also noticed the signs and made sure I wasn’t exiting the airport. When I finally arrived, I saw my dad’s friend, he asked “where were you? I was looking all over for you!?” Sure you were.
My dad never spoke to him ever again. Ever since, I flew mostly solo.
Traveling Solo Tip (and the only tip which I don’t see people mentioning much):
- Always stay cool. If you look like an outsider and totally don’t fit in, stay even cooler. Pretend you are 100% local. I always put my headphones on but I do not turn on the music. This way you look relaxed and preoccupied but really you are just trying to be aware of your surroundings without looking frantic. I lost count how many times I’ve got lost in remote areas in the dark of some foreign country but whatever it is always remain calm.