Before I embarked for my semester abroad in Australia, I had thought about it very little, aside from the occasional daydream of relaxing at the beach during the day and sipping cocktails at night. While this certainly was a part of the picture, it was nowhere near the whole. Foolishly, I expected all of my worries to go away. But if you’re an anxious person like me, the anxiety doesn’t go away just because you’re in another country. It just moves through a different filter, and you have to face the new challenges you’re now exposed to. Even something as mundane as taking the train is a bewildering unfamiliarity.
In this strange new world, I was eager to see and do everything. What I didn’t realize, however, is that this entailed a lot of planning. If you plan to do a lot of traveling, you’re going to have to make all of the arrangements for yourself. That means booking flights, hostels or homes to stay at and any additional activities. It can be overwhelming. At first, you’re just trying to make friends, but there’s the added layer of looking for travel companions.
The main division you’ll find is between those who want to have a backpacking experience and those who want a more traditional tour. The best advice I can give is to be open-minded and flexible. Tours offer security and less planning, and though entirely cliché, are worth it. You have a built-in group of friends, and together you’ll see and do unbelievable, albeit classic tourist, things. When you’re not touring, go on more laid-back weekend getaways. Go alone if you have to. In fact, solo travel is incredibly freeing. Fly alone to a neighboring state, or go on a hike. For me, there was no better feeling than being alone in nature and gazing at the astounding beauty around me.
Of course, traveling is expensive. It can be stressful to divvy enough money for your excursions in addition to groceries and nights at bars, but don’t deprive yourself. When else in your life can you spend half the year doing virtually nothing besides traveling? Spend less where you can, but don’t be that person who won’t go to a restaurant because you don’t want to spend money on a burger. That’s absurd. Get the damn burger, and enjoy it.
Be mindful of this time. I worried so much that others were doing more than I that I forgot to live. Finally, I thought, screw it, and just let go. I learned to be independent because I had to. People say that college makes you independent, but it doesn’t; you have meal plans, clubs and a constant flood of people surrounding you to help you construct a routine. When you’re abroad, you’re on your own. But the greatest gift is learning to be alone and to be OK with it, to completely give yourself to the moment. Shake it up, and do your assignments — yes, you actually have some — in the park and get distracted by the peculiar birds that walk up to you. Find adventure in the ordinary.
Yes, it will be incredibly scary and difficult at times, but be positive and be brave. Let your hair down; once you do, you’ll be unafraid to swim with turtles and to jump out of airplanes. Your problems will still be your problems, but now you’ll have a greater strength and sense of clarity to deal with them. You’ll remember not to care about what anyone else is doing, but to be present and to focus on your own experience. You’ll see that there is so much more to life than what you see here in the Binghamton bubble.