Flying alone for the first time can be a scary experience. As women, we’re always told what not to do when travelling.
Don’t walk alone.
Don’t go somewhere new.
Don’t look suspicious.
Don’t cover up, but don’t overdress.
Don’t do this and this and this.
And while some of these guidelines boil down to common sense, some are just plain sexist. So, when I took my first international flight by myself, all of these thoughts were swimming around in my head.
I was nineteen, it was a blistering August day, and I was flying to Finland to see a friend. The airport was crowded and the security line seemed never-ending. I had been awake since 6 am, the pre-flight jitters keeping me on my toes.
I kept pondering about ‘how do I get through an airport by myself?‘
Going through security was my first obstacle. The fear that they’d ask me why I was carrying so many liquids in my carry on. The fear that they’d ask me why I was bringing medication. The constant stigma that still surrounds the pill.
Thankfully, I passed through security with no issue. Next, came the hurdle of finding my gate and flight number. Which, in a massive international airport, can seem impossible. Weaving my way around families, couples, and other single travellers, I eventually found my gate and waited patiently for my flight to be boarded. Patiently might be too generous of a word here, I was anything but patient. Nervous seems like the more operate word.
Flying alone for the first time can be nerve-wracking.
There’s always the fear of missing your flight or getting lost in the airport or losing your luggage. But as women, we’ve been told about the added fears. Don’t bring attention to yourself, don’t cause a scene, don’t make anyone uncomfortable.
And to those rules, I call BS! I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be safe and aware of our surroundings. But why should we place others’ feelings above our own comfortability? If someone is making us feel uncomfortable, we shouldn’t settle and remain that way because we’re afraid of making them feel out of place.
While nothing dramatic happened while I was waiting for my flight, I was gearing myself up in my head in case something did. What if I needed to ask someone for directions? Or needed to rush past a massive crowd of people?
Was I really going to let my apprehension or worries about accidentally upsetting someone cost me my flight? Hell, no!
The boarding of my flight went smoothly. I was sat next to what looked like a student flying home, and another solo traveller. Putting my headphones in, I let Taylor Swift guide me through the flight, taking away my troubles as we flew from England to Finland.
By the time the flight landed, I realised an abundance of small events had happened that I hadn’t really noticed before. There were several moments where I had to advocate for myself or speak up. For example, asking the student next to me to politely move because they were in my seat. Also, asking the flight attendant for a sick bag because my seat didn’t have one.
Not one of those memories I’d like to remember, but I wanted to be prepared in case I did get airsick (which I, thankfully, didn’t). There were at least ten moments like this from that morning, all of which I didn’t think too much of while they were happening, but looking back I realised how significant they were. Call them what you want, learning curves, little bumps in the road, whatever they were, they felt like microcosms of larger life moments. Examples to remind myself that I can speak for myself and ask for things and that I shouldn’t place my needs last simply because that is what society has (un)consciously taught us as women.
There were a few other things I also learnt from flying alone for the first time.
One, no one cares what you look like at the airport, in the best way possible.
It’s natural to wonder what others think of us, but when you plan on spending all day travelling and you want to wear your comfiest clothes, you should! Most people are so busy trying to find their gate, or buying a ridiculous amount of snacks for the plane, that they barely have any time to notice anyone else. But in that same argument, if you want to dress up for the airport, you do you! I wore my comfiest clothes and felt all the better for it, but I know that some women feel more themselves in a cute outfit. There is no one “correct” way to travel, at the end of the day, it’s about what you want.
Secondly, speak up for yourself.
I’ve already talked about this, but I can’t stress it enough. If you’re uncomfortable, either because you’re lost and need directions or because someone is making you uncomfortable, say something. While being lost in the airport might not sound that bad, if you miss your flight because you haven’t asked someone, or you didn’t want to speak up, it’s going to be a lot less fun rebooking or going home. It’s hard to ignore the feelings and automatic assumptions we’ve been taught and that’s okay. You don’t have to be loud and authoritative all the time. But when you have a plane to catch and you’re lost in the never-ending rows of gates and terminals, that might be the perfect time to pull out that hidden voice.
Not every flight or solo journey will go as planned.
Sometimes, we’ll get lost. Or miss the flight. Or have an uncomfortable conversation with someone. All we can do is try to put ourselves first and ignore the expectations from society placed on us simply because we’re women. Yes, flying alone for the first time is a scary experience, but it can also prove invaluable to you as an individual.
The world is ours to explore. Whether that be a bus ride, or plane flight, there are thousands of things to experience and enjoy. Hold your head up high and remember that you are the most important person in your own life. You are in charge.