Hi, we’re new! Lily and Lydia is an online publication for Christian women that was launched in July 2023. While we’re regularly adding new articles, please be patient with us as we build the site!

Hi, we’re new! Lily and Lydia is an online publication for Christian women that was launched in July 2023. While we’re regularly adding new articles, please be patient with us as we build the site!

The Case for Uncomfortable: An Anxious Traveler’s First International Travel Experience

Jun 26, 2023 | Travel, Featured, Life

I used to say that traveling overseas was so far out of my comfort zone that I couldn’t see it from my couch. I was so intimidated by the thought of international travel that as a 31 year-old adult I had never been outside the US and didn’t even have a passport. Meanwhile, my younger sister has traveled all over the world and has lived in third world and developing nations. (We may be biological sisters but we are very different people!)  The discomfort of a long flight and the unknowns of a different country and culture (to say nothing of the thought of all the germs I’d encounter along the way) seemed to outweigh the potential benefits of making such a trip. Besides, there were so many things I had yet to see in the US alone!  Why expend the effort required for international travel?!  I was perfectly content watching my sister’s Instagram stories or following the travels of friends on Facebook.

My sister had been living and working as a nurse in the United Arab Emirates for a few months when we first started discussing my visit there.  At first we talked about it hypothetically.  Then I verbally committed to going.  It started to get real when I finally submitted my passport application for the first time ever. It started to get scary when I actually booked my (non-refundable!) flight and hotel stay for February 2023!

a man walks into a patch of sunshine in Old Dubai spotted during international travel
A man walks into a patch of sunshine somewhere in Old Dubai February 2023

I’ll spare you the description of the hours of obsessive research, online shopping, packing, and repacking but I did it all.  The hardest part was NOT planning out an obsessive timeline.  I usually plan my trip itineraries to the nth degree but this time I left the planning to my sister, since she is the one who actually lives there!  I’ll forever be grateful for the care she put into planning my time there – we kept a busy schedule and crammed so much into a short week, while also eating amazing food and enjoying a little relaxing here and there.

I won’t lie, those long flights are NOT enjoyable.  There was nothing wrong with the flight and my seat-mates were entirely tolerable!  I simply do not enjoy sitting next to strangers for 12-15 hours with even less legroom and personal space than a domestic flight, and few opportunities to stretch my legs. My melodramatic mind wasn’t sure if I could endure it, but it’s amazing what you can do when sufficiently motivated and visiting my sister overseas was really important to me!

I was in UAE for just 6 days and in that time I spent time in 3 different cities, ate amazing food, worshipped with like-minded friends, had a girls night at the home of an Iranian family, and saw some iconic UAE sights!  (I have yet to eat Lebanese, Syrian, Turkish, or Mediterranean food in the US that compares with the food and hospitality I experienced in UAE.) It was exhausting but exhilarating at the same time and by the end of the week I found myself wishing we had more time.

I nearly hesitated to share photos in this post – there just aren’t any words or photos that do this trip justice. That may sound cliché, but i’ve joined the ranks of world travelers everywhere who struggle to adequately describe the sights, sounds, and emotions they experienced on their journeys.

My dear fellow anxious traveler, you simply cannot truly experience the world from your little corner of it.

The feeling of being entirely surrounded by unfamiliar languages and cultures is not something you can adequately experience through someone else’s travel photo, a good book, or a tv documentary.

Your couch is not a replacement for sitting on a mat on top of a sand dune with other-worldly red desert sand flowing around you while the largest sun you’ve ever seen suddenly drops behind the horizon.

And you cannot truly grasp the futility of this world’s religions until you hear a haunting call to prayer and witness the misplaced dedication of an entire nation that brings tears to your eyes.

I’m not going to tell you it isn’t hard and uncomfortable, because it is.  But I am saying that it is WORTH the uncomfortable. International travel cultivates gratitude for what you have (a US passport is basically a golden ticket), expands your appreciation for God’s creation, and gives you additional connection points for gospel conversations here at home.

international travel somewhere in the desert outside Al Ain on top of a sand dune as the sun sets below the horizon
Somewhere outside Al Ain, UAE at sunset February 2023

Practical travel tips for anxious travelers going international

I’m not a travel pro yet, but I am a pro at anxiously running every scenario through my head in advance (wry laughter), so here are some practical tips that helped me!

  • Plan and do research ahead of time – knowledge is power!
  • Apply for your passport NOW even if you don’t have travel plans – at the time of this writing, the passport application processing is taking far longer than usual. Plan for at least 6 months to be safe!
  • Pray specifically about your trip (and don’t hesitate to ask for prayer as well). My family and church family were praying for me and this trip!
  • Decide on your non-negotiables and splurge on those.  Personally, I knew that having a comfortable place to rest and recharge was key for me, so the hotel I booked was a financial priority and when they offered to upgrade me to a chalet (personal apartment with mini kitchen) for a nominal fee, I immediately said yes.  It was absolutely a game-changer and worth every penny!
  • Get travel insurance.  I didn’t have to use mine but it covered everything from canceled plans and illness to lost luggage. The peace of mind was worth the $250ish I paid for it!  Some countries require travel health insurance anyway.  It’s recommended to get travel insurance within two weeks of booking your trip.  Costs vary depending on the scope of your trip and how far out it is.
  • Pack essentials for the first few days in your carry on/backpack in case your checked luggage gets lost. I purchased a travel backpack from Amazon. It has more cubic space than a regular backpack and opens like a suitcase, while still fitting under the airplane seat.
  • If you’re headed to a country with religious or health restrictions, check with the US embassy in that country OR that country’s embassy here in the US.  When I went, they were just changing some of their pandemic virus testing requirements and some of the official websites actually weren’t updated.  I ended up calling the US embassy in UAE to get clarification.
  • Plan at LEAST one or two recovery days when you return home. The 9 hour time change was brutal and I was so thankful for some time to rest when I got home!  I also had a rest day on the second day of my trip and it worked really well.
  • Plan something small but fun to look forward to a few weeks after you get back.  This sounds weird but I definitely experienced a bad case of the “travel blues” when I got home!

My first international travel experience is over, but Lord willing, it won’t be my last and I look forward to exploring more of the world. Salzburg and Switzerland, anyone? Greece? Sweden?

LL author bio shots _I used to say that traveling overseas was so far out of my comfort zone that I couldn’t see it from my couch. I was so intimidated by the thought of international travel that as a 31 year-old adult I had never been outside the US and didn’t even have a passport.

Amy Lawson is a photographer, creator, and the editor of Lily & Lydia.  When she’s not turning hobbies into businesses, Amy enjoys spending time with family, reading, crafting, and planning future travels.  She currently resides in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband Brian.

For Pinterest:

INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL TIPS FOR ANXIOUS TRAVELERS _I used to say that traveling overseas was so far out of my comfort zone that I couldn’t see it from my couch. I was so intimidated by the thought of international travel that as a 31 year-old adult I had never been outside the US and didn’t even have a passport.

1 Comment

  1. LOuise

    Thank you for this. I am one of those armchair travelers. My dream has always been a trip to Scotland. You gave some very helpful tips & insights.

    Reply

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