There’s something about your first trip overseas that always sticks in your mind, no matter how many other trips you take after that. There are so many exciting sights to see, dreams to fulfill, and lessons to learn. That first taste of international travel can inspire a lifetime of wanderlust and a thirst for adventure that can never quite be satisfied. I asked several travel bloggers (and my travel-loving mom!) to share stories of their first time abroad and how that shaped their future travels. You’ll definitely want to check out the great vintage photos they contributed and their linked blogs for more great travel tips and inspiration.
France in 1977: Bernadette’s first trip to Provence
Saturday Night Fever hit the cinemas, the Queen’s silver jubilee was celebrated in street parties across the UK and Elvis died. That was the year we made our trip overseas to France, and drove south to Provence. Trips anywhere were never uneventful, as my parents had a somewhat unorthodox approach to life. Once I’d gotten over my teenage shame at sitting quayside with my stepdad vigorously hooting at the ferry, which had reached the outer harbor without us on board, things improved.
We drove constantly south by day and night, stopping off for a few business meetings on the way, where I learned that French philatelists share a common language with their British counterparts. I remember being woken up vigorously to a crisp sunny pre-dawn. We’d stopped to see the Pont du Gard, waiting to be admired and explored. It’s not recorded whether I was particularly grumpy at being woken so early, and that has long since faded away. The sight of that beautiful aqueduct, bathed in pinks, yellows and blues from a glorious sunrise, is still in my memory bank.
Then there were the smells of Provence: lemons, lavender, olives, soaps. The warmth and kindness at the small hotel, where my stepdad became known as Monsieur La Planche; he never let disability hold him back, and proudly walked a steep plank laid over the hotel’s front steps each day. And watching my mum, who loved art, get deeper and deeper into the joy of Van Gogh’s Arles, and the colors of Provencal cottons in the markets.
I learned that there’s always a way to overcome challenges. That beauty is worth a lack of sleep, and that a lack of money can make for memorable travel experiences. That the human spirit is universal. That laughter and mime are the best languages. And when I stood again in a street market near Toulon, decades later, smelling that heady mix of lemon, lavender, olives and soap, I was 13 once more – wide-eyed and entranced with this magnificent world.
Europe in 1980: Vicki’s first trip to France, Switzerland, and Germany
My first trip outside the country (except for a couple of visits to nearby Windsor, Ontario) was at the age of 26. I was fortunate to be asked by the International Group of my company to go to Paris to teach a computer class. I asked my soon-to-be-husband to accompany me, and when he declined, I asked my mom to go with me instead. I was determined to enjoy some vacation time at the tail end of my trip, and I wanted to share it with someone. I got to spend 10 days in Paris for work, followed by a train trip through Lourdes in southern France, Geneva, Munich, and finally back to Paris.
It was amazing to see before me the monuments I’d only viewed in textbooks! In Paris, I was awestruck by the Arc de Triomphe. We took the subway there, and as we emerged from the subterranean station, it loomed above us. I was immediately hooked on travel! I wanted to see monuments, mountains, and museums all over the world! For the next 2 weeks, I struggled through translating menus and signs, feeling accomplished at times and confused at others. (Was ‘tête de beouf’ really a cow head on a dish?) I shared meals with my students from Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, and Germany. I marveled at the quiet beauty of southern France. I was amazed by the German soldiers who threw open our train compartment door asking for our passports at the German border. I strained my eyes trying to find the Alps along the foggy, Lake Geneva shoreline. I was awed during Sunday morning mass at Notre Dame Cathedral, sitting in a structure that was older than everything but the dirt in the US.
That trip solidified my belief that there are amazing things and wonderful people everywhere in the world; as much as we are different, we are even more alike. When I was a child, we lived down the block from my aunt and uncle, and when we’d go to visit, I’d pour over the National Geographic magazines to which they subscribed. I loved those magazines, especially the pictures in them. I knew then that I wanted to see those things for myself someday.Then, when I had children, I knew that I wanted them to learn about the country and the world, and I made every effort to show them wonderful things in books, in documentaries, and in real life.
When I travelled to Europe for the first time, I believed this was probably a once-in-a-lifetime trip, but happily, I’ve been back several times in the last few years. I retraced some of the steps I took on that first trip to Paris with my own daughters when I returned over 30 years later, and I was excited about the things that seemed familiar. To me, that’s a worthy goal, that the world is a familiar and wonderful place for us all!
Vicki is my mom (and it’s weird to call her by her first name!) and while she doesn’t have a blog, since she’s my biggest fan, I’m sure she’d love it if you stuck around and explored mine some more – shameless plug. I wrote about our trip to Paris together in this 3-day itinerary post.
Israel in 1997: Abby’s first trip abroad
The first time I went abroad was in 1997. I was 15 and had just passed 10th grade. My family has friends in Israel, so we hired a driver and travelled around visiting a few of them on the way.
The first thing that struck me when we got out of the airport in Tel Aviv was how clean the roads were. Being brought up in a country where every road is treated as a garbage bin, this was surprising. I loved walking down roads and not having to worry about stepping into cow poo or a plastic bag full of rice or other trash.
Over the course of a month, we travelled across the country and loved seeing the places where Jesus walked, right from Nazareth to Calvary, and every place in between. It’s almost surreal touching the olive trees that Jesus may have touched in the Garden of Gethsemane (through the holes in the fence), or visiting the Upper Room where Jesus ate the Passover Meal.
We visited the Western Wall too, though I don’t remember what I wrote on the prayers that I put into the wall. I loved staying on the bank of the River Jordan too, and being told that that was actually Jordan on the other side. Also seeing Eilat with its marine life and water sports, and seeing the place where heroes died, Masada.
After visiting Israel in 1997, I wanted to travel more and see other countries, and see how different they were from mine. I tried to convince my parents to let me do my graduation abroad, but there were cultural and financial limitations. Alas, the next time I had the chance to travel abroad was in 2008. But once that travel bug bit, I was bit. Nowadays, I try to travel around my home country as often as possible, and outside at least once a year.
Looking back at the pics of our trip to Israel, it’s amazing to see how much I’ve changed and how much that trip influenced me. Another funny thing I noticed was that throughout the trip, all of my tops were blue.
Australia 1998: Kris’ first student ambassador trip
In 1998, at the ripe old age of 11, my parents put me on a plane to the other side of the world with 41 other kids my age and four teacher chaperones from the area where I grew up. I got to spend two weeks exploring Australia on our student ambassador tour, and those experiences have forever shaped me. It was my first time traveling without my family and I felt so responsible packing for myself, having my own spending money, and doing my own laundry in the hotel (though not quite responsible enough to not lose my sneakers on the pontoon at the Great Barrier Reef leaving me to spend the last few days of my trip walking around in water shoes).
We went horseback riding at a national park, explored the Whitsunday Islands, snorkeled in the Great Barrier Reef, visited an Aboriginal cultural center, toured the Sydney Opera House, and got to meet a baby kangaroo that was being bottle fed by a volunteer at a wildlife rescue center. I came home with rolls and rolls of film – this was the ’90s – most of the pictures blurry shots of kangaroos and wallabies, a bag full of candy bar wrappers from sugary treats that didn’t exist in the US, and an obsession with an Aussie pop called Lift. I even bonded with other girls in a way I’d never done before and we passed the time on our motor coach laughing and carrying on like we’d known each other forever and pretending we were riding a roller coaster when our boat back from the reef hit some really choppy water. I like to think that if my trip had been in the social media age, I might still be friends with some of those girls.
Getting to go overseas at such a young age gave me a different view of my own home and I know it’s made me much more open-minded than I would’ve been otherwise. I went on to do two more student ambassador programs in high school, each one leading me to a different continent far from home. Looking back at my old photos and reading through my travel journals from those trips never ceases to amaze me. The scrawny 11-year-old with the awkward haircut smiling back at me out of those pictures had absolutely no clue how lucky she was to be there learning and making memories that would last a lifetime. If I ever make it back, I know I’ll appreciate it even more than I did back then because I’ve seen how it inspired the next two decades of my life, as well as my future.
London in 2000: Stephanie’s first trip overseas
As a child growing up outside of Boston, Massachusetts I was fascinated by world history and culture, and I couldn’t wait to get a passport. My chance finally came in February 2000 when I joined my high school drama club’s trip to London.
London provided the perfect backdrop for a week of learning about theater history and exploring a city far away and different from my own. I remember standing, wide-eyed, on a sidewalk outside of our hotel as cars whizzed by me as they drove from right to left; I couldn’t believe cars could drive on the opposite side of the road! I delighted in the sound of the voice on the Tube that told me to “mind the gap” when the train’s doors would close. I gazed so long at palaces and parks and Big Ben that I have almost no photos from that trip because I ran out of time to take them. As tour guides told us about centuries of history, the UK’s relationships with other countries, and what life was like in the bustling global capital my mind raced to create reasons to return and to expand my travels to cities and countries I had never heard of before that week.
My first trip abroad was an incredible combination of inspiration and simplicity. My week in London sparked a desire to learn more, see more, and experience more whenever possible, and I have never lost the inspiration to travel whenever I have the opportunity. It was also a very different trip from the others I have since taken. I didn’t have a cell phone or a digital camera, and my week was spent living in the moment instead of through a lens searching for the perfect picture. In a time before social media I didn’t care how I would look in pictures or even if there were pictures with me in them; I was more passionate about the memories and the stories I could share when I got home. And when I did get home, as I walked up the jet bridge to the terminal, I saw my parents waiting for me. It was a time before security when you didn’t need a boarding pass to gain access to a gate, so I didn’t have to wait to hug my parents and tell them how London changed my life. I’m grateful for how my first trip abroad shaped how I experience travel. It taught me to appreciate each opportunity, and to this day it serves as a reminder to put my phone down and live in the moment so I can enjoy every experience I am lucky enough to have.
Europe in 2002: Julie’s first Contiki tour
Ten European countries over the course of 21 days? Sign me up!
My first trip abroad was a whirlwind adventure through Europe with a tour company called Contiki. My boyfriend (now husband) and I had dreamt of travelling together for years, so when this opportunity came up, we ate a ton of ramen noodles, peanut butter and jelly, and saved every penny to go! And it was so worthwhile! It is truly one of our fondest memories and brought us together as a couple.
Now, if you’re familiar with Contiki, they’re known for a good time…a really crazy fun time! In fact, the Contiki tour we did was specifically for people 18-35 years old. Even though I was in my mid-twenties, I was one of the oldest people on the tour. And even though we weren’t in it for the party, it was exactly what we were looking for.
From the Eiffel Tower to the Leaning Tower of Pisa to windmills in Holland, we were able to check items off our bucket list left and right! We saw the Vatican, the Mona Lisa, the White Cliffs of Dover, and so much more! We didn’t have much time in each city and it often felt rushed; if you like slow travel, this is not for you. But what this did allow us to do was learn which cities we wanted to return to and explore more in depth…and which destinations we checked off the list and pretty much didn’t pique our interest enough for a return visit.
This was a perfect introduction into travel since all the planning is done for you. We learned what to expect from different countries from accommodations to food to social graces. It took away many of my fears about traveling abroad and gave me the confidence to travel more!
Do some of these iconic sights interest you? Check out my guides to visiting the Eiffel Tower and Louvre Museum.
Europe in 2004: Steph’s first history tour
My first proper trip abroad was age 18 on a gap year between school and university. The year was 2004 and I dragged a couple of unenthusiastic friends along with me on a long-awaited interrailing trip from London to Turkey.
As a budding ancient history student/nerd, I’d carefully plotted out my own version of the grand tour. This is what I’d been waiting for – the chance to visit every ancient Greek/Roman site in Europe! At least that’s what you’d think from reading my itinerary.
At first, I made the classic rookie mistakes of sticking to a strict schedule and moving cities every 2-3 days, meaning each stop was crammed full of museums, galleries, and historic sites and punctuated by a long, tedious train journey.
We didn’t eat much because our meager budget didn’t stretch much further than baguettes and cheap wine (this resulted in a fair amount of grumpiness).
By the time we got to the Amalfi Coast we were exhausted. In a blow to my studies, I was suffering from Ancient Ruin Fatigue–we slacked off of Pompeii to play on the beach and eat gelato, which pretty much set the tone for the rest of the trip. In Sorrento, we swam in ice-cold waters and danced with fireflies.
Next, we caught the ferry to Greece where I didn’t visit a single historic site. Not even the Acropolis in Athens (but you know what? I really appreciated it when I finally made it back to Athens over 10 years later). Instead, we caught the first available ferry to Zakynthos (we’d never heard of it), swam with turtles and made friends with a barmaid called Donna who made killer cocktails.
The trip definitely had its lowlights (many tantrums, falling off horses, corked wine, Lourdes in the rain), but it definitely taught me how to slow down, throw the itinerary out the window and savor the experience. And how to balance sightseeing with copious amounts of ice cream and relaxation!
Uganda in 2004: Suzy’s first trip to Africa
My first major trip abroad was when I was 10 years old. I had been on family holidays before, but this was the first time I was exploring beyond my European bubble. My wonderful grandparents had the imaginative idea to take each of their grandchildren to one of the countries they had lived in throughout their lives. I, being the youngest, had my pick of countries and chose Uganda.
During our 2 week trip, I saw more than my young eyes could have ever imagined. We went on safari at Queen Elizabeth National Park, we went kayaking around Bushara Island, we went bird spotting, stopped off at the equator, and so much more. It was a huge privilege to see and do so many great things in such a beautiful country, I know it’s a trip I won’t forget in a hurry.
My trip to Uganda certainly helped to shape my interest in and approach to travel as an adult. It wasn’t the perfect trip; I became quite unwell and plans sometimes had to quickly change, but we remained adaptable and that’s certainly something I continue to do now. It makes travelling a little bit easier if you’re willing to go with the flow and bounce back!
I also learned that talking to and appreciating locals provides a more authentic experience. I was lucky to have my grandparents’ wealth of knowledge as a guide, but regardless of their experience and friends to help us on our travels, we were always welcomed and treated so kindly by everyone we encountered. It really made me realize that despite cultural and sometimes language differences, being nice to others with a smile on one’s face is a pretty universal way to make someone’s day!
Visiting somewhere different to my own country at a young age spurred me on to explore the unknown as much as possible. I knew that the awe and adoration for culture and the beautiful outdoors was something I’d continue to crave, and it so often is an influence on where I choose to travel to now. So, thank you to my grandparents for giving me that chance all those years ago!
South Africa in 2010: Jewels’ study abroad in Africa
In 2010, I took my first trip overseas to study abroad in Durban, South Africa. This trip was life-changing as it shaped the way I currently travel and sparked my desire to see more of the world. My program was half home-stay experience and half independent study. Some of my favorite memories were with my homestay family – watching South African Soapies, practicing my Zulu, and talking about their experiences in the post-Apartheid era. I also enjoyed the liberty that the independent study program afforded my classmates and me. We got to live on our own and I made local friends. My time living in South Africa showed me the value of having local and authentic travel experiences. I seek it out wherever I am in the world.
Another life lesson South Africa taught me was the importance of stepping out of my comfort zone. Being a city girl, skyscrapers and city lights were my comfort zone. My program started out in Johannesburg and one of our first activities was a hike up the Drakensberg Mountains. I remember feeling so free, so at ease, and so close to God. I was proud of myself for trying something new and was surprised that I enjoyed it so much. Now, one of my favorite activities to do when I’m traveling is to go on nature walks and hikes.
One of the most important realizations I had during my study abroad experience in Durban was how gravely misrepresented South Africa was in the media. At the time, South Africa was often portrayed as being plagued with crime, diseases, and poverty. Not to say these issues don’t exist, but I witnessed so many more positive things that define the country’s narrative. South Africa is a resilient, colorful, and beautiful country. I’m forever grateful for South Africa for making me the curious, truth- and adventure-seeking traveler I am today!
Japan in 2010: Stella Jane’s solo trip overseas
I didn’t do international travel as a child. When your family is spread out all over the United States from New York to New Mexico, you tend to spend all of your vacations with assorted aunts and uncles in your own country. So it wasn’t until I was going through a particularly tough time in my life in the summer of 2010 that I decided to head off to my dream destination, Japan, all by myself.
In retrospect, I can see that I did everything wrong when planning this trip. I gave myself less than a month to plan the whole thing. I didn’t know how to book a hotel or find a cheap plane ticket. I didn’t figure out how to use the Tokyo subway system and almost had a nervous breakdown attempting to decipher it when I finally arrived in Japan super jetlagged and still had to find a way to get to my hotel from the airport. I was way too trusting when I got there and ended up hanging out with an American guy who finished the evening by screaming at me in the street because I wouldn’t let him into my hotel room. Worst of all, I wasted one entire day in Kyoto walking around looking for something to eat and almost fainted.
But for everything that went wrong, there were about a million things that went right. I had lunch at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Tokyo and accidentally got invited to someone’s birthday. I took a hike in Kamikochi Valley, which is the most naturally stunning place I have ever seen. I went to an art installation and got covered in feathers. I saw the greatest baseball game ever and cheered “Ganbatte” (go for it, in Japanese) with the Tokyo team’s fans like I was a native of the city. Most importantly, I was brave enough to practice my Japanese with the locals all over the country.
Now that I have been traveling part-time for 8 years and have been to 30 different countries, it’s hard for me to believe I was ever so inexperienced. But looking back on that first trip to Japan makes me feel proud of how far I’ve come as a traveler and as an adult since then. So if you are thinking about taking that first trip abroad by yourself, my advice is “Ganbatte!”
Mexico in 2010: Jillian’s inspirational first cruise
My first trip was a 2010 cruise with my parents to Mexico two years after having my large intestine removed. Before that vacation, I’d intentionally chosen to wear only one-piece bathing suits in order to cover the ostomy bag that my surgeries left me with. For fear that others might be grossed out by it or made to feel uncomfortable, I kept it covered as a courtesy to other people. But during that vacation, I opted for a two-piece swimsuit for the first time, deciding that being comfortable and having confidence was more important than what other people may think.
While posing for a picture in a touristy spot, I noticed an old lady who had stopped and started staring at me. After the picture, she approached me with tears in her eyes and started to thank me. She told me that she saw my ostomy and that she had an ostomy, too, but that she’d always felt embarrassed and ashamed by it. But seeing a young lady with the courage to let it be seen and not hide it had inspired her and even made her feel better about herself. It was on that day that I learned the difference that one person’s story could make in another person’s life, and that picture still reminds me of it every time I look at it.
In the picture, you can see my ostomy bag peeking from the top of my white shorts. The white band on my arm was actually my PICC line (peripherally inserted central catheter), not a fashion statement. Everyone always thinks I was trying to start some weird fashion fad.
Italy in 2014: Heidi’s challenging first trip to Italy
David and I learned two valuable lessons from our first trip overseas.
#1. You don’t need two giant suitcases, two carry-ons, and two backpacks for two people when traveling.
#2. If you are going to carry giant bags, always put one complete change of clothing for each person in your party in the luggage that stays with you on the plane.
How did we learn such formative lessons on our first trip to Italy in October 2014?
Because the airline (who shall remain unnamed, although we refuse to fly with them ever again) lost – well lost isn’t quite right – misplaced our luggage with ALL our clothes and shoes for the first six days of our 13-day trip.
We quite literally had the clothes on our backs when we landed in Rome. AND the airline refused to communicate with us about what was going on!
Today, we count all that as a blessing in disguise, because:
- We got to go shopping in Florence (every girl’s dream), at the expense of our travel insurance, and I landed a sweet pair of Italian leather boots that I still wear today.
- I have funny stories to tell about the only time I EVER purchased and wore pink shoes.
- Dragging those giant suitcases over the cobblestones of Italy is not a fun chore. Neither is boarding trains with them!
- We learned that we didn’t need all that STUFF.
Today, we travel full-time, with a carry-on and backpack each and we’ve never experienced lost luggage again! All thanks to that first trip overseas.
Heidi’s experience with lost luggage reminds me of my own family’s and I did name names in my post about them. If you enjoy laughing at others’ misery, check out the awful saga of my family’s lost luggage that wasn’t located until they returned home.
Iceland in 2014: Miranda’s exhausting first visit to Iceland
My first trip abroad was visiting Iceland back in 2014, just shy of my 20th birthday! It came as quite a surprise as the original plan was just to visit my aunt in California during winter break, but after a couple weeks of brainstorming sessions, and a rather cheap airline ticket, Iceland was our decided destination! Though it may be incredibly cliché to say my first trip abroad was life-changing, I’m saying it anyways: It was life-changing. After all, don’t we feel that way about all major life events?
One of our Icelandic adventures ended up in my top five most challenging things I’ve done in my short 24 years of life: hiking a glacier. When I first agreed to it, I don’t think I fully understood what I was up against. Nineteen year old Miranda just thought, “Yeah! How exciting! I’m totally down!” and promptly forgot about it until boarding the plane. I’ve hiked through mountain trails on various occasions; therefore it never crossed my mind that hiking a glacier would need any particular “preparation.” (I know, typical teenage thoughts of “I know everything” just screaming through this story.) I knew I would be provided with the proper gear, and we would have guides to help us…but that’s where my knowledge ended (and my first mistake started).
The morning of our glacier hike started off wth me waking up after only 4.5 hours of sleep, to no fault of my own (honest!). Once arriving to the glacier, we were greeted with rainy, sleeting, snowy weather, and I had not packed waterproof pants to go over my jeans. Fortunately, they had a pair for me that were slightly too large, but, hey, can’t be picky. As we started, I realized how mildly terrifying it was to be walking on solid ice, even with crampons. Halfway up, after almost falling into a crevasse because I was so focused on stomping my crampons, I was pretty freaked out and extremely exhausted. The five hours of sleep caught up to me, and I had to tell the other guide I just couldn’t do it. I needed to go back down. Not to mention I was quite far behind my aunt and one of the guides.
Yes, a once in a lifetime trip to Iceland, and stubborn, exhausted teenage Miranda couldn’t handle the glacier hike. Not one of my proudest moments, but it taught me an incredible lesson.
The situation you’re in might suck, but it’ll be worth it once it’s accomplished.
I didn’t glacier hike in Iceland, but I snowmobiled and ice caved with an amazing tour guide. Read all about our snowmobiling journey on the Vatnajökull glacier in my post about it.
2015 in Europe: Savannah’s first backpacking trip
My first trip overseas was with my brother and a good friend- a 3 week “backpacking” trip to London, Croatia, Berlin, and Amsterdam. I say “backpacking” because, at the time, I thought that backpacking just meant that you could fit all of your stuff into a backpack, which I did. I’m not really sure if it qualifies as true backpacking; we got our fill of hostels in London, so we used AirBnb the rest of the time. (Honestly, since there were 3 of us, it ended up being a little cheaper overall to have a whole place to ourselves instead of hostel-ing it.)
The trip was September – October of 2015. People kept telling me that I was on “the trip of a lifetime” and I had “better enjoy it and get the most out of it” because I’d never be able to do anything like that again. I’m from the South. Where I live, most people don’t get to do things like that. I feel fortunate for everything I learned on that first trip, and the desire that it sparked in me to continue my world-wide adventures.
There wasn’t this one single moment on this trip that changed my life. Instead, it was this feeling in my core. This longing. Croatia was the first time that I had ever been surrounded by signs I couldn’t read, people I couldn’t talk to, and a language I couldn’t understand. It was invigorating. This feeling confirmed what I had always thought throughout my childhood and young adulthood- that I wanted to constantly challenge myself by going to new places, immersing myself in new cultures, seeing things from someone else’s point of view, and experiencing things to share with my community back home.
I believe that everyone can travel if they know how, and that everyone should travel. Everyone should try to experience other cultures from around the world. If I can help with that first step out the door, then that’s what I will do.
What was your first trip overseas like? Tell me about it in the comments!
This isn’t the first time I’ve collaborated with other fantastic travel bloggers. Check out these other posts that collect different perspectives:
- The Coolest Ice Cream in the World
- What Does the Future of Travel Look Like?
- The Best and Worst of US Airports
- Travel Bloggers Reveal the Best Souvenirs They’ve Ever Bought
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