My First Night Alone in a Foreign Country

Boarding a plane is easy, navigating your mental state when exhausted is difficult

Joel Brown
Dec 10, 2019 · 8 min read
Photo by Arzu Cengiz on Unsplash

I opened the door and walked into the hotel room in Vancouver. I put my bags down and looked around the room. I sat on the end of the bed. The only thought in my mind “What would it take to get home right now?”

My day had started before 5 am back home in Brisbane. I spent the previous evening packing and repacking my suitcase. Making a list and checking that I had everything packed.

My parents drove me to the airport to see me off for my first ever trip overseas. The goodbye was a little emotional, as you might expect. It is a moment you try to prepare yourself for, but there were tears.

The day ahead of me comprised two flights, a lengthy layover and a bunch of new experiences. Importantly, I had a plan for my layover and getting from the airport to the hotel in Vancouver.

Step 1. Brisbane to Los Angeles

Flying from Brisbane to Los Angeles would be the first new experience for the day. At just under 13 hours, it was my longest single flight to date. While I have little to no reservations about flying, it is five times longer than I have spent in an aeroplane before.

They announced a boarding delay not long before boarding. A problem with the systems that de-ice the wings. No problem for me I am more than happy to wait if they are making the place safer for the flight. A little more concerning when five minutes later they started the boarding process 15 minutes early. I just was hoping they fixed the problem.

Photo by Nils Nedel on Unsplash

The flight ended up departing Brisbane slightly early. It was nothing but routine; I do not even remember any significant turbulence. The only thing that did not go to plan was me getting any sleep. I tried on two occasions, but each time soon gave up. I watched four different movies that I had not watched before and arrived in Los Angeles feeling only mildly dehydrated.

Step 2. Los Angeles Layover

My arrival in Los Angeles was much easier than I ever expected. There was a queue for immigration, but it moved quickly. Once at the counter all I got were two questions, my fingerprints captured and a photo. Then came the wait for my luggage, 45 minutes, four times longer than immigration.

Soon enough I was standing on the footpath, looking for a sign for which terminal. I wanted to get checked in for my next flight and find the airline business lounge to wait out the layover.

Time to Panic

Eventually I found my way to check-in through the terminal and to the business lounge. I thought this would be the easy part of the morning until the clerk asked for my boarding pass. That little rectangular piece of paper that I only received less than an hour before when I checked in.

After rifling through my bag and not finding it, I was just a little panicked. The clerk was not concerned and said, “No problem we can just reprint it.”

The problem was, after checking in, I put the boarding pass between the pages of my passport. The last thing I remembered doing with them was putting them down in the bathroom. I did not let my mind keep processing; I just assumed that was the last thing I did.

Photo by Andy Beales on Unsplash

I dashed off, back to the bathroom I had visited. As expected, I found nothing where I thought I had last put it down. The thoughts running through my head…

How could I be so careless?

How do I continue my trip?

What am I going to do?

That is until I put my hand on my stomach and felt a bulge. My money belt. I felt again and, yes there it was my passport. The relief I felt was unbelievable, as I made my way back to the business lounge.

Step 3. Arriving in Vancouver

The rest of my time in Los Angeles and the flight to Vancouver were rather uneventful. By the time I arrived in Vancouver, I was rather tired. Having not slept since I woke up at home before departing around 28 hours earlier. I was looking forward to getting to the hotel, having a bite to eat and crawling into bed.

Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash

The walk through the terminal in Vancouver was much longer than Los Angeles. But soon enough I arrived at the immigration checkpoint. I handed over my passport and entry card. There were no fingerprints or photos, but as the officer leafed through my empty passport, there were many more questions.

I provided a sleeve with printouts for all my flights and hotel bookings. After looking through, he eventually made a mark on the entry card and handed everything back. I could pass through to collect my luggage and I still had time to make it to the hotel shuttle bus.

Change of Plans

The luggage came through rather quick and soon I was heading for the exit. I handed the entry card to the official at the exit. But instead of motioning for the exit, they directed me down another queue.

It did not take long to realize that it would be another new experience for the day. It was just like a real life episode of Border Security, and I was next up for a search.

The Search

I stood there waiting my turn, with my relatively small suitcase, stuffed full of clothes and a few personal items. There was only one other person in the area. The search of their luggage looked to be long and arduous, with two huge suitcases almost entirely unpacked.

Photo by Brandless on Unsplash

They called me over to a table and the process began. The officer started slowly unpacking my bag. While asking a similar series of questions to the officer at the immigration checkpoint.

Within two minutes I could tell the officer had already made her mind up. She knew, and I did that she was wasting her time searching my luggage. The questions were the same, and I provided the same sleeve of paperwork detailing all my bookings.

The search continued but more to fulfill the process than with an expectation of finding anything. I suspect more a case of experience on the officers part than anything I did.

Missing The Bus

If everything had gone to plan, I would have made the hotel shuttle bus with about 15 minutes to spare. The delay getting searched took about 20 minutes in total. That meant that I missed the last bus from the airport to Downtown Vancouver.

There were two options remaining a taxi or the SkyTrain. I did not know what it would cost to take a taxi. But for about CAD$4 the SkyTrain seemed like a good option.

A quick stop by the information desk to get a map and some directions. I was on my way to the station with a map in hand.

Arriving at the Hotel

The train was the best option to get to the city, and I even saved a little money. Getting orientated at night in a new city took me a few tries. But soon I was heading in the right direction for the hotel.

At the hotel, I got checked in and soon traveling in the elevator to my room for the next 10 days. By this time it was after 8pm and I had been awake and on the move for over 30 hours.

I knew there were three things I needed to do by this point.

  1. I needed to find something for dinner.
  2. I needed to get in touch with home.
  3. I needed to get some sleep.

But as I put my luggage down in the hotel room, there seemed to be only one thing I could do. I sat on the end of the bed and thought, What would it take to get home right now?

Processing Emotions and Moving On

Photo by Lewis Parsons on Unsplash

That thought might have been the only thing going through my mind. However, I knew it was not a workable or logical path to pursue. But it was at least 15 minutes before I got myself to stand up and look around the hotel room.

Looking back now, the feeling was logical and something I am glad I overcame quickly. There were a few things at play that had brought me to this point.

  • I was sleep deprived; It was the longest I had ever gone without sleep.
  • I was far from home; It was the furthest from my family I had ever been.
  • I would be away from my family and friends for longer than ever before.
  • I was in a city and country that I did not know a single person.
  • There were at least two stressful situations in the past 12 hours. Thinking I had lost my passport in Los Angeles and getting stopped at immigration in Vancouver.

At some point I got myself up and looked around the room. It was not quite what I was expecting, but it would have to suffice.

I overcame the feeling by making myself busy. I knew I needed to eat, so I went out to find a meal. I knew I needed to contact home, so I found a Starbucks with wi-fi for free. I knew I needed to sleep, so after getting the other things done, I went back to the hotel and slept.

A New Day

When I woke up the next morning, I felt a little better about the situation. Booking a plane ticket and flying home while still in my mind was illogical. So I did the only thing that I could think to do, go out and explore the city.

Photo by Mike Benna on Unsplash

I spent the next 10 days having a great time seeing Vancouver. While also continuing the trip and seeing Seattle, Las Vegas, Toronto, many towns and sights in England and a stop in Hong Kong.

If I had let my emotions control the situation on that first night. Let those couple of events guide my experience. I might have made a big mistake. I might have let being outside my comfort zone, push me to make a mistake, such as turning around and going home.

You Can Do It

Thankfully, I pushed that feeling down. Not entirely away, but at least overcome it long enough to make progress and see another option.

The most important part of a situation like this is to go slow. Never start out looking for the solution to fix the situation. Just look for the next small step to move forward. Follow that with another small step. Soon you find that the problem or situation you were trying to overcome is just a distant memory.

The Narrative

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Joel Brown

Written by

Creator of Travel Explored — Topics I enjoy are Travel, Walking, Photography, Motivation, Business and Inspiration.

The Narrative

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