There’s a first time for everything.
In this case, it was going to be the first time I’ve left my home country by myself. I was on my way to Greece.
It was a Wednesday morning on the 21st of November, 2007. Still a young teen, and not of legal age. There were no legal complications with this – I was going to be staying with family for a year – that was the plan. I’d turn 18 within this time and be able to freely travel.
I packed my things and was nervous about leaving. My parents made sure to drill into my head all the safety precautions I need to take and the many ways to exercise caution and avoid trouble. If anyone were to ask me who paid for my trip, I would tell them the truth. Not mum and dad, but me, with the money I had worked for and saved over the last 6 months. At this age people would expect to hear that my family paid for the trip, which would surely make me a more likely target for ransom. (I did get asked about my money at one point in Thessaloniki. A beggar approached me asking if I had any cash. Naturally I’m happy to help someone out, and kindness is something that tends to run in the family, so I gave him a 2-Euro coin and as I did he spotted three 20-Euro bills in my open wallet and commented. He was surprised to hear that it was my own money, and not “my dad’s” as he asked.)
So then, we arrived at Sydney airport and it was time for me to check in, find my departure point, and say goodbye to my parents. It was a very emotional moment between me and my mum especially, who hugged me and cried, and I almost felt like doing the same. But that time came where we separated and I was off on my own, for the first time in my life. The sadness of leaving my parents behind was soon taken over by excitement, but initially I was so nervous that I ended up forgetting my video camera bag at customs. (I didn’t realise it until halfway to Thailand.)
The first thing I did as soon as I arrived in Bangkok was text my mum to let her know I landed safely, along with forgetting my camera bag at Sydney. She had to phone up and check if it had been left in the Lost and Found department. (Luckily, it was, and she was going to send it over. That was a few hundred dollars worth of equipment! We’re bound to make mistakes, especially on our first trips. I also sat on the wrong seat in the plane, to make another one. Hey, I’m just practising! Practice makes perfect.) One thing I’ve learnt through life is that we need to make mistakes, and lots of them, in order to grow.
So I wasn’t going to let my mistake ruin the experience. I found my way to the gate for Athens – a long walk to the other end of the terminal – but I didn’t mind as there were moving walkways. I had fun feeling like I was walking at super human speeds.
On the flight I didn’t end up watching any of the movies. I just tried to sleep as much as I could.
Upon waking up, we were flying over Turkey and I noticed the glare over the horizon. Some nice snow-capped mountains came into view.
I then finally landed in Greece after 22 hours. As I exited the plane, and started making my way towards immigration, I felt a huge sense of liberation. I was in another country. I was free. Except I hadn’t really passed the immigration checkpoint yet. Nothing to be concerned about – the guy only looked at me for a couple of seconds and didn’t ask anything. He just opened my passport to a random page and stamped it.
I greeted my grandmother and my uncle on the other side. It was great to see them again after 6 years. My uncle was in a call with my mother at the time, and he gave me the headset so I could talk to her for a bit. We were discussing the drama with my lost camera bag. We couldn’t open my suitcase either because my keys to the padlock happened to be in that bag! Well, my uncle said he’d take it to a Locksmith for me. He’d also set me up with a Greek mobile phone number.
I appreciate all the help I’ve gotten along the way. It’s good to have some people to help you transition into a new world, and for me, this is what it was all about. There is a first time for everything, and it’s likely that you’re not going to get everything right. It was a whole new game now – I was in a different world, and I was quickly going to learn what living here would be like. I already liked the differences I saw as we left the airport, including narrower streets, driving on the right-hand side of the road and much more to come.