There’s a certain mood I find myself in every time travel day rolls around. It’s seems to be some mixture of joy, fear, anxiety, and hope.
Joy... that this is my real life and I—once again—have a life-changing adventure ahead of me.
Fear... that this is a phase of sorts and that it’s only a matter of time before I fall in love, get a “real job”, and do all the things a part of me will always believe I am supposed to do.
Anxiety... that my plans will fall through, that I didn’t save enough, that something awful will happen to me, that I’ll catch a deadly disease, that I didn’t pack enough, that I packed too much, that I didn’t plan enough, that I planned too much…
Hope... that the flame inside of me won’t burn out. That I’ll never become jaded or bored. That I will always see life as a curious journey full of profound beauty and unfathomable darkness. Hope that the child’s heart that beats inside of me will never pass the reins to my reasonable grownup side.
It was with these conflicting emotions that I stepped into the San Francisco International Airport.
I did the same thing I’ve done countless times. I threw my bag on the scale, scanned my passport, and began the on-screen check-in process.
A United employee came to check my documents. She read my passport, pressed some buttons, ensured my bag was under 50 pounds (38—an all time low for me!). All was as it should be.
“When are you returning?”
“March? Maybe April. I haven’t decided.” There was no need to tell her I fully intended to stay abroad as long as the money allowed.
“So you don’t have a return ticket?”
“Nope.” My parents were starting to look concerned, but that childish heart ensured me that this wouldn’t be a problem.
“Do you have a ticket forward?”
“Nope.” This. Isn’t. A. Problem. My heart sounded over and over again.
“So you have no proof of return or onward travel?”
“Nope.” This. Isn’t. A. Problem. This. Isn’t. A. Problem. THIS. ISN’T. A. PROBLEM.
“That’s a problem.”
I tried to calmly explain that I fully intended to take a bus to Panama in March and had no intentions of over-staying my tourist visa in Costa Rica. I even gave her the “I’m young and confused” look that has gotten me through most of my travel barriers. Still, my word was not enough. She needed documentation.
To be fair, this was by no means a case of getting a grumpy employee. The woman who helped me was very nice and did her best to make things easy for me. If it were up to her I’m sure she would have let me go. But this wasn’t her decision. It was Costa Rican law.
After a fairly extensive discussion with two United employees and my parents, we narrowed it down to two options.
1: Book a ticket home now and change the date (for the low, low change fee of $200!) once I actually knew when I was heading home.
2: Book a refundable ticket home and refund it once I am safely in Costa Rica (aka past immigration).
We chose option two. It seemed idiotic to buy a ticket that would become double the price once I actually used it.
“When do you want to come home?”
“First couple of days in March?”
“Okay. That’ll be $1500.”
Cue silence and disbelieving looks. I half expected her to cry, “April fools!”
She did not.
So I got the $1500 ticket. With a promise that it was 100% refundable and that I could refund it for the full amount once I got to Costa Rica. Which I fully intend to do.
(Side note: to put things in perspective, my ticket to Costa Rica was $185).
When I held the receipt for the $1500 ticket in my hand FEAR and ANXIETY got a lot bigger while joy and hope got a lot smaller. So when I got to my gate, I did what I always do when I feel like shit is dangerously close to the fan…
I pulled up Work Away and spent the next 45 minutes looking at all the amazing adventures that are still waiting for me. I reminded myself that I would refund that ticket in a few days and in a few weeks I would have my onward ticket booked. For a heck of a lot less.
I read about an opportunity to work on a yacht sailing the coast of Central America. I ogled photos of volunteers working on a llama farm. I even tried to decide if I should learn to make chocolate or to scuba dive. I still have no idea where I will be come March, but I feel certain it will be somewhere incredible.
By the time I boarded my flight, joy, fear, anxiety, and hope were all on good terms again, working together to give me that special travel day feeling I love so much.
A note to the other travel addicts out there:
If you are planning an open-ended trip, do your due diligence. Not every country requires you to have a return or onward ticket, but a lot do. There are plenty of ways to get around this (re: refundable tickets) but it’s pretty hard to get into these countries without proof that you also plan to get out.