I really don’t have a fear of heights. A few years back, I tried the zipline and was forty feet above the ground. Easy-peasy! Flying was another matter. I delayed traveling via plane for the longest time not because of acrophobia, but because of responsibilities.
I’m not sure why I applied for a passport last year. I wasn’t expecting to go out of the country, not to mention ride a plane this year. I thought that my first plane ride was to go out of town; perhaps Cebu or Davao to attend a conference or to go on a vacation with my loved ones. Surprise, surprise. My destination was Phnom Penh, Cambodia for an education fair. Duty calls and I must answer.
Being the worrywart, highly-organized, obsessive-compulsive person that I am, I prepared for the trip physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I admit that the thought of being 34,000 feet above the ground scared me because I was traveling alone; no colleague to chat with and no beau to coach me on what to expect next. I was also worried that if the plane crashes to the sea, I will surely drown as I don’t know how to swim. But what scared me more was that I will not be able to attend the education fair due to a missed flight because of the horrendous EDSA traffic or that I wouldn’t be able to answer the Immigration Officer’s questions due to my anxiety.
I had a lot of firsts during this trip.
First plane ride: The plane that I rode in was an Airbus A320. My travel agent booked me a window seat. Thank goodness he did! From where I was seated, I saw the wings of the plane and the flickering red lights that I only see from down below. Aside from this, I saw the lights of Manila as the plane gathered speed.
First meal: I’ve read about airplane food not being the best kind of meal there is but I wouldn’t know until I’ve tried it myself. After one hour into the flight, we were served our meal. I was served Roast Beef with vegetables and Banana Cake for dessert. I wasn’t that hungry because I managed to grab a bite at Terminal 1. Overall, I liked the fact that despite the short trip, meals were served.
First stay at a hotel outside the Philippines: I was billeted at Hotel Cambodiana, a hotel loctated 15 minutes away from the Phnom Penh Airport and 3 minutes (literally because I timed myself going there) away from the venue of the education fair that I attended. I had a king-sized bed all to myself!
First amazing international tourist spot: One former student of our center and a local resident of Phnom Penh informed me that the river behind my hotel traverses through six countries. That fact is impressive enough for me as a first-time traveler. However, seeing the sunrise by the Mekong River was beyond words.
First breakfast buffet outside the Philippines: I usually eat breakfast in a rush before I go to work. For me, buffets are reserved for gatherings or team-building activities. By mid-day, I usually have worked up an appetite. The breakfast buffet is a freebie attached to my accommodation so it needs to be consumed. The restaurant usually opens at 6:30am for the buffet breakfast; this was what I was told as soon as I checked in. For two days, I started off with bread and cold cuts. To keep myself full for the entire morning, my second meal consisted of meat and veggies.
At my age, I wasn’t expecting to experience a lot of firsts as these would have been normally experienced when I was a decade or two decades younger than I am today. But I was wrong, especially for travel as I would rather stay home and read books. Traveling broadens my horizons and allows me to get out of my comfort zone. As one saying goes: If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.” Indeed. Traveling alone did challenge me and it surely changed me. Now, I want more stamps in my passport.