As a Guatemalan, I still cannot figure out why since I was a teenager I have always felt fascinated by India and its culture; nevertheless, one of my biggest dreams was always to go visit. In 2012, while finalizing a project at work the travel bug hit me hard and I rejected another job offer just to go to India. I thought, if I don’t it now, I never will!

With the trip came some fears. Traveling overseas for the first time and on my own was an intimidating thought. What if something went wrong? Here is a story from my travels that helped me overcome these fears and turned me into the traveler I am today.

The most important travel lessons come unexpected - like learning how overcome your fears of traveling along for the first time during a long airport layover...

Look for organizations or exchange programs that have your back

I planned to go to India through the AIESEC organization at my university, on a volunteering exchange for a month and a half. I was heading to Lucknow, the capital of one of the Northern states of India, Uttar Pradesh. The exchange was a way for me to feel safer, having the AIESEC team meeting me in Lucknow and pproviding my accommodation.

Plan ahead, research your options

To get to Lucknow I had a layover of almost 7 hours in Delhi. I would arrive there around midnight and my domestic flight departed at 7 am the next day. Knowing that after a near-14 hour flight  from NYC I would be exhausted, I had previously done some research on my options of getting a bit of sleep at the airport (maybe a hotel?). However, I was also on a budget, so my options were limited.

I did some research on taxis, thinking I could possibly stay at a cheaper hotel nearby. In the end, because of my arrival time and layover length, this seemed too risky and complicated for a first-timer like me. I did not want to miss my connecting flight! For reasons of simplicity I opted for simply waiting at the airport, maybe getting a wink of sleep on a seat somewhere.

The most important travel lessons come unexpected - like learning how overcome your fears of traveling along for the first time during a long airport layover...

Be safe

While picking up my backpack at baggage carousel my mind was busy trying to locate a “suitable sleeping spot”. Suddenly, a young guy approached me and asked if I had a long layover and if I was interested in sharing a taxi with him and 2 other people to a nearby affordable hotel. All of them had similar layover times and were keen to catch a bit of sleep. My gut feeling told me to be careful about this but when I was introduced to the others I recognized from my flight I felt better about the whole thing. It’s important to trust one’s instincts and better go safe than sorry. 

I managed to message my family to let them know where I was and where I was heading. One of them arranged the taxi and we headed to the hotel that was pretty close to the airport. The women shared a room and the men another one.  In the end we didn’t get much sleep, as we gathered for some late-night dinner while getting to know each other. A few hours later, we all headed back to the airport where we went our separate ways again. A lot of time has passed, but we still all keep in touch. 

The most important travel lessons come unexpected - like learning how overcome your fears of traveling along for the first time during a long airport layover...

Reciprocate the good vibe

I could carry on with all the Indian experiences that I cherish in my heart such as waking up some mornings in a mosquito net on the roof of a friend’s house, to the sounds of the morning prayers around town, or visiting the Taj Mahal, the Ganges and many more.  

However the point is that this experience shaped the type of traveler that I am today. This experience was a big part of why, nowadays, I love and feel comfortable traveling solo. Mothers worry too much about their kids traveling overseas regardless of their age, especially if you go to the other side of the world.

However, I always comfort mine letting her know that besides the shady people you can and will find anywhere in the world, you will also find the opposite; the nice people that help you whenever you need it. You just have to fine-tune your radar. Additionally, I get to host and spend time with foreigners at home which also serves as a humbling reminder that I too have to be that helping hand for other fellow travelers when I can. What goes around, comes around.

The most important travel lessons come unexpected - like learning how overcome your fears of traveling along for the first time during a long airport layover...

Sometimes I still think to myself that going with them was a bit irresponsible but at the same time it was the best thing I could have done to start my adventures in India. As my fellow travelers would know, when traveling and in life sometimes you can only trust your gut, take safety measures, wish for the best and take a leap of faith.


This is a guest post by María José.

María José is a Guatemalan nature lover who enjoys traveling, as well as all the perks that come with traveling on her own.  Although she has always had the travel bug, it bit her hard after living in Australia while studying a graduate degree.  Now, based back in her home country she travels to wherever, whenever and as often as she can.