By Marco K
During my one hour commute towards one of the biggest airports in Europe, I was browsing through the news. The header attracted my attention. ‘What would I tell my 20-year-old self,’ stated by an author who recently turned 30. While still being in my twenties, I heard myself repeating this question softly out loud. What would I tell my 20-year-old self? For me, this question fits in the same category as all the, ‘What do you regret before..[insert any big moment in life]´ questions. After all, it goes about regretting the things which you wish you had done or wish had done different or better.
No matter what age you are, I believe it is always good to keep looking back. Not to judge. Just to keep myself on the right track. Am I still doing something what makes me truly happy? Does this flight attendant life still fit to my current ambition(s)? Would I look back at this period with a great smile on my face and the feeling ‘this time was amazing’ or ‘I can’t believe I did that’.
If I look back at the past years and how I ended up as a flight attendant (or Cabin Crew as we call it in Europe) we need to go back a few years. During those years, I’ve learned some lessons I would like to share with you. First, we need to go to Denmark, where it all started. More specifically in Aarhus (the second biggest city after Copenhagen), where I studied International Marketing Management as part of my Bachelor program.
During this period, I got bitten by the world famous ‘travel bug.’ This is for me strongly related with the ‘getting out of my comfort zone’ flow. It’s the feeling of meeting new people, doing things I have never done before, visiting places I have never been before and coming across challenges I could never imagine. I feel myself grow. That feeling gives me energy and makes me present in the moment. That feeling became addictive to me. I was hooked. And till the day, I still am.
This bug, this little travel bug, made me cancel my corporate internship where I was suppose to graduate. I started searching for a more international adventure instead. The opportunity to help build up a start-up company in Shanghai, China came up. The rebel in me started working together with the travel bug and I took a leap of faith. What do I have to lose? Long story short, it turned out to be a disaster. We did not make any money and we had to take our losses. We had to think of an exit-strategy. However, this is exactly my point. Of course, I felt terrible. We failed. I failed. But looking back at this adventure, I can tell you that I’ve learnt more during this six months than all my years in university. We came across situations which aren’t written in a textbook and had to deal with unexpected challenges on the spot. Not to speak of the huge language barrier and cultural differences. It was an experience of a lifetime.
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Then the big question arose: What should I do next? Instead of pursuing a career in the field of my study, both the rebel and the travel bug formed a team again. It just isn’t the right time yet. Maybe it will ever come, maybe it won’t. What I knew was that the office wasn’t my place. Too much of the same. Partly, because of this inspiring blog, I decided to become a flight attendant. At least to travel the world for a few years. I applied for several airlines before getting accepted at my current airline. What turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made.
Looking back at the last years, there are a few things I would like to say to my 20-year-old self which I would like to share with you.
Travel, and keep discovering
This first one seems obvious. However, even I need to remind myself to keep discovering, both the world and myself. The world is so big; it would be a missed opportunity to stay sitting at home, on the couch. There is so much to see; so much we don’t know. “Travel is like knowledge. The more you see, the more you know you haven’t seen”. You start seeing how much more there is after you’ve travelled more. It’s an addiction.
In your twenties, you still have few to no responsibilities. If I don’t travel now, I’m sure I will regret this later. By traveling, I keep myself sharp. Unexpected situations and unfamiliar surroundings occur on a daily basis and I keep challenging myself. I believe you gain a lot of common sense which is both in the corporate world and in your personal life, of great value. Instead of those weeks on the beach, book that hostel, buy that backpack (I believe Kara has some great recommendations on this) and see where you end up. Have faith in yourself. The world is too big, to not discover it. I’m sure you won’t regret it.
Trust people, but don’t be naïve
Throughout my adventures abroad but also during my time in university, I have had the privilege to meet incredible people. Once when I was in Sabang, a town on the island Palawan which is part of the Philippines, I came in contact with a local named Jorge. In the picture you can see my view from the place where I stayed for a couple of days. [Picture 2] Jorge showed me the non-tourist side of the famous Puerto Princesa Underground River. Furthermore, together with some fellow backpackers he arranged that we could stay overnight at the Batak Tribe in the middle of the jungle. A great experience! People can be the most incredible, generous and inspiring creatures on earth. Unfortunately, there are always a few who ruin it for the rest.
Like that time I have been scammed by the famous Tea Scam in Shanghai, China. While walking around People Square, one of the biggest public squares in Shanghai, two lovely girls approached me for a picture. It was my second day in Shanghai and I was a very inexperienced traveler. After some small talk they invited me to accompany them for a traditional Chinese tea ceremony. As keen as I was to learn more about the Chinese culture I went with them. After a 15 minute walk through a jungle of small alleys, we arrived at a little shop with few to no tea related signs. I should have questioned this, but I didn’t. I had too much faith in the goodwill of those girls. The girls kept on talking while guiding me into the building.
Inside the building was another lady who did the tea ceremony. During this 45 minute session the girls translated everything for me –because the host only spoke Chinese. After, I was offered to buy some porcelain and tea for family or friends. The girl’s bough some and so did I. According to the girls we were suppose to split the bill. Fair enough. It was around 900 Yuan each (which is approximately 135 USD). Having no idea of the value of the local currency I happily paid. I obviously should have known the value of the Yuan. Like I said, I was still very inexperienced. As soon as I came home I shared my experience with my housemates, still convinced I did something amazing. My housemates, who are living much longer in Shanghai, asked me straight away how much I had paid. After I told them the amount, they laughed. A normal tea ceremony cost around 30 Yuan (4 USD).
Moral of the story, be open minded, do crazy things, go with the flow, but always follow your gut and be prepared. Know where you going and have some basic knowledge of the place. Some people try to take advantage of you. Do some research or go together with other travelers to minimize your risk. Don’t be naïve like I was.
People are both the most incredible and worse creatures on earth. Find out with what kind you’re dealing with.
Be confident but don’t be overconfident
Being confident is often considered as a good characteristic to have and I don’t disagree with that. However, there is a very thin line between being confident and being overconfident, especially while travelling. Very soon you can find out the result of your decisions. Like I did.
A great example of this is during my two week backpack trip throughout the Philippines. As confident as I am, I thought I could backpack with a cheap, fake Bjorn Borg sports bag instead of a solid professional backpack. It saved me some money which I can spend on more important things, right? This has been the worst decision of the whole trip. This sports bag didn’t fit on my bag so I had to carry it either on the left or the right side. Your body is completely out of balance. So I had muscle pain after day 1, a brilliant start of my trip. Therefore, be confident but know when to ask for some solid advice or do some online research. I could save myself a lot of hassle (and muscle pain).
Fail, but go for it (otherwise you regret it later)
Pretty straightforward; because I believe we learn the most by failing. Like I did in Shanghai. After all I can say it has been one of my most valuable experiences. Did we fail setting up a successful company? Absolutely. Would I do it all again while knowing I wouldn’t succeed. Definitely.
I did have an amazing time, I did meet incredible people and I have seen one of the countries of the future with my own eyes. Not a two week holiday, a real in-depth experience. I encourage everybody to just try! Whatever your dream may be, go for it. Of course I recommend you calculating the risk. But no matter what it is, if it’s a business or becoming a flight attendant, take your chances or you will regret it later. Fear is temporarily, regret is forever.
This is exactly the way how I approached my assessment day. I flew over from Amsterdam to London for my assessment day. It cost me over 300 USD to get there, including flight, transport, hotel etc. However, the feeling of ‘I wish I did go to that assessment day’, would have last forever. And probably hurt for a long time.
Marco is an international flight attendant for one of the biggest airlines in the United Kingdom. He believes the world is too big to stay at one place and is too big to not discover. So far he have travelled to 22 countries and still counting. Originally, Marco is from the Netherlands where he grew up in a small town up in the north. He holds a Bachelor of Business Administration with a specialization in Marketing and Sales. Marco have a great interest in everything what’s new and people with different cultures from all around the globe. It’s an understatement to say that he likes diversity.