Okay, so California isn’t that exotic a destination. In your mind, anyway. I assure you, however, that for a teenager in Alaska who has never traveled independently before, it was a monumental experience.
Travel was something I’ve always wanted to do. My parents did a lot of traveling when I was little, but by the time I was old enough to actually remember the experiences, they had decided to settle down. It’s incredibly frustrating to hear how I was born in Germany, or threw up on a train ride to Pompeii, and yet not remember any of it. It drove me to travel, but with college expenses looming on the horizon, I couldn’t afford to act on that desire.
That was when I found out about the Society of American Military Engineers and Seabees (Naval Engineers) Summer Camp in Port Hueneme, California. My local SAME post was willing to pay for the trip. Before I knew it, I was on a plane flying thousands of miles away.
I’d never flown on my own before, and it was a bit intimidating. There were delays at almost every airport; I got to know the Seattle airport especially well, spending around 12 hours there. The wait at LAX was somewhat more nerve-racking. I was actually onboard the plane when the preflight inspection turned up a problem in a computer on the wing. They didn’t tell us this till afterwards. All I knew was that we sat there for around two hours as they used power tools on the wing right outside my window. It didn’t give me a lot of confidence in the aircraft.
I arrived a couple of days early for the camp to spend time with relatives who lived down there. California seemed full of marvels. While I went to see the Giant Sequoias, what actually impressed me the most was the sheer variety of stores. There are only a couple of big chain stores and restaurants in Anchorage, and it’s hard to describe the experience of browsing through a store like Target with things you’ve only seen before online, or of eating at Krispy Kreme, the Olive Garden, or Red Lobster; those are places you can see in commercials but normally aren’t around to go to.
The camp was a wonderful experience, full of people from as far away as the United Arab Emirates. We visited museums and laboratories, participated in “Seabee Olympics”, built and crushed concrete, made it in the Ventura Star with our cardboard boat races, and got sunburned (okay, maybe that was just me) in just a couple of hours on the beach.
I greatly enjoyed my first independent traveling excursion, and hope it will prove to be only a stepping stone to bigger and better places.
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.