I was nervous this morning before the flight. I was nervous yesterday. But now, as I sit on a plane that’s about to depart for Dakar, I feel perfectly calm.

I’ve had two good omens already. The seat to my left is empty, always a blessing for an eight-hour flight. And just moments ago I noticed a priest take a seat a few rows ahead of me. That has to be good luck, right?

Some of my friends love international flights: the movies, the food, the favors (they’ve started us off with a zippered pouch that contains a toothbrush, toothpaste and a face cloth). I’m honestly not one for sitting in a cramped seat on a plane that’s too hot or too cold for eight hours when I’m supposed to be sleeping.

But I do enjoy the company on these flights. Anyone flying to another continent likely has a good story to go along with their travels.

Last time I flew solo internationally, on my way to New Zealand, I made friends with the Parisian sitting next to me, and we spent my day-long layover in Bangkok exploring an enormously crazy market there. The weather was so sticky and the market isles so claustrophobic that I soaked through the shirt I was wearing and had to stop at a t-shirt stall to buy another for the second leg of the flight.

I imagine the heat in Dakar will be in that same class when I step off this plane tomorrow morning. Perhaps then, as I look for a place to sleep tomorrow night, I’ll feel another pinge of nervousness. But I have this reasoning to fall back on: No matter what happens in the months ahead, this is going to be one heck of an experience.