Whether you’ve flown to all seven continents or have never been on a plane before, traveling can stir up a bit of pre-departure anxiety for any explorer. And if you’re studying abroad, chances are that you don’t have your usual posse of family members or friends accompanying you, but don’t worry! We know that traveling solo can be intimidating, so we’ve rounded up some of our best tips to prepare for your journey.
Tip #1: Begin Preparing Early
If you’re reading this, then you’re already on the right track. Trust us when we say that there is no such thing as being too prepared for a flight, especially an international one, and doing your prep ahead of time can help alleviate stress and nerves that often come with travelling.
First thing’s first: create a game plan to get you from point A to point B (and then point B to point C). Make note of your departure times, gates and terminals, and print your boarding passes and download them to your phone as soon as you can and make copies of everything. We recommend keeping the originals, one hard copy and one digital copy of all your important documents (passport, visa, I.D., flight confirmation, boarding passes, and any relevant USAC contact information) somewhere safe. Think about each stage of your journey and map out each step of your trip (for example, if you know that you need to change terminals when you land for your layover, write it down). Don’t forget to have a plan for when you arrive in your destination (note that while some USAC programs include airport pickup, others do not). Having a step-by-step guide will make you feel in control. Plus, being able to break down your 28-hour trip into bite-sized pieces will make the whole experience feel less overwhelming.
Tip #2: Pack the Ultimate Carry-On
What you pack in your carry-on can make or break your trip. The morning (or night) before your flight, prepare your carry-on with everything you need, but don’t wait until the last minute. A few must-have items include:
- Charged devices (phone, laptop and/or tablet) and all necessary chargers. Consider packing a charged external charger, as well, in case you can’t charge your devices during your flight.
- Headphones, especially noise-cancelling ones if you can get your hands on them.
- Multiple forms of entertainment that don’t require WiFi: download your music, a movie or two, and episodes of your current binge-watching pleasure. An actual book is a good idea, too.
- Snacks and water (or a refillable water bottle). More on eating in Tip #3, but it won’t hurt to have a few extra snacks or two in case your stomach starts rumbling in between meals.
- Common medicines and toiletries, like Tylenol, Pepto Bismol, eye drops, lotion, hand sanitizer and Emergen-C.
- Some extra layers or a change of clothes. The temperature in airplanes can change a lot during a flight, so some extra layers (warm socks, a sweater or sweatshirt, and a scarf) are important for staying comfortable. If you have some extra room, we recommend bringing a second outfit to change into to reset and feel more refreshed before you land.
Tip #3: Have an In-Flight Plan
You’ll likely be on your own for most of the trip, but there are a few steps you can take to make it as enjoyable and comfortable as possible. Following tip #2 will help with that, but here are a few general rules of thumb for surviving your flight abroad:
- Pick your seat carefully. If you have the option to select your seat early, do so! And it’s okay to pay a little extra for better seating if you can. Consider how much legroom you need and think about whether sleeping in a window seat or having easier access to get up and move around on the aisle is more important to you.
- Check your airline’s website for details on in-flight meals and express any dietary restrictions or request a special meal early if you can (many airlines will offer vegetarian options and can accommodate for common allergies if you ask).
- Depending on the airline’s policies, you may be offered adult beverages, but don’t indulge in alcohol on your flight. Drinking can cause dehydration, disrupt your natural sleep pattern, and increase jet lag. Besides, you want to make sure you’re of sound mind when you land in a foreign country for the first time!
- Fight jet lag before you arrive by getting some sleep. One way to sync with your new time zone is to sleep when it’s nighttime in your host country and stay awake during the day. Try to get as much sleep as you can when you need to in order to adjust.
- But don’t stay seated for too long. While sleep is important, and the opportunity to binge-watch Game of Thrones guilt-free is a once in a life time opportunity, it’s important to get up and stretch multiple times during your flight. Walk up and down the aisle whenever the seatbelt sign is off and stretch as much as you can. Your body will thank you.
Tip #4: Take a Chill Pill
Last but not least, our biggest piece of advice is to relax. We know that travelling can be stressful, but it’s important to take everything in stride. Flights get delayed, airlines serve dinner when you’re ready for breakfast, and you might get stuck in the middle seat. But guess what? It’s all going to be O.K.
Following these tips will help you feel prepared and confident in the trip ahead, but none of them will matter if you can’t roll with the punches. Just take a deep breath and focus on the positive: you’re on your way to a life-changing opportunity. Trust us, you’ll be much more confident on your flight home!