I had been counting down the days to leave for Spain since my first day of college, and as the numbers reached the single digits, the dream of my semester abroad became a reality. I packed and repacked my suitcase, made endless last-minute supply runs, and triple-checked my flight information. I was the most prepared I could possibly be, and nothing would get in my way of finally arriving in my dream travel destination. However, as I arrived at the airport, things began to stray from my to-the-minute plans. Due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, I was required to switch airlines, my luggage was almost not transferred between my connections, and two of my flights were delayed. As I ran from terminal to terminal, I reminded myself that “at least I’ll be in Alicante in x hours.” And, since I lived through my stressful travel experience, I’m here to share a few ways to expect the unexpected before arrival in your study abroad location.
1. Changes can and will happen
Going into this semester, I had no international flying experience. Even more, I had only flown to and from my university during breaks, so I was expecting an easy trip. Looking back now, I wish I had known that changes to your flights, whether it be times or the planes themselves, are most likely going to occur. While it is tempting to book the quickest flight to your destination, try to leave yourself buffer time between flights to allow for any modifications to your trip itinerary, whatever they might be.
2. Distribute your packing evenly
You may have read in packing lists to pack an extra outfit in your carry-on just in case your luggage gets lost, and this is something I am so thankful I did. I waited at the baggage claim in Madrid to re-check my luggage until the last bag was grabbed from the conveyor belt, and as it came to a halt, my luggage was nowhere in sight. Although I was freaking out about losing my favorite sweater and a pair of jeans that had just started to fit perfectly, I knew I wouldn’t be forced to wear my airport attire until I had time to buy new clothes. I would also recommend packing your checked bag and carry-on (if your flight allows) as if you’re packing for separate trips, splitting up your clothes between the two and bringing along travel sized toiletries. Even if you think you won’t need them, you never know what may happen with your luggage.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
As I was standing in the baggage claim wondering what I was going to do, an airport agent approached me and asked if anything was wrong. I let her know in the best Spanish I could muster that I needed to re-check my bags and that they never came out. She asked to see my boarding pass and let me know that the airline was inevitably able to transfer them. I then had to ask several different people how to find the shuttle to switch terminals, and then again how to find my gate. It may be intimidating to ask questions in a foreign country in a language you don’t fluently speak – however, in an attempt to make your trip as calm as possible, it is important that you seek help if you need it.
Annie Robey is the Spring 2021 CEA MOJO Blogger in Alicante, Spain, and is currently studying at University of Alabama.