I’m longwinded, so for Part Two, I’ll dive right in:
Anticipate problems you might encounter abroad and solicit solutions now.
What-ifs aren’t always a bad thing. In fact, here are some that actually became a reality for me
over these past couple weeks:
1. What if I lose my luggage, or my luggage never arrives?
Before studying abroad in Ireland, I decided I’d spend the holidays in Spain with my host family. I spent a semester with them in 2016, and we’ve been family ever since. Getting to Spain, however, wasn’t easy. My flight from Chicago to Lisbon was delayed, and on top of that, my layover was only 75 minutes long. By some stroke of luck, I didn’t miss my flight, but my luggage did.
Once I got to baggage claim in Madrid, I stood in one line after another for hours to file a claim. I could only hope that my luggage was late and not lost. Mom and I, however, had anticipated that this might happen, so we’d packed all of my essentials into my carry-ons. More importantly, we’d packed zero indispensable items into my check-in luggage.
2. What if my credit card gets hacked?
Yes, this happened. While in Spain, my mom sent me a text to let me know that our credit card had been cancelled because someone had hacked into our Uber account and spent over $3,000 on rides in just a few days. Luckily, I brought enough cash with me. I’ve found that the trick is to bring more than what is recommended and less than what you think you can spend or can afford to lose (when cut in half because it’s a rule of thumb to never keep all of your cash in one place). If you’re wondering why I never mentioned a debit card, even though it’s safer than carrying cash, it’s because I get headaches just thinking about the hassle that is trying to recover money from a stolen debit card. Especially while abroad. Somehow, that sounds worse to me than running the risk of getting pickpocketed. I’ve been pickpocketed before on the metro in Madrid, and you can bet I’ll do anything to prevent that from happening again.
3. What if I don’t have a working SIM card before leaving the country but need my phone immediately upon arrival?
The best solution I could think of was to purchase an international phone plan that renews monthly and cancel it after the first month. I figured this would give me a month to hopefully match a working phone with a working SIM card once I arrived in Ireland. (Not to hate on AT&T, but it doesn’t hold a candle to T-Mobile’s international plan, and I regret that we made the switch.)
I wouldn’t have done this any other time, but since I knew that an Irish SIM card would be a ripoff in Spain (just as an International SIM would be a rip-off in Ireland), I decided this was my safest option. Sure, there’s always public Wi-Fi, but I never rely on it because it just doesn’t work most of the time—especially at train stations. Airports are all right.
4. What if cabin space is sold out on some of my flights and I can’t bring a second carryon luggage?
If you’re flying directly to your destination or with a larger airline, you probably won’t encounter this problem, but if you’re like me and plan to travel while in Europe, you might. The problem I’m referring to is budget airlines. They’re great, but there are caveats and little traps to be aware of (e.g. baggage allowance). I’ve only really flown Ryanair, so that’s all I can speak to, but here’s the trick: it’s the number of bags that matter, not the size or even the weight of them. When flying Ryanair, the nightmare is to bring a small bag and a small luggage when you’re only allowed one small bag. That’s a good enough reason to be fined. The loophole, however, is to bring one large bag, because when they say cabin space is sold out, they don’t really mean it.
5. What if I miss a connecting flight?
At this point, you probably think I’m making this stuff up. It might be the case that for all of this to happen on one trip seems unlikely, but this is just a part of traveling. Hay que buscar la vida e improvisar caundo sea necesario. So, yeah, I missed my connecting flight from London to Shannon (after having just arrived from Zaragoza, Spain), and it wasn’t the airline’s fault (because when it’s Ryanair it never is), and I spent the night at the airport waiting for my next flight because I couldn’t be bothered to relocate to a hotel. I don’t want to say that I anticipated this happening, but I did, which is why I flew Ryanair. A loss of €12,50 is still a loss (plus I had to purchase a new ticket), but it was nothing colossal.
Set your mind, not your expectations.
This is my final piece of (pre-departure) advice, and I can’t stress this enough. Whether you’re an experienced traveler or leaving the country for the first time, what matters is not what you expect to get out of your upcoming adventure but rather how you prepare to approach the unknowns and novelties in your path. I know I’m probably preaching to the choir, but I’ve seen a lot of different people navigate their first days/months in a new place, and I can promise that the ones who find success and happiness are the ones who aren’t looking for things to turn out the way they “should.” Nothing will always be that neat. Life is no fun if it isn’t messy, so if you ever find yourself feeling like a mess, embrace it. If (like me) you ever temporarily lose a luggage or miss a flight or spend 17 hours awake and hallucinating at the airport while you wait for your next flight or arrive in a country 11 days before your luggage does, laugh about it. Because it’s actually pretty hilarious, and it’s not a big deal at all.
If you feel homesick, or if you feel like you’re not fitting in right away, or if you’re secondguessing yourself and your decisions, listen closely and rationalize the best you can. Sometimes it’s important to recognize that these concerns and disillusions live inside your head, meanwhile you exist outside of it.
But whatever you do, I hope you remember this: An overall phenomenal experience, no matter how phenomenal, is not all good, all the time. That’s actually what makes it great.