I have officially embarked on my eight month journey of studying abroad in Italy. I can’t believe I’m already here. Now, the trip to get here was a proper adventure in itself, and as with all adventures, there are lessons to be learned.
This post is essentially a guide of “Do’s and Don’t’s” of travel I have learned in the past, and have definitely refined during this trip. Before I jump into it, here is essentially the adventure I had this weekend:
- Flight from Newark to Paris: 6 hours
- Paris layover: 5 hours
- Flight from Paris to Rome: 2 hours
- Rome pre-train layover: 2 hours
- Train from Rome to Perugia: 2.5 hours
If I include the trip from home to Newark, we are looking at roughly 20 hours of travel time. Which, honestly, was a bit unnecessary. (Oh well, you gotta do what you gotta do… Am I right, StudentUniverse?)
Now, onto the list!
1) Lesson One: LESS IS MORE
- Travel with a light, comfortable personal item
Most airlines allow a carry-on as well as personal item; this may be a laptop bag, a book bag, a tote, a purse… things of this nature. Make sure to travel with a light and comfortable bag. Do not jam pack it with heavy things. Really think through the essentials (snacks, documents, maybe an e-reader or magazine) and leave room for things you will acquire on your journey (i.e. water bottles, magazines, your cardigan when you get hot and need to take it off).
Also, the less you bring in your personal item, the quicker you’ll fly (heheh) through security!
- Invest in a small to medium sized carry-on
Check a few different airlines’ different policies on size of carry-on luggage (especially for budget airlines like Easy-Jet). If you buy a bag that fits multiple requirements, it makes it universal, thus easier to travel with. Worried everything won’t fit in a smaller bag? Roll your clothes and fit them into packing cubes (essentially, magical cloth containers).
Anecdote: My new carry-on (which is smaller than my old one) is accepted on all major american airline companies… even on British Airways (though it was a close call this time). However, upon arriving in Europe, though I was booked with British Airways, I was taken by surprise and had to take different European airline, which had much smaller carry-on limits. I was required to check in my bag. Thankfully it was included with my flight, but I know it’s not always the case. I had a close call in Berlin when flying with EasyJet… I almost had to pay €70 (nearly what I paid for the round trip) to check in my carry-on. I got lucky then, too. But that’s a story for another time. Conclusion? Invest in a small, universal carry-on.
- Don’t bring a glass reusable bottle
Don’t bring a reusable glass water bottle in your personal item. This sounds obvious. Glass water bottles are fantastic for both travel and the environment, and don’t get me wrong, my glass water bottle has come in clutch while traveling domestically. (Even since arriving in Perugia. Italian cities have public fountains everywhere with potable water.) However, not only are these glass bottles really heavy, but my bottle was virtually useless at the airports. Neither the airport in Paris nor Rome had water fountains, and both had signs saying the bathroom tap water was non-potable (Yuck!). A reusable water bottle is a must! But perhaps send it off in your checked luggage or find one at your destination, and take an empty plastic one aboard with you. (Yep, empty bottles pass through security.)
- Bring some snacks
In your personal items, pack some light, non-liquid snacks (i.e. small bag of biscuits or chips, granola bars, trail mix etc.). This way, you don’t have to spend $5 for a bag of chips at the airport shops, and you’ll have something to munch on when you need it! (A pack of black currant Digestives [British biscuits] saved my life on a plane once. I forgot to order a vegetarian meal, so I was left eating the biscuits for the 7 hour flight. Cheers, McVitie’s!)
2) Lesson Two: DO YOUR HOMEWORK
(or as was in my case, Rome-work)
- Research every possible thing you can think of
Here’s a quick list:
- Baggage rules
- Airport layout / terminals
- Train stations
- Wifi: Airport? Train Station? Hostels? Public Points? (Helpful when layover is abroad)
- Weather *
- Learn basic phrases and questions of the place’s language if not a language you speak
- Read and re-read reviews of the airlines, airports, hotels, restaurants, etc.
- Read and re-read your itinerary and boarding pass. Memorize your flight number, time, gates, seats. *
- Make a list of questions and requests you may have (seats, meals, etc), and call the airline 24 hours in advance.
Do. Your. Homework.
* Anecdote: Weather was important for me. Always check the weather and plan accordingly by having an alternate outfit ready if needed. I always layer when traveling because airports, airplanes, and trains (especially in the US) tend to be overly air conditioned. In Newark, I was fine, but on the plane I almost cooked to death! The air conditioning was very minimal. The temperature in Paris was perfect (about 17c / 62f), but 2 hours later in Rome, it was scorching hot (32c / 90f). Thankfully, I had a breezy skirt at the top of my carry-on, and was able to switch clothes.
As for reading and re-reading / memorizing your itinerary, it saves you a lot of time and stress from having to keep checking, and keeps you from having surprises later. I did not know I was flying with another airline upon arriving in Paris because I was not attentive and didn’t read my itinerary thoroughly. I saw “British Airways” and went for it! However, when I got to Paris, it was a relay-race of sending me to across the airport to “this hall” and “that hall” in search of the other airline.
3) Lesson Three: These things are your friends
If you want a comfortable, hassle free trip (or one as close as you can get), these are investments I recommend you make (especially for my frequent flyers!)
- Travel sized containers that already come in a quart sized bag (I’m talking about you, Target Up & Up brand)
This ensues you already have the pre-approved by TSA liquid travel kit. Keep it in an easily accessible spot in your carry-on or personal item. Quicker access = faster security line.
- Luggage Scale
This is a must have if you are a frequent flyer and/or are studying abroad. It eases anxieties and prevents the airport-overweight-baggage-frantically-shoving-things-in-carry-on routine. Scales are available in many models. Mine is palm sized and fits in the cellphone pocket of my personal item.
- Neck pillow
I love my memory foam neck pillow dearly. I used to think they were unnecessary, but then I took a 14 hour flight to Tokyo and I think I would have forever damaged my neck if I didn’t have it. Now? I can’t take a two hour flight or longer car ride without it.
Memory foam is marvelous, and can be squished, but it is also bulky. I have seen inflatable neck pillows which seem to be much easier to pack away if needed.
- An eye mask and ear plugs / headphones
These are absolutely necessary for traveling on longer flights. Some flights do issue these items, but not always. So, to be safe a) do your research or b) pack your own.
- A folder/pouch for passport, travel documents, and boarding pass
This can be easily located in a bag, or carried in hand. It keeps everything together neatly, and is safer than loose passports or other important documents, which can be easily misplaced or stolen (yikes). Of course, keep it in a convenient spot, and always in your sight.
4) Lesson Four: ASK QUESTIONS
DO NOT BE AFRAID TO ASK QUESTIONS. DO NOT BE EMBARRASSED TO ASK QUESTIONS. This is absolutely important.
Yes, you make look and feel like a tourist. Yes, it may hurt your ego. But bear in mind that we are all humans. We’ve all asked questions. Plus, it’s better to know where you’re going or what you’re doing, with confidence (and correct information) than to put unnecessary stress on yourself and possibly those with you. Also, asking questions saves you from potential sticky and embarrassing situations. So ask, and ask shamelessly (and respectfully, of course).
Another thing to do is to at least try to ask questions in the country’s language. 9/10 times they will reply in English, but they will still be impressed and pleased that you tried to use their language.
So, my darling readers and travelers, these are the lessons learned (so far) during my trip. I hope you find these useful, and of course, I am always open for conversation and feedback (as long as done so tastefully). Let me know what you think of these tips. Do you have any of your own? Any big lessons learned from travel mistakes?
For now, off to have my afternoon cappuccino and cornetto al cioccolato! Ciao!
Love & light,