By Ashlyn Dempster
When traveling, typically the most dreaded part of the trip is traveling itself. Airport security, purchasing bus or train tickets, knowing what to pack, and planning arrivals, connections and departures can lead to a brutal headache while on a trip. Based on interviews with study abroad classmates from Tarleton State University, following is some practical advice for planning to travel after taking planes, trains and buses from Dallas to London to Bologna, Italy, and their final destination, Urbino.
Planning works. Planning is the key to a successful trip. In fact, you probably cannot plan enough! Purchasing plane tickets in advance not only will be cheaper, but also gives you time to figure out transportation to and from the airport. Similarly, hotel tickets should be bought in advance. Train tickets and bus tickets are a little tricky and some may not be able to be bought ahead of time or on the Internet. If you are not able to do either, plan the trip according to train stops, connections, and times. You do not want to be in Rome and realize your third bus stop, four hours away, closes at eight at night and it’s 7:30 p.m.
Pack accordingly. When I say pack accordingly, I mean do not bring anything you do not absolutely need. Stay within your selected airline’s guidelines for luggage size and weight, make sure to double check the weather, and know what clothes are a must. Also be aware of local customs. Some cathedrals and other Italian monuments require certain dress code to be met, such as no exposed shoulders or knees for women. Bring along a scarf or shrug, or a long skirt you can toss over shorts.
Take advantage of side trips. Excursions are a great way for students to travel more within one program. In the study abroad program I was a part of, we had excursions from Urbino to Ravenna, Florence, Gradara, and Fano. If you have to plan your own excursions, do so in advance so you’re not frantically trying to figure out travel plans on an Italian computer with a spotty Internet connection.
Figure out your finances. Plan your finances – how much you want to take in cash, for example, and what the current exchange rates are — and know where you can exchange currency and the locations of ATMs. Before leaving the country, call your bank and let it know that you will be overseas; some banks, out of security concerns, will freeze your account if they see charges on a debit or credit card from another country. You never want to be stuck without money, especially in a foreign country.
Be prepared for airport security. It is very important to be aware of airport security requirements when packing your carry-on bag. According to the Transportation Security Administration, any liquids – even items as simple as mascara or concealer – must be in containers of no more than 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) and must be placed in quart-size clear bags. Many students on our trip packed an empty water bottle and filled it once past security. Some also brought several snacks, which will save you a pretty penny. While in line, you will see people start to shift around things in their bags, take off jewelry, unlace shoes — take their lead, no one wants to be the person who held up a line of anxious travelers. Also, always have your passport and boarding pass handy at all times while in the airport. Sometimes people are randomly stopped and asked to show identification. It’s also important to remember that not all security systems and processes are the same in every country, so always be attentive to signs and directions.
Some final do’s and don’ts. Do have fun and keep an open mind. Cultures are very different when you are actually in the country. Don’t be the guy on his cell phone not listening while someone is trying to provide information. Always have cash on you and some sort of identification. Lock your luggage! Buy a couple of key locks for luggage, carry-on bag, purse and anything that may contain something valuable. Do not lose your passport, your ticket not only to travel in another country, but also to get back home. Know emergency contacts of the country you’re traveling to. Learn the language of the country you’re traveling to — this will save you money, time and help you get around. Study abroad programs are great in that there are always amazing faculty that are willing to help anyway they can with your trip, and often times students who have previously gone on the trip can provide you with excellent advice.
Studying abroad will teach you many things even outside of the curriculum. Remember, if you don’t need it…don’t pack it — save room for wonderful souvenirs.