Tips from a First Time Traveler

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Written by Elizabeth Rowan, Summer Abroad "Scottish Tales" Alum, English and Communication Double Major

Passport? Check!

Luggage? Check!

Ticket? Uh….

This was my mental checklist as I stood in the airport preparing for my flight to Edinburgh, Scotland this past June. Before leaving for my trip I felt like there were so many moving parts to keep track of and I didn’t have a grasp on any of them. It was my first time travelling alone and, of course, I was terrified! What if I lose my luggage? What if someone steals my passport? What if my backpack is too heavy to carry-on and I have to throw away some of my beloved snacks? Though these are valid concerns (especially the last one) there are plenty of steps to take to prepare yourself for any and all of these unfortunate circumstances. If you are worried about going abroad for the first time or traveling solo for the first time, have no fear. I made plenty of mistakes while I was preparing for my trip and on my trip itself, but the best part about mistakes is when enough time passes you get to call them lessons! So now I present to you, future Aggies abroad, the most helpful lessons I learned through my travel process.

1. Prepare for any weather.

The coldest I’ve ever been at Glen Coe

Packing for a long trip may feel like a losing battle; it sure did to me. When packing, it is important to pay attention to the weather forecasts in the weeks leading up to your trip and if you can for the time that you yourself will be on your trip. What season is it at your destination? Has it been hot? Cold? Rainy? Cloudy with a chance of meatballs? However, even the most meticulous weather tracking may not be enough to predict the weather for the entirety of your trip, especially if you are going somewhere like Scotland where the weather is particularly spontaneous. One of the most surprising things about Scotland was how quickly the weather could change. Within minutes it could go from pouring rain to bright blue skies and back to rain again. Anything was fair game. For this reason, it is important to pack clothing that you can easily layer. Stick to the basics! You may want to pack all your favorite bow ties or wedge heels, but remember to prioritize! The more efficiently you pack, the less you will have to worry about at the airport. Some basics you should consider packing are a couple pairs of long pants, a rain jacket, some light weight shirts or sweaters, and a coat or heavy jacket. If you are like me and this sounds utterly unappealing to you, there are other options as well. I spent most of my time in Scotland wearing dresses with tights, boots, and a rain jacket. That way I could be comfortable, but still feel like I was the very pinnacle of fashion and function.

2. Pack Light!

Photo credit: frenchseaside.blogspot.com

I had a very difficult time deciding what to bring and what to leave behind and ended up packing much more than was necessary. If you are a heavy packer and are having trouble fitting everything in your suitcase, one thing that could help would be to set aside your heaviest or bulkiest items to wear on the plane to open up more room in your suitcase. However, do remember that you are likely going to be on a very VERY long plane ride and you want to be as comfortable as possible. Just think to yourself: Is the outfit worth the discomfort you may have to tolerate as a result? There are many advantages to packing light. First of all, it is entirely possible to pack so light that you do not even need to check a suitcase and can just take a carry-on. This frees up a lot of time and relieves a lot of stress because you have one less big item of which to keep track. Secondly, the lighter you pack the more extra room you will have for souvenirs! This was a grave mistake I made when packing. I did not calculate for souvenirs and then of course when I got there I needed to buy anything and everything that even had the word Scotland on it. From tote bags to mugs to posters and more, I was left at the end of my trip with a bunch of awkwardly shaped souvenirs and had to play hours (what’s hyperbole?) of suitcase Tetris to make it all fit. Save yourself the trouble and just leave some room while you pack.

3. Repeat outfits often.

I wore this rain jacket nearly every day of my trip

Another thing to keep in mind is that not everywhere you go will have washing machines and dryers. You may not be able to wash your clothes often or in as convenient of a manner as we are spoiled with in the U.S. For example, In Scotland there were no dryers so I hung dry all my clothes, which took much longer than I was anticipating. To avoid being left without clean clothes, pack things that you can wear many times without needing to wash them and that take awhile to look dirty. Scrunch your nose at this all you want, but I only packed clothes that I could wear at least three times before needing to wash them. If you pack items that are durable and take awhile to show grime, then you can first of all pack less items and second of all waste less time doing laundry. Your time abroad will go by fast, you don’t want to be stuck doing laundry when you could be out eating…uh I mean…absorbing culture!

4. Layovers are your friend.

Waiting in SFO a few hours before the first leg of my flight

Of course the worst part of a trip is the actual flying. This is not an opinion, this is an objective fact and if you disagree you are simply just wrong. On the flight is when the anticipation and excitement of the trip reach their peak. You are so close but have so far to go at the same time. Plus, there’s always going to be a screaming baby or someone who keeps their seat back and is in your lap the entire trip. Always. Though having a direct flight is of course the ideal situation, this is not always possible . If you do have to have a layover, try to give yourself a long one. First reading that you are probably horrified, because of course you want to get to your destination as quickly as possible. I get it, but hear me out! A layover is a nice little cushion, a layover is your friend. The first leg of my flight to Edinburgh had a three hour layover in Chicago and this just simply sounded like an eternity to me. However, when the day of my flight came the first leg was delayed an hour. When I finally arrived in Chicago I was very thankful that I had such a long layover because I still had about an hour left before boarding to find my terminal and more importantly, grab a slice of pizza! Without this layover I would have had to scramble to make my flight or could have missed it all together. It is much better to have too long at the airport between flights than not enough time.

5. Listen to your jet-lag.

Sometimes you just need to sleep in a taxi

No one wants to get to a fun, exciting place and immediately go to sleep, but sometimes it is better to get the sleeping out of the way first so you have more energy for the fun stuff later. One way to fight jet-lag is to sleep on your flight if you know you will be arriving at your destination during the day, or to stay awake before and through your flight if you are arriving late at night so you can sleep (relatively) easy when you arrive and be up bright and early(ish) for some exploring the next day. Though of course, this is much easier said than done. If you are someone who can fall asleep on a plane I commend and envy you. I am not one of those people so when I arrived in Scotland, jet-lag hit me like a brick. I arrived in Edinburgh at 7am Scotland time after waking up at 5am California time. This means I had been awake for 17 hours straight with a new day just beginning ahead of me. I was barely even a functioning human being at this point, but I did not want to waste the day so I unpacked (by which I mean put my suitcase in the closet and my jacket on a chair). I let myself nap for an hour and then I was out and about exploring. Spoiler alert: the exploration excursion ended in me getting lost and crying over a mug full of hot chocolate with marshmallows. I was asleep for the night by 3pm and woke up the next morning at 8. Jet-lag is unpleasant and can potentially last for a few days. Don’t let it completely keep you from exploring, but do recognize that you need to sleep as well or else your mood may sour your first bits of adventure, and what could be worse than that? Nothing.

6. Know that you’ve got this!

Photo credit: giglady.com

Though planning a trip and traveling on your own for the first time can be stressful at times, it is an amazing experience. There are plenty of ways to ease your stress while preparing for your trip. Making lists and getting important tasks done early will all help you feel more relaxed. Just remember that all of the stressful energy you feel now before you leave will be transformed into self-confidence. Enjoy the chaos of planning and just remember, you can do this!


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UC Davis Study Abroad integrates global opportunities into the academic experience, supporting 1,300 students each year in studying across 30 countries, exploring the world, and gaining valuable skills and competencies. In the quest for Global Education for All, Study Abroad goes beyond traditional programs to meet the academic, personal and professional needs of UC Davis’ diverse and driven student body.

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