Before studying abroad, most travelers have some mixture of being nervous and being excited that takes up much of their emotional space as the departure nears. Some days, the nerves may feel like they outweigh the excitement. Other days, this emotional balance goes just the opposite direction. Welcome to the final countdown to a time abroad that’s been your dreamscape for awhile and is about to become your reality! Here are some tips on managing the final countdown.
Look ahead to your departure day and plan what you will need emotionally in the 2-3 days prior to launching your adventure. For some of us, that means a steady round of visits with close friends and family to keep things light and busy. For others, the need for calm is higher than the need for social exchange. Think about yourself, and plan those last two days so that you get what you need to keep you stable and solid.
About five days out from your departure, lay out in the organizational style that works for you all of the clothes and things you plan to pack. You’re going to want at least something seasonally right to look dressy in, and otherwise you’ll want things to wear that are flexible to layer and use with multiple outfits and also easy to wash and pack. You’ll also want to be brutal about what you edit from your piles of clothes and things as you look over your stuff. If you don’t love it, don’t bring it. And if you’re likely to fall out of love with it, don’t bring it. Do your research on what the climate will be like where you’re going, and also take into account how the seasons may change while you’re away. For any time, anywhere, you’ll need a rain jacket, some terrific shoes for walking, a sweater or fleece and good socks. Bring enough of everything else to get you through about a week without needing to seriously wash clothes. And prepare to do what your European neighbors will do with their clothes: wear your jeans multiple times and forget that you’ve always washed them at home after every use.
About four days out from leaving, start your more precise pile of things that will go with you onto the plane in a carry on of some kind. Your tablet, chargers, converter plug, smartphone (if you choose to bring one) should all make the cut. So should your umbrella and a sweater, plus a raincoat or jacket of some kind. Think about adding a very basic change of clothes just in case your main bag(s) are delayed in transit for a day or two. Otherwise, keep this bag as lean and mean as you can.
In the final two-three days before you leave, make a careful pile right next to your bags of the documents you will need with you to travel. Your passport is the sovereign of this small domain, as it will be every time you repeat your packing exercise while you’re away. This is a great time to be sure that you have downloaded your program manual to your tablet or other device. And this is also a good time to be sure that you have printed out a map showing the address of the hostel or other location set by your program as its meet up/rally point. About 24 hours from the time your flight is scheduled to depart, you can check-in online for the flight and either print up your boarding passes or else have them sent via text message to your phone.
Experienced travelers almost never “cut it close” on a departure day. (You won’t either once you’ve been hopping trains all over Europe.) So be sure that you know how you’re getting to the airport and that your plans are calibrated to get you there at least 2 hours-plus prior to your scheduled take off.
Remember as you feel the back and forth of emotional pull in your countdown days that every exciting adventure in life will call you to an emotional place that’s in many ways yours alone to inhabit. One of the great facts about studying abroad is that you’ll meet in a matter of days if not hours a whole group of students and faculty who have just experienced their own version of the same emotions that you felt getting ready to travel. And from that first thing you’ll share with the group will follow countless others.