Surviving your first international flight

Finally in Sevilla and somewhat rested after a siesta! This was my first time flying internationally, and it actually was much simpler than I thought it would be. That being said, here are some tips that I picked up as a novice world traveler:

1.  Yes, you should wear the biggest pair of shoes that you’re bringing to save suitcase space. But keep in mind that you will have to take them off for security, probably more than once, so cute lace-up combat boots can be a challenge. However, I still fully intend to travel in them.

2.  Bring a reusable water bottle. Fill it up inside the secure area, especially for long international flights, because you will get dehydrated. Along that same line, drinking alcohol will dehydrate you, so stick to water or juice on the plane. Two days later and I think I’m still catching up on hydration, and that was without alcohol.

3.  Scarves are a useful tool. A wide scarf helps you blend in with European style, makes a nice blanket, and can even be rolled into a neck pillow. I didn’t bring a separate pillow to save space, and the scarf did a pretty decent job.

4.  Keep your carry-ons as light as possible. I was definitely pushing it trying to fit my backpack and large purse under the seat, especially with aisle seats and on small propeller planes. And overhead space fills up super, super quickly.

5.  Don’t count on airport Wi-Fi. Some airports it’s free for a certain amount of time (for example, 30 minutes in Lisbon, 15 in Sevilla). Others it’s not free at all (Newark). It may or may not work (Sevilla did not), or it may work only for certain things. In Lisbon the Wi-Fi worked for iMessage but not for other apps, no idea why. This is the part where you remember how to read paper books because Pinterest is unavailable. It’s kind of nice actually.

6.  Wear a watch, and set it to the time zone of your destination as you board the plane.  If you’re consistent about it, you won’t have to guess whether your phone has updated the time yet or not. You can also use the world clock function on your phone to keep track as you’re traveling across time zones.

7.  Traveling across time zones can be disorienting, but try to get on your final destination’s schedule as soon as possible. I flew out of Newark at 8:20 PM, so I kept myself up a couple hours, then slept most of my 7-hour flight, woke up a little after 7 AM, and landed in Lisbon at 8:15 AM. Not exactly sure how all that math worked out, but something worked because I really haven’t felt the jet lag. You can also take melatonin about one and a half to two hours before you want to sleep to help readjust your body’s clock. And if it’s a time when you should be sleeping, turn off the screens, because that light really messes with your ability to fall asleep.

8.  If possible, travel with at least one other person. I absolutely think it’s important to be able to travel independently because that will make you confident in your ability to do so. But it was really, really nice having a group of four TCU students making the journey together so we could figure things out more easily this first time. Plus it makes the trip more fun!

9.  Sometimes you have to go through security mid-trip. When I went from St. Louis to Newark I did not, because there was a bus to change terminals that allowed me to stay in the secure area. When we arrived in Lisbon however, with a much shorter layover, we had to go through immigration (basically just show your passport and visa) and security. I wasn’t anticipating security and had to scramble to deal with shoes, my laptop, toiletries, etc. Fortunately there were no lines for us, since we only had about a 90-minute layover in an unfamiliar airport in a country where none of us spoke the language. (Aside: I totally said thank you in Portuguese (obrigada) as we landed in Sevilla,, and the flight attendant responded in Portuguese as if I knew the language. So that was awesome.)

10.  Airplane food…just…don’t count on it wowing you. It’s definitely edible though.

11.  This is the most important one. PACK ESSENTIALS–TOILETRIES, EXTRA CLOTHES, AND ANYTHING VALUABLE–IN YOUR CARRY-ON. When I arrived in Sevilla, my suitcase did not. It still hasn’t arrived. The type-A in me (okay, maybe that’s all of me) is stressed about that pretty much constantly. But luckily I was prepared with everything that I absolutely needed (though a different t-shirt and sweater to wear would be nice–washing the same clothes by hand and having no variety does get old pretty quickly, haha). And that makes the situation slightly less stressful. On the upside, my suitcase will, eventually, be delivered to my host home, so I won’t have to roll it six blocks from our hotel to the apartment. Another important thing is to put both your home and destination address on the luggage tag–my suitcase would be pretty useless if it were shipped to the U.S.

International travel can certainly sound daunting the first time, and it is definitely exhausting. But all in all, it is a lot of fun! (And even more fun once you arrive at your final stop, get some rest, and are ready to begin your adventure!)


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