Marshall University's Student Newspaper

The Parthenon

Marshall University's Student Newspaper

The Parthenon

Marshall University's Student Newspaper

The Parthenon

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Bex Abroad: Traveling to the Destination

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Congratulations, you’ve officially been accepted into your chosen study abroad program. Now comes the next important step: how will you get there? Let’s talk about it. 

Timing when to buy the flight was challenging. Having bought two tickets to England, I have found that three to four months prior to leaving is a sweet spot for lowest prices. 

I cannot recommend enough setting a tracker on Google Flights. It will email you when the tickets are at their most expensive, least expensive and if there is a date near your selected date that’s cheaper. It pays off to be a bit flexible with your departure date. 

Most schools will have what’s called an “airport pick-up day,” where you can reserve your space on a bus from the airport to your new school. This could be a wonderful way to meet some people you’ll be studying with and have a guaranteed way to get exactly where you need to be. 

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Sure, you could Uber or take a taxi, but the fear of not knowing where you are and trusting your Google Maps searches to be correct—frankly, that would be too much for me. There’s also the issue of having a working phone when landing in a new country, which I’ll talk about in a different “Bex Abroad.”

I was lucky enough to have some friends come to pick me up at the airport, so I honestly experienced neither of these things. These are just things I’ve learned as an international exchange student engaging the services and fears that come with that.

If you decide to set the tracker on Google Flights, I also recommend you have the money for the ticket set aside and ready. When you get the email that says ticket prices are low, you need to jump on that opportunity. I made the mistake of trying to wait out buying my return ticket back to America, and I am literally paying the price. The email said tickets were at their lowest at around $850, and I thought I could wait it out and get something for $650. 

Turns out, I could not! I currently don’t have a flight booked back to America, breaking my own 3-4 month buying rule.I will likely have to pay around $1200 for my flight home, which is so expensive, I’m thinking about just staying here forever. I can’t afford either option, really. 

If you’ve never taken a flight before—internationally or otherwise— here is the general breakdown of how it works. First thing, when you walk in the airport, you need to find the desk for the airline you’re flying with. At this desk, you’ll receive your physical ticket and check your bags. Most airlines will include one checked back that weighs under 50 pounds. 

I brought two suitcases, a big travel backpack, and a tote (more on packing later as well). My flight included two checked bags, a carry on and the tote was small enough to count as a personal item. After checking in your bags, you’ll need to have your passport ready to give the attendant, and you’ll head towards security. 

Going through the TSA is not as scary as I thought. You’ll need to remove your shoes, purse, jacket and empty your pockets. They provide little bins that you can put your belongings in to be scanned. Put your carry on in one and your shoes, jacket, pocket contents and passport in the other. Then go through the line waiting to be scanned, walk through a body scanner and then it’s over! You collect your items at the end of the line, and there are often benches where you can stop to put on your shoes and backpack. 

This is where it starts to get tricky: finding your gate. I can’t speak for any other airports, as I have only ever flown out of airports in Virginia and DC, but both of those airports have had big television screens right outside the TSA checkpoint that display the names of flights and their gates. The name of your flight will be on your printed out ticket. If you get confused, there’s almost always an information desk right by the screens, and they can help you. What you’re looking for is a number and a letter, designating the platform and gate. My flight was at B47, so I had to take a shuttle to platform B and find gate 47. 

Once at your gate, it’s time to relax! There are restaurants and little shops near every gate, and you’re just sitting there and waiting. For international flights, the common understanding is to arrive at the airport 3 hours early. I have consistently done this, and it’s never taken me more than an hour to get through security and find my gate, leaving me a delightful two hours to enjoy a burger and read my book. 

Also printed on your ticket will be a group number. This is your boarding group. I was in group 3, but they boarded first class, people with small children, elderly and disabled people before they even started the groups. So don’t rush to get in immediately when they start saying, “Now boarding….“ Unless you’re in one of the groups listed above, it will likely be 30 to 45 minutes before you actually get on the plane. 

Once on the plane, they will offer everyone a glass of wine, juice or water. Depending on how long your flight is, they will also provide food service. My flight was 7 hours overnight, so I was served dinner and breakfast. 

After the flight takes off, they will dim the lights and it’s time to sleep! You could also watch movies; although, depending on the time of your flight and the time difference between America and the country you’re going to, I highly recommend sleeping through the flight and getting a head start on the jet lag you will experience for the next 48 hours. 

That’s the quick and dirty rundown of getting on the plane. I’ve started school and finally adjusted to being 5 hours ahead of everyone at home. I can’t wait to tell you all about packing, maintaining relationships at home, learning how to deal with different currencies and the differences between American universities and British universities. 

See you in 104 days, Marshall!

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