5 Travel Lessons I Learned While Returning From Study Abroad
Saying goodbye to Leipzig was hard. Actually coming home was even harder.
I like to think of the day I came home from studying abroad as a “Murphy’s Law day” – it seemed that everything that possibly could have gone wrong, did go wrong. Unfortunately, I’m not the only person to run into problems while traveling, and I won’t be the last. Here’s a few lessons I learned that day and how you can make the best of a bad situation should one arise while traveling.
1. Acknowledge that things can and will go wrong, even if you’ve done everything right.
On Saturday, June 8, 2013, I was prepared for a long day of flying. Two classmates and I would fly from Leipzig, Germany, where we’d been studying abroad, to Munich to Philadelphia and finally to sweet home Columbus, Ohio. Our Munich-Leipzig flight was scheduled to leave at 9:30 a.m., and we were sitting on the concourse by eight.
Mechanical issues meant that our plane was delayed until 11:45. The flight to Munich would last about an hour, which would give us almost no time to make our 12:50 plane to Philadelphia. Prepared to hit the ground running the second our plane pulled up to the gate in Munich, I was on edge for the whole flight.
2. Run like the wind, even if you’ve already missed your flight/train/bus/etc.
There are few feelings more helplessly devastating than watching a plane leave without you on it – especially if said plane is about to make an eight-and-a-half hour journey across the Atlantic. Sure enough, just as we taxied in Munich, we saw our Philadelphia-bound U.S. Airways jumbo jet pull away from its gate. Even though we knew there was no way we’d be making it on that plane, we booked it over to the Lufthansa service desk, anyway. For all we knew, there could be another plane leaving for the U.S. in ten minutes.
We were in luck. “There is a plane to Washington at 3:30,” the kind man at the desk told us in his thick German accent. “From there, you can get a plane to Columbus at 9:45 p.m. and be home by 11:30.”
We eagerly booked our tickets on this new series of flights – mercifully not having to pay a dime due to the error on the part of the airline – and were even allowed to use the phones at the service desk to call our parents in the U.S. and explain the situation.
3. Proverbial lightning can strike twice. Prepare accordingly.
I’d love to tell you that we were done with delayed flights for the day, but I’d be lying. Our D.C.-bound flight was delayed for an hour and a half after we had already boarded. We finally took off around 5, giving us an estimated landing time of about 8:30 p.m. local time in Washington. We were going to have an hour and 15 minutes to get through immigration, pick up our checked bags, go through customs, re-check our bags, go through security, and make it to the gate. While the plane was landing, we did as much as possible to be prepared, getting our passports and customs forms out and ready and whatnot. The last thing I wanted to do was be stuck rooting through the depths of my purse for something important while precious time was running out.
4. Break the rules if need be, but be smart about it.
We reached the U.S. Citizens line at immigration only to see the line was already about 300 U.S. citizens long. We waited for a few minutes, then realized at that rate we’d never make the plane – so we ducked out of line and walked up to the front, where we quickly explained our situation to the people at the very front. Thankfully, they were understanding and let us go in front of them. I like to think that people are inherently good, so don’t be afraid to ask for a small favor like this if times are desperate.
5. KEEP CALM…and call Mom.
We actually arrived at the gate while the Columbus plane was still sitting outside, but they refused to open the gate and let us board. Once again, we went to talk to the service desk, where we were told that we could get a free hotel voucher courtesy of the airline and get booked on the next flight to Columbus at 8 a.m. the next morning.
While they were printing our boarding passes for the new flight, I stepped aside to call home. As the phone was ringing, I watched the plane to Columbus pull off towards the runway and speed away into the sky.
I’d tried to stay calm for most of the day, but now the frustration had gotten the best of me. The second my mom answered her phone, I burst into tears right there in the middle of the airport as I explained that I wouldn’t be coming home that night.
“Calm down,” was all my mom could say for the first minute or so that we were on the phone. “Calm down.” And she was right – having an emotional breakdown in the middle of one of the biggest airports in the U.S. isn’t such a smart idea. Try not to draw attention to yourself, no matter how stressed you are.
I was originally supposed to be home at 7:45 p.m. on Saturday night, but didn’t arrive until 9:30 a.m. Sunday morning. Despite the stress and frustration of my trip, I’m glad I experienced that – it was a learning experience in every sense of the word. International travel is unpredictable by nature, but on my next trip, I feel confident knowing that if I got through this, I can get through just about anything.