When I first booked my flights from Memphis, U.S.A to Sydney, Australia, I was extremely excited to have the opportunity to fly for an extended period of time, and for the opportunity to study abroad as a whole. I knew that there would be challenges, as I expected with every aspect of my journey, but I still didn’t quite know what to expect. In preparation, I took bad opinions of flying long distances with a grain of salt and took helpful opinions with hopeful thinking. Hearing that “the food is horrible” and “it will be the most miserable jet lag ever” was not going to be helpful, right? But hearing decent advice such as “be sure to walk around every hour or so” and “make sure you pack snacks” were a lot more comforting.
After flying international for the first time, I have some helpful advice of my own. Of course, the experience will be different for everyone due to factors like age, physical size, airline variations, and destinations, but I hope that these tips will help everyone who reads in some form as they embark on an international flight of their own.
My first tips are on something that happens before the flight: packing! I was sure to pack everything that I needed for at least my first two weeks. Depending on the access you will have in your host country, you may only need to pack for a week or even a few days, but try to know before you go to avoid packing unnecessary items or leaving behind things you may need. Whichever option is best for you, be sure to weigh your bags several times before getting to the airport, and leave a few pounds/kilograms as wiggle room for scale variations (don’t be like me and have to choose which six pounds of luggage you’ll have to sacrifice because your luggage scale was off). Also, be sure to book your baggage allowance in advance and only take what you can handle if you will have to travel independently with your bags for some time. (Lugging 160 pounds of luggage with two broken wheels from terminal to terminal by yourself can prove to be quite the experience!)
Next, get to know your airline in advance. Will your flight have meals that cater to your needs? Will there be complimentary in-flight entertainment and wi-fi or should you bring a few books and some music? Will there be pillows and blankets, or should you bring your trusty neck pillow? Are there different luggage restrictions as you move from flight to flight? These are all important questions, but also be sure to check on factors such as seat selections, terminal transfers, and which layovers you may have to reclaim your luggage and go through customs at. These can all be critical factors in choosing an airline and itinerary. I learned that a 30-minute layover was not long enough at a destination where my airline had separate domestic and international terminals that involved a 30-minute bus transfer. Knowing that in advance could have saved me the stress of missing a flight and being moved to a later one!
Third, if not most important of all, be sure to rest! Time your rest to help your adjustment to a new time zone and to ensure that you will be well-rested upon arrival (or ready to sleep depending on when your flight will arrive). My flights and layovers from Memphis to my accommodation in Australia totaled at about 30 hours with my longest flight being about 18 hours long. Pair this with a positive 17 hour time difference, and you can bet that my internal clock was not on local time in Australia. However, I avoided a lot of fatigue by forcing myself to stay awake long past bedtime and far into the flight so that I would wake up at a decent local time. While it still took a few days to completely adjust, I was able to avoid fatigue during the day, and actually get some sleep at night (even if I did wake up at 4am every morning!).
I hope that these tips will be helpful to others as they embark on international journies and study abroad trips of their own. These three aspects proved to be the biggest learning experiences for me on my international journey. With that being said, inconvenient things happen to the best of us, but don’t panic! Sacrificing some of my favorite clothes to meet luggage restrictions, having my luggage wheels broken, missing a flight, and taking three days to sleep until 8am could have all been negative parts of my journey to Australia, but I embraced them as learning experiences instead! I encourage everyone to do this, not just with flying, but in life! Don’t let minor inconveniences ruin your day, but try to look past the frustrations and see the bright sides. For me, spending an entire semester in Sydney, Australia was worth all of these things, and I would do them all over again to get here. Best of luck to all, and I hope that my words will be helpful to you as you embark on your journey of flying and your journey of life!