5 Tips for Surviving International Travel

Isabella DeSpirito is a student at The Ohio State University, and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is currently studying abroad with ISA in Valparaiso, Chile.

So, you’re going abroad for the semester! Whether it is your first time out of the U.S. or not your first rodeo, there are a few important things to keep in mind when traveling abroad. I have found these essential when traveling to Santiago, Chile this week. My journey included 8-hour flight delays, accompanied with hunger, exhaustion, and the grand finale: the loss of two suitcases. The list below is what I’ve learned from my latest international flight.

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This is the golden rule for international travel. Yes, I’m sure your parents and many others have told you to “be patient,” but of course, it’s harder than it looks. During my travels this week, I stood in hour-long lines to re-book flights, sat on the tarmac for almost 3 hours, and waited in line to file a claim for my lost luggage. All the while, I maintained patience, since I really had nothing urgent I was missing. I relaxed, read a book, listened to music, or just people-watched in the airport. While waiting in line to re-book my flight out of Boston, I put a smile on and managed to laugh about the situation. Being patient will make your travel easier and give you less of a headache!

  1. Stay hydrated!

I was able to stay very level-headed in the airports because I was always drinking water! I would buy a bottle right after going through security, and have it with me until having to go through secondary security/customs. It is an easy attitude and energy boost that is as simple as buying a bottle of water. Don’t rely on the flight attendants to serve you a beverage on every flight either: my flight out of Boston was so turbulent that the pilot mandated that the flight attendants stay seated the entire time. Try to prepare for situations like this.

  1. Stay calm. Do NOT panic!

I learned this the moment I saw Carousel 1 stop dead in its tracks. That was all the luggage for Flight 533, they said. Go to the baggage services, they said. In a normal situation at home, I would probably start freaking out if I didn’t find my luggage after a flight. I would call my parents, maybe crying, not knowing how I’d survive. So now I was in a foreign country, with a phone that can’t make international calls, and did not know what to do. I found an information booth, and taking a deep breath before speaking in a trembling voice, I asked where I should go. I eventually stood in the baggage line, being patient for at least an hour, watching other customers yelling and blaming the associates at the counter while wondering, “how does that help?” So, I remained calm, explained my situation, and went through customs as normal.

  1. Pack your carry-on as if you’re packing a weekend bag.

Speaking of lost luggage, I was lucky that I had taken this piece of advice, so I had most essentials I needed for the two days I was luggage-less. I had packed three full outfits, two pairs of shoes, a small medicine bag, a small toiletry bag (deodorant, toothbrush, medications), and all my electronics and chargers. So all that was really left in my suitcases were clothes and shoes. This helped incredibly because I did not have to buy everything the first night in Santiago. I was definitely “roughing it” for about 48 hours, but I had the essentials. This advice was crucial for me staying calm throughout the process, because at least I had the basics.

  1. Never let go of your passport.

I was always told this, especially when traveling in countries like Bolivia: if you lost your passport there, you’d have a hard time getting a new one considering that for years there hasn’t been a fully functional US embassy. I first learned this piece of advice when flying through Heathrow in London. I was close to missing my flight (or so I thought, due to the time difference) and was rushing through security. I threw everything down in the bins and went through, only to find that my passport was gone. Panicking for a few seconds (see #3), I eventually found it in SOMEONE ELSE’s bin. Someone could have stolen it or thought it was theirs. I was reminded of this in JFK when someone made this mistake and their passport fell through the metal detector. What a pain! If your passport gets into the wrong hands, it may be hard to the return to the U.S., or someone could try to steal your identity.

Follow these five steps, and if your journey is similar to mine, with obstacles and unexpected turns, you’ll be prepared for anything!


The world awaits…discover it.


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