I have been in London for a few weeks now and am enjoying it immensely! I thought I might share some things I wish I knew before coming, namely how to prepare for a long, international trip.
Pre-departure: Firstly, getting all your ducks in a row as early as possible is critical to minimizing stress. This can include calling your bank, making copies of important documents, withdrawing foreign currency, and so much more! Of course, you also need to buy all the essentials like luggage, but you must not overpack, or you will undoubtedly regret it.
If you tend to be a preparer and want to bring everything (like me)- take out at least half of the clothes you packed. Focus on versatile pieces and triple-check the weather right before you leave. I left my carry-on virtually empty, and two weeks in realized I should’ve packed even less than I had. You should not struggle with space or weight limits on the way there!! Think of a manageable amount-not your whole closet. The same goes for toiletries and other essentials. If you are going to Europe or any other developed country you will be able to buy anything you might need. Notably, anything that is irreplaceable needs to go in your carry-on!
Flight: If you have never flown before or only flown domestically, the idea of taking a flight halfway across the world can be overwhelming! But the process is quite simple, and I will explain the steps I took to fly from Birmingham to London with a stopover in Atlanta. After you book your flight, stay updated on any flight changes. 24 hours before departure, you can use your airline’s app to check-in and often pay for your checked bag before even getting to the airport!
On the big day, account for at least 3 hours before your flight, not counting travel time. For example, it takes about an hour to get to the BHM airport, so I left for my flight a little over 4 hours early. Once you get to the airport, you will head to your airline’s kiosk, where you will receive your boarding pass and drop off your checked bag.
From there, you will head to security. Keep in mind you will need to take off your shoes, belt, and any metal from your pockets, so making this process as simple and quick as possible is crucial (ex., Shoes you can slip on and off). Additionally, you often have to take out any big electronics and food from a carry-on bag, so if you bring a backpack, pack to get these items in and out easily. You will want to keep any items you want access to throughout the flight process (including layovers) in a carry-on bag. This might include headphones, Dramamine, a book, a blanket, etc. You also want easy access to any important documents such as your passport, ID, and bank card.
After you make it through security, find your gate. Your gate number will be printed on your boarding ticket but always double-check the app as it often updates. Once you get to your gate, congratulations! You can relax! Assess the time and maybe grab a snack or use the restroom.
Arrival: Once you deplane, you will go through customs which works a little differently in each country. But instructions are usually well marked, and you can always ask a security guard if you are confused. After that, you leave the airport and likely head to your accommodations.
At this stage, it is important to adapt to the local time zone as quickly as possible! If you land and it is morning, then make sure you stay up all day and vice versa; this will make jet lag much easier to deal with, and you will be able to enjoy and explore your first few days in your new country. Additionally, hydrate and try to eat and conventional times (even though your body will likely be very confused).