I have been in Berlin for almost two whole weeks now, and I think the city is unhappy about that.
The issues with travel started off pretty minor, but things worsened the closer I got to Berlin. Before my first flight even left the United States, I lost my waterbottle. This may not seem like a big deal, but it definitely was a bad omen for the rest of my travel experience. After my first leg of travel, I sprinted to my next gate to arrive just in time before take off. My second leg, the eight hour flight, was spent in the very last row of the plane, right next to the bathroom. There is something about planes that makes people’s bladders miniscule. After my third and final flight, I eagerly found my way to the baggage claim, where I waited for nothing. I joined the line of countless others with missing bags, but to no avail.
From here, I accepted the momentary loss of the bag (and my favorite pair of pants within it) in order to find my hotel and end my 20+ hour day of traveling. A student in the same program as me from my homeschool arrived shortly after me, so I was grateful enough to meet up with him and force him to become my “Berlin Bestie.” Berlin Bestie and I made the frugal decision to take public transportation instead of a taxi. This decision led to us, two Texans, navigating public transportation like we have never seen before. Somehow, we conquered the S-Bahn and had enough room for all of our luggage.
After arriving at the station we thought we needed, we were faced with another problem: no cell service. Neither of us wanted to spend the $10 international fee to pull up GoogleMaps, so we let the wind guide us. Jetlagged, exhausted, and with five bags between the both of us, we wandered around Berlin, hoping that our hotel would just jump out at us. After many wrong turns, we finally saw the welcoming soviet-style cement building labeled “The Student Hotel.” We were home.
A few days later, I replaced my waterbottle and was reunited with my missing suitcase. I was convinced that this marked a turning point in my journey; hydrated and clothed, I was ready to take on Berlin.
And I did.
For five days.
Then I got COVID.
I am convinced some greater powers in the universe are laughing at me right now, but I am still kicking. I was able to survive the mayhem of international travel, so I am prepared to offer some tips to help you not be the laughing stock of the gods as well.
- Hang on to your waterbottle for dear life. In my short time here, I realized that hydration is an often overlooked aspect of traveling to Europe. In the states, free water at restaurants and public water fountains are common, but in Berlin, I resorted to sticking my head under a sink faucet for survival.
- An hour for a layover, even a domestic one, is not enough. Do not put too much trust into your airline to take off and arrive on time. Give yourself a grace period and space out your flights. Even if it makes your journey longer, it will be worth it.
- Be prepared to lose your luggage. Bring extra clothes in your carry-on bag that you stow under the seat on the plane. You may be forced to check your overhead bag, so make sure your clothes, toothbrush, and other essential items are in the bag that never leaves you.
- Plan your transportation from the airport to your housing before you leave your hometown. Download a map, weigh the options for taxis. If you can, contact the people in your program and try to get a travel buddy. Berlin Bestie saved me.
- Recognize that COVID is still prevalent. Even if you do everything right, you may still get sick. That is okay. You shouldn’t let COVID prevent you from experiencing this journey to the fullest, but you may have to adjust your expectations for your semester in order to stay safe and still have fun.
As I look back on my first two weeks and remember the chaos of travel and my immediate onset of COVID, I feel exhausted. I feared for the worst, and, arguably, the worst happened. But I live to tell the tale! I know that if I can survive these first two weeks of mayhem, I will be able to handle anything else that Berlin throws at me. Berlin and I had a rocky start, but I am determined to make the city love me as much as I love it.
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Hallo! My name is Kassidy Witt, and I am a senior political science major at Trinity University in San Antonio, TX. I moved around the United States a lot growing up, yet my travel bug is still not content. I love adventure and I am a huge history nerd, so I am beyond excited to study in Berlin this fall!