Step 1: Buy a Ticket.
In my mind, I wasn’t studying abroad until I had a flight confirmation in my inbox, so I actually didn’t procrastinate very much on this one. I’ve heard that the best time to buy an international flight to Europe is about three to four months in advance, so I was looking diligently by April, and had purchased my round-trip tickets by May. I’m from Western New York, so I was comparing flights all over the north-Atlantic area to find the best deal. I disabled the cookies (whatever that means) on my computer and checked multiple sites almost every day. I found that the most inexpensive flight via a reputable airline was from Toronto, ON to Madrid with a connection in Philadelphia, PA (yes, that means leaving the US to fly right back into the US, but I swear it was cheaper and more accessible from where I live). I knew that I wanted to travel for a few weeks after my program ended throughout Europe, so I checked return dates from the beginning of January through the middle, when I resume classes in the US. I found that January 11th was the best day to return home while August 31st was the best day to fly in. When booking flights, make sure you check fares for flights within a week or so of your ideal date; I found that flying out of Canada on the last day of August was significantly cheaper than the same flight on the 1st of September. If I were to book the same flight today, it would have cost about $400 more than it did, so make sure you look for flights ahead of time.
Step 2: Get a Summer Job in a Remote Location with Very Limited Internet Access before You’ve Done Everything You Were Supposed to by June 1st.
This is where my story takes a turn. I had my plane ticket, but I didn’t have a visa, an updated physical, transportation to Toronto, or a place to stay when I arrived in Madrid for the five days before my housing began. I also didn’t have my own vehicle to gain access to these things. Luckily, I was trapped in a little town called Freedom (oh, the irony) in New Hampshire, where the nearest shopping center was 40 minutes away by car which, again, I didn’t have.
Okay, I was supposed to have my documents in for my visa by May, yet on August 1st I still hadn’t submitted my forms. In fact, it wasn’t until almost a week into August (less than a month before my program) that I finally sent in the paperwork from the third post office I’d visited in one day just to get it sorted out. Procrastinating on obtaining a visa I do not recommend simply because waiting for an unsure thing is one of the greatest terrors that I’ve faced. Did I fill out the forms right? Did I send it to the right place? What if everything gets lost? What if they don’t understand that they have to send my passport back to me because I inexplicably added an envelope with a return address? These questions and more like them haunted me for the week that it took for me to receive my visa in my passport. Shout-out to the Consulate General of Spain in New York.
An updated physical didn’t seem like such a big deal to me until I realized that I would not be given my housing assignment until I went to a physician and had the appropriate forms filled out for me. So, less than a week before my flight, I made an appointment with the first available physician in my hometown. Everyone I spoke with in the office surely deemed me insane for waiting until the last minute to accomplish what all of the others in my program had likely done months ago. But that’s how I roll, and that too worked out in my favor.
Transportation to Toronto was easy: I have family in Buffalo who graciously hosted me for a night before my departure. I was able to take a cross-border bus to Toronto for $11 (gotta love Megabus) and made it to the airport with hours to spare.
Finally, I’ll tell you about finding accommodations in Madrid for the four nights before my program’s orientation. This always seems to be the most difficult part for me probably because there are so many options that are appealing in different ways. When looking for a place to stay, I first look at the price, then at a multitude of other factors including but not limited to: location and accessibility, reviews, amenities (like WiFi and free breakfast), culture, and any disadvantages. Because I’m young and adventurous, I decided to stay at a youth hostel. I’ll write more about this decision and why it was a great one in my next blog post (which I assure you will be much more brief than this one), so stay tuned!
Step 3: Don’t Pack Your Bag until the Day You’re Leaving.
There were so many times when I considered packing my bag in the week that I was home, but I managed to come up with an excuse not to every single time. Ultimately, I said it was because I wanted to do laundry on my last day in my city so that I could bring my favorite socks and wear them the day before (if you’ve ever procrastinated before, you’ll empathize with this ridiculous logic). So, sure enough, I packed my clothes, shoes, contacts, and a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s into my suitcase no more than half an hour before I left for Canada. Honestly, my mom was much more stressed about it than I was. The thought process that kept me so chill was that it was all just stuff that I could easily replace if need be. I realized that I don’t really need anything that I can’t get for more than 5 dollars, so there’s no need to stress about packing everything that I own.
While I’m sure I would have felt more prepared if I’d packed a week or even a day in advance, or received my housing assignment more than a week ago, I do not regret any of my procrastination. In the end, it all worked out -- I’ve made it to Madrid and I’ve taken care of everything that is necessary to be here. I’m appreciative of all of the people who’ve helped me to get to this point, and I’m incredibly excited to embark on this adventure.
More Blogs From This Author
<p>Mariah is a free-spirited adventurer from the University of Rochester. She spends much of her free time either planning her travels around the world or travelling. Wherever she is Mariah enjoys trying new foods, singing the wrong words to music, and exploring with friends. Her favorite part of the week is when she faces the crowds for fresh food and great deals from open air markets; in her opinion, bargaining is a universal language.</p>