Before Arriving: Some Thoughts

Paikea Houston headshot
Paikea Houston
January 4, 2024

Bonjour, mes cheris!

Welcome to my blog! If you aren’t already familiar with me, my name is Paikea and I am on my way to Paris!

Le sujet du jour is general thoughts I have before departure, and what you might go through the eve before travel. 

Avant tout, I want to clarify that everybody’s experience will look different depending on where they are coming from and where they are going. My process for studying abroad started really early, with academic planning, approvals, appointments, applications, more approvals, and finally, sitting in an airport pizza place, waiting for food. All I can say is that this whole experience (that I haven’t even truly started) feels like a dream–intangible, like I’ll open my eyes any time now and it isn’t real. Now, however, with my stomach grumbling, a headache starting to brew, and an itchy feeling all over of wanting to speed it up, to just be there, it feels all too real. Finally, the nerves, the anticipation, and the fear have set in. I’ve not yet left my country and I am getting cold feet (something I didn’t think possible when the airport is absolutely sweltering right now). Point is, for this blog, I am going to cover all the emotions, the thoughts, the worries, the expectations, and some healthy travel tips before the trip.

D’abordyou might feel fear. This is probably the strongest emotion because it drags alongside it anxiety, stress, and nerves. You can be afraid for many reasons: maybe this is your first time getting on a plane, traveling to another country, committing to a long-term program, or going alone. This is my first time in Europe, but I am a pretty well-seasoned traveler in every other regard, it’s not really a concern for me otherwise because I am not really afraid of the trip itself…I am afraid of being on my own in a strange country where I barely know the language. I am afraid of the commitment I am about to make, and whether or not I made the right decision. Here is the thing, though. When are you going to get an opportunity like this? The reasons you chose to sign the applications, the commitments, and begin planning are the same reasons why you should hold on to the excitement and the anticipation and try to let go of the fear. You are so close to beginning the true part of your journey! You have been planning for months to get this chance and you are almost there. You have gotten over every hurdle except this last leg, which is just a plane/train/car/boat ride away. Think about everything you have done to get here, to get to this final moment before the beginning…every document you had to fill out, every phone call you had to make, every appointment you had to meet–all for this. Every moment after this for 5 months is going to be the experience you have been waiting for and dreaming about. A new land, new people, new languages, new adventures. Take this moment of apprehension as the final check of “Is this worth it?”, and then smile, grip your luggage a little tighter, and cross the boarding threshold, down the hallway, and onto the plane. 

Deuxièmementyou might feel lonely. Whether you are making this voyage on your own or with your parents helping you start out, you might feel all alone, which is fair. This is your journey, your experience. It is okay to feel alone, but don’t let it discourage you. It isn’t a permanent state, you are going to meet new people (you can even start with your plane neighbor!) and make loads of new friends. In your program, there are going to be other people who are coming from all over the world to go through a similar experience. Instead of lonely, see it as independent. An opportunity for you to adventure and prove your strength and will to explore, to have something exciting for yourself, and to broaden your horizons with a new language, a new culture, and a new people. In real terms…this world has 8 billion people, if you reach out, you are never truly alone!

For our happier émotions, all I can say is keep being excited about going! This is a big moment! You are on the precipice of an adventure, an adventure that could very well change your life if you let it. You can make lifelong friends, explore the secrets of cities and the treasures of small towns, and you can fall in love with places, people, and food. I know I am certainly thinking about all the food and music I will have the chance to explore while abroad. Croissants fraîchement sortis du four, pain au chocolate gooey and sweet and deliciously flaky, crêpes for every hour of the day and so much crunchy, fluffy bread! What are you looking forward to? While you wait to board, or while you are on your plane, too buzzed with excitement to sleep, write a list! Have a little bucket list of everything you want to see and do, and some long-term goals to keep you grounded.

In this little section, I will cover what I packed for my journey and some last-minute tips. My tip is to always pack light, it may feel like you are underpacking, but trust me–even if you have to buy what you need there are plenty of places where you can buy it for cheap, it just may require a little online digging. I brought maybe 7 shirts, all cotton, of varying styles. My color of choice is black and to stay away from graphics or large logos–the point being to be able to make as many clothing combinations as possible with as few items, and clothing that is comfortable, and casual, but easy to upscale with a few choice additions. I brought 4 pairs of pants: jeans, dress pants, cargo pants (for more intense adventuring), and business casual pants. I brought a couple of changes of athletic gear, a skirt, and a blazer. I brought 2 weeks worth of undergarments (which may seem overkill) but they are small and easy to carry. For my flight, I wore a dress and blazer so they wouldn’t take up space in my luggage. I wore a pair of comfy booties, and carried some flats and flip-flops. I would recommend carrying a pair of sneakers, and I would have brought my own but mine were a bit too battered to make the journey. All of this fits in a single carry-on duffel bag! Of course, chargers, a sweater, a coat, several wallets, a laptop, and anything else that is easy to carry and you don’t really feel like buying. I have my calculator and some pens, but I left behind my notebooks. I even brought my metal water bottle. But truly, anything you might need you can buy abroad, especially clothes. Save that extra room for the pricey items you really can’t afford to buy, and don’t forget any medications or travel documents! Here is another tip: avoid checking your luggage! Most of the time, planes will estimate not having enough space in the overhead compartments for your carry-on and will ask for volunteers to check their luggage for free. That is your chance to check your bigger carry-on luggage (keep all necessary documents in the smaller carry-on) with less hassle and less money! Either before or after your journey, purchase a security wallet. My recommendation is a runner’s wallet as it will be lighter and will wrap around your waist under your clothes, making it harder for people to steal your valuables (fanny packs stick out horribly and are generally very disorganized and cumbersome). Tuck your primary wallet and passport and any documentation you might need in the little pouches and enjoy the comfort of always knowing where they are located without the risk of having them lifted off you. Another precaution you can take is having a false wallet, and maybe a secondary wallet. The false wallet is the one you might carry some traveling cash in and some voided or false credit cards. You use it only to make small purchases in cash and use it as the visible wallet that you carry where you would usually carry your primary wallet. If someone is going to steal something, they are going to steal maybe 20 bucks and a library card–hardly the end of the world. Your primary wallet with your main credit card and the more serious quantities of cash should be tucked away, close to your person, and should be used sparingly. If you have any other credit cards, leave them at home in a safe in a secondary wallet, just in case your false wallet and primary wallet get stolen. The important bit is to never carry all of your forms of capital on you in one place or at once. Have photocopies of your passport and visa in your primary wallet as well… never hurts to be prepared. These precautions might seem unnecessary or paranoid, and you can certainly customize your preparations to your degree of comfort, but in large cities or hubs, or any place where you might stick out as “not from here," these precautions can save you hundreds of dollars spent replacing valuable items. 

Enfin, you deserve the best experience abroad so help yourself by being open to receiving help and keeping up your excitement and energy. You are so close to embarking on this one-of-a-kind journey, and I know in my heart you are going to have one of the greatest times of your life!

À la prochaine!

More Blogs From This Author

View All Blogs
Paikea Houston headshot

Paikea Houston

I am a person who loves her family, good food, and sunshine. I always believe in trying things at least once for failure is never certain. I'm here to take you along with me to travel further, work harder, and dive headlong into the great wide world!

2024 Spring
Home University:
Penn State University
Explore Blogs