A Beginners Guide to Flying to Europe

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Sylvia Waechter
January 27, 2024
A large red suitcase containing packing cubes filled with clothes and various accessories

I don’t think the fact that my next semester will be spent in Berlin has set in yet. My bags are slowly getting packed, I’ve printed all my travel documents, and even added Berlin to my weather app, but I still haven’t fully realized that I’ll be in Germany in less than a week. I have, however, felt all the anxiety about traveling to a new place. Personally, my best method to help soothe these feelings is to research, and find out as much as I can about my future. I’ve used many sources, from friends that have studied abroad to social media to a classic late-night panic google search. Below, is a summary of my research:

Getting to (and Through) the Airport

My research on foreign travel is dominated by one question: how do I, a college student who’s never traveled alone before, make it to Germany from the midwestern United States? I now know how long before your flight you should get to the airport (about 2 hours). I’ve also started looking at maps of the airports I’m traveling through, to have a general idea of where I need to go. Through careful combing of the TSA website, I’ve learned that I probably won’t get arrested for bringing my sewing kit through airport security. You can find a full list of prohibited items at https://www.tsa.gov/travel/security-screening/whatcanibring/all. I’ve double checked the size of my carry-on and checked bag to make sure I won’t get charged extra. This information is usually sent with the ticket confirmation.


Packing, it seems, is one of the most popular topics in preparation for study abroad. I’ve watched many videos, read many blogs, and asked many people for packing tips. I am a chronic underpacker (rare, I know) and it seems like my underpacking habits might pay off this time, though, since most sources insist that students tend to regret packing too much. 

Listed below are the tips that I’m following as I plan out what I’m bringing:

  • Make a list, mental or physical, of clothing items you wear frequently
  • Avoid items you might like but don’t wear frequently (i.e. that gorgeous dress hanging in your closet that you’ve only worn to two events)
  • You only need one pair of jeans (I think I’m actually going to break this rule, but it’s a good guiding principle)
  • Only bring 3 pairs of shoes: tennis shoes, boots, and something you can dress up
  • Bring versatile pieces that can be worn casually or dressed up
  • Check the climate/weather, and bring layering pieces
  • Packing cubes are life changers, they allow you to sort out your clothes and compress them to take up as little space as possible

I have yet to see if my packing tips will serve me in the coming months, but having these guidelines has made the task of packing less daunting.


Jet Lag

One thing that’s been on my mind for several weeks is the challenge of jet lag. I am definitely someone that needs a full 8 hours of sleep to make it through the day so the task of changing my sleep schedule by 7 hours is daunting. After hearing advice (some unprompted) about jet lag from multiple people, the best method is to get a good night's sleep before your flight, sleep on the flight as much as possible, then power-through the next day. Try to avoid taking long naps during your first day abroad, stick to a relatively normal eating schedule for that time zone (and culture!) and go to bed at a regular time. The hope is that this day will set you up for success in the following weeks.


On-flight Activities

My worst fear is probably sitting in the same place for 7 hours, which is exactly what I’ll be doing in a couple days. Some of that time will be spent sleeping, but on the 15-hour total journey I’ll have a lot of down time. Here’s what I plan on doing during that time:

  • Reading: this one seems like a no-brainer, but I bought a captivating mid-length book for my travels that will be easily accessible
  • Gentle movement: during layovers this could be walking around the terminal, or heel raises while waiting to board. During long flights seat stretches help prevent stiffness or sore joints
  • Snacking: one meal on an airplane will not last me for the trip. I've started stocking up on all my favorite (non-smelly) snacks to keep me energized throughout the day. Eating at regular intervals will also help combat jet lag!
  • Drinking water: although this will increase airplane bathroom trips (ew), it's important to stay hydrated. Airplanes have really dry air, and drinking water also helps with jet lag
  • Having a conversation: a chatty seat-mate might be some people’s worst fear, but it doesn’t hurt to test out the waters, you could meet someone really interesting!

Despite my nerves, I could not be more thrilled to embark on this journey. In the end, those little details won’t derail my trip. I won’t remember being bored on my flight or that I didn’t bring enough sweaters, but I will remember the life changing experiences that study abroad brings.

Bis bald!

Sylvia Waechter

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Sylvia Waechter

Guten tag! My name is Sylvia, I'm an Urban Studies student at the University of Illinois - Chicago and I'll be studying in Berlin, Germany this semester! I'm a total public transportation nerd and love to write reviews of different transit systems that I ride on. Follow along as I explore Berlin, travel around Europe, and continue my education as an 'Urbanist in training'.

2024 Spring
Home University:
University of Illinois at Chicago
Urban Studies
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