Whether you're coming or going, international flights can be daunting for even the most seasoned travelers. For students leaving to study abroad, the experience can be magnified by the nervousness you feel about what life will be like once you touch down. How well you abate your anxiety lies in how well you plan ahead.
I took my first international flight from Los Angeles to Amsterdam in my 20s, and it was truly an eye-opening experience. By the end of it, I was practically clawing at the window as if doing so would allow me to get off the plane faster. Before you even get on a plane, you should mentally prepare for what it means to be stuck in a seat for that long.
Expecting the time to fly isn't going to set you up for success — no matter how many books, movies, puzzles, or sleeping pills you pack. That being said, there are ways to make the flight a lot easier.
Here are a few tips for the soon-to-be jet setter.
Distract Yourself with Guilty Pleasures
Every person will deal with a long-haul flight differently, but most people will fare better in the air if they opt for distracting entertainment options.
This means that if you're feeling anxious about living in a foreign country, the flight might not be the time to watch a horror movie. Instead, pick out movies and songs that make you feel happy or calm. Music should have a soothing quality (think: Sade, Sting or Santana). When it comes to movies and books, choose titles that make you laugh or those that make you feel hopeful. Don't worry about the artistic merit.
My personal intellectual threshold for movies plummets the moment I step on a plane, calling me to such classic cinema as “Sweet Home Alabama” where Reese Witherspoon’s character meets an infant in a bar of her hometown. You can also use this opportunity to read guilty pleasures like “Twilight” or finally listen to the “Serial” podcast.
The entertainment you choose is all about what takes your mind off the fact that it's already been five hours, and you still have another seven to go.
Focus on Breathing
Being seated in a quiet plane for hours provides the perfect setting for meditation. Meditating can be especially useful if you’re feeling nervous about the upcoming months.
Close your eyes and take deep breaths, concentrating on calming your mind. Take some time to reflect on all you have to be grateful for, including the opportunity to study abroad, and the unique experiences you’re sure to have during your trip.
Meditating puts you in the moment, and it can have long-term effects far after you exhale your last concentrated breath.
Build Your Bucket List
Not sure where you want to travel during university holidays? Use this time on the plane to build your study abroad bucket list, noting the food you want to try, places you want to visit, and experiences you want to have.
Create a list of challenges for yourself too. Here are a few examples:
- Spend one full day speaking the local language.
- Go on an adventure with a new friend.
- Send a postcard back home from every country you visit.
- Learn how to cook your favorite local dish.
Writing down your goals will get you even more excited for the adventures to come.
Journal to Freedom
Similarly, journaling can be a great way to pass the time, allowing you to get lost in your thoughts. Just like meditation and list-building, it can help you work through the hopes and fears you have about who you'll meet and what you'll do when you land.
Keep this journal throughout your study abroad trip, and make a point to write in it whenever you experience something particularly meaningful. Whether you saw a beautiful sunrise, learned something new, went on the trip of a lifetime or made a new friend, try to write down all the details – both big and small – about your trip so you can reminisce for years to come.
You may feel cramped, have trouble sleeping and experience jet lag when you land, but a few tips can help you stay healthy on your flight.
- Hydrate. Drink plenty of water well before your flight, and continue doing so once you’re on the plane. Air travel can cause some serious dehydration as a result of the lack of humidity in the cabin.
- Wear layers and pack some vitamin C tablets so you can stay warm in the cold cabin and boost your immune system mid-flight.
- Adjust your internal clock to that of your destination by timing your meals and sleeping patterns with the local time zone. If you wear an analog watch, change the time on it before you board, so it’s easier to identify the time.
- Finally, relax and enjoy some time to yourself before the hustle and bustle of your new adventure!
Meredith worked for a travel corporation and survived multiple trips overseas to various countries. She brings you her tips, so students of all kinds can keep their spirits up when they're in the air.