5 things to do once you’ve been accepted to a study abroad program:
1. Booking Your Study Abroad Flights
In terms of priority, booking your flight and getting your visa should be at the top of the list. I’ll be the first to admit, I had no idea how to book a flight before I went abroad. I didn’t realize that all you really have to do is pick a date and time, throw down your passport information, and type in your credit card number to book an international flight.
I’m not really too embarrassed about it either. Every other time I flew, someone else had booked the flight for me. I’m assuming it’s the same for a lot of other college students out there. Well it’s time to change that because if you plan on doing any traveling while abroad, it’s going to be up to you to make it happen.
What better way to start than with your first transoceanic flight to your abroad university half way around the world? At its simplest, the process is pretty much what I outlined above, and when you’re booking flights for your travels while abroad, there isn’t much more you have to consider.
Your flights to and from home, however, are a little different. Before you go book your flight, take these things into consideration. It will save you a lot of time, money and headaches in the long run.
Check luggage costs: Most airlines will let you check two suitcases with no charge on an international flight. However, for some people like myself, you may have to check a third bag and that can be costly. I had to pay an additional $150 dollars to get my clubs over to Scotland (well worth it by the way, and still cheaper than shipping them over via courier service). There isn’t really a way around this – just be aware of what the costs are, and compare airlines as there’s a chance some might charge you even for a second bag.
Make sure the airline you choose allows you to amend your travel dates. The start date of the semester is usually set in stone, so there’s no question when you’ll need to be there. The end of the semester is a different story. When you first book your flight, coordinate your return flight with the last day of exams. Exam periods can last up to two weeks at most universities, so unfortunately, you may not know your finals schedule until mid-semester at the earliest. While I would stay as long as possible, if you’re done at the beginning of the first week, you may not want to. Some airlines will charge you big bucks to change your return date, others might do it free of charge. And hey, you never know what might pop up over the course of your semester or year that would require you to change your flight home. You can also consider not booking a return flight until once you’ve started your semester and can get a feel for what the rest of your schedule will be like.
Consider where you’ll be making a layover. Unless you’re getting your flight directly from a major airport like Logan, JFK, or Newark, you’ll probably have a layover. Do you want your layover in the States or in a foreign country? It’s a legitimate question. If you have no problem navigating Heathrow Airport all by your lonesome, then feel free to take your layover in London.
I’ve found that most times, flights with layovers in Europe are actually much cheaper than flights with layovers in the States. However, if your options are Newark in the good old US of A or Charles de Gaulle in France, and it’s your first time making your way through a major airport (not to mention that you don’t know French), then taking a layover in the States and paying the extra hundred bucks or so might be the better option. It’s really all about your comfort level, and of course your budget.
In terms of cost, I can only offer a few pieces of advice. The first would be to contact your home university and see if they will deduct the cost of your flight from your tuition bill. For example, if your tuition is $21,000 and your flight costs $1,000; perhaps your school can pay $1,000 towards your tuition and you now only owe $20,000 in tuition. The second piece of advice I have to offer is to take advantage of your or your parents’ sky miles that have been collecting dust. Just be prepared for high rates, and remember the longer you wait, the more expensive it could be. Finally, pay attention to baggage weight restrictions. Many airlines require bags to be 50 pounds of less or you will be subject to paying an overweight bag charge. I actually saw someone having to buy a third suitcase at the airport gift shop in Edinburgh because her two suitcases were overweight.
Keeping these four points in mind as you book your study abroad travels can help you remain calm and confident during a time that may sometimes be overwhelming.
As you begin researching your study abroad flights and planning your travel itinerary, here are some of my favorite resources:
STA Travel: They specialize in student travel, flights, trains, buses, hotels, rail passes, etc. It’s also where you can pick up your International Student Identity Card (ISIC). Take a look at the “Exclusive Tickets” section under flights. They are specially designed for students and have tons of flexibility in terms of fares, travel dates and refunds.
Kayak.com: This has been a favorite of mine for a long time. It searches a large number of sites, there are minimal flashy banners popping out at you, and it’s usually very flexible. Kayak.com is also great for booking your weekend travels/vacations while you’re abroad.
And of course, there’s the old reliable Expedia.com.