Howdy howdy and big hello’s from the even bigger city of LAX!
Let me first say that I have an awesome family. Friday night my Mom and Dad got our family together for an Australia (or bust) departure party and it was a blast. I was presented with a Dora the Explorer hat prior to the party from (presumably) iParty which I was instructed to decorate, paint and put Country appropriate Stickers on (also provided). The plan was for me to wear said hat for the duration of the party, however I am not well known for having a small head (I apparently do not fall into the “one-size-fits-all” group for the Dora Explorer age group). Then, with my too small hat balanced on my too big head I was presented with my parent’s big surprise for me – a cake. A chocolate cake. A bourbon chocolate cake. A bourbon chocolate cake with raspberry filling. Oh – and this bourbon chocolate cake with raspberry filling looked like a foot-tall replica of a kangaroo. View the awesome-saucery below.
The party was very relaxing and enjoyable, it was a good way to also celebrate the news regarding the status of my study abroad program. I finally got a hold of Karl - the head of the International Studies office - who was all too happy to tell me that the program would indeed go on. It took me until the ride up to Logan Airport in Boston the next day to really grasp what was going on. After the massive flooding on Australia's east coast which was followed immediately by Cyclone Yasi, I was more than a little worried about being able to get out there but as they say in Australia (so I am told by Bec) "she'll be right mate". And I believed her, especially as I walked down to my gate after my mother made me cry (because she cried - it is a completely *tearing up* normal reaction *sob*). I'll miss my family - its been a fun month and a half.
So, for now, everything is going according to plan. But before I get too far into explaining my trip so far and offering advice on practicing good and safe travel, I owe you some more helpful hits on pre-pre-departure preparations. As I said in my posts about Yasi, I do have a list of hints all drawn up for you but I got busy with school after midterms ... one thing led to another and here I am at the (almost) start of a new semester. I believe we were on hint 8. Don't forget, this is stuff you should be doing BEFORE you are sitting in a hotel in (insert country/state here) en route to the program:
Start worrying about your medicinal and immunization needs. Certain countries will require you to be up to date on certain shots or on a medicine regime before entering the country. Seeing as some of these regimes must begin well before departure, be sure to check in with your program head early about medical needs.
This also includes calling insurance companies if there is a drug you are on that you will need while abroad! Some countries will not carry the prescription you need, in some it may be off the market - make sure you are able to ask for a travel allowance for multiple prescriptions filled in a short span of time.
Apply for/research the process of applying for a Visa in your destination country. Without one, you shall not pass, and for that there is no cheat code ... you are more likely to be eaten by a grue
Application for the Visa portion of travel also begs the question, "Do you even have a Passport?" ... if the answer is no, you need to get on that. Sometimes it can take 2-4 weeks for your passport to come in.
Check with your school about availability of a school-hired agent to help arrange travel details. Often times a group flight will be offered from a certain city to your program city so that students who will spend the semester together can fly together. Be sure to know the details of whatever itinerary this agent gives you so you can make arrangements for connecting flights and hotels where necessary.
Start saving your money. If you haven't been doing so already because you haven't dreamed about was going to (__insert country name__) and having a good time since you were little. Each program acceptance will normally be accompanied by an estimate of cost calculated by your school using average amount spent by students in prior years and the currency value of the country.
This one pairs with 13. If you don't already have local destinations in mind to visit or cities in your country you want to see, make a list. You can even start exploring options for travel so you can estimate and work toward being prepared to get to your destination once you have arrived in the country.
In the case of Australia - and a few other programs - consider working toward certifications that will expedite or increase your fun while abroad. I personally would recommend getting Scuba certified as a college student at your home university if courses are offered. The course is often significantly cheaper than registering to be certified in tourist ports and this way you can get right to it once you get to Australia instead of needing to worry about another class.
Start following (if you don't already) the top news and headlines for both your home country and your destination country. Be aware of the political/social environment you are entering and respect it - girls traditionally wear a sari in India so don't be one who comes armed with only a bikini top and shorts. Tourists are frequently targeted by pickpockets and thieves so where ever you are - act and move with confidence. Go straight to a bathroom stall if you are nervous or unsure where you are going, lock yourself in and get your bearings - you'll feel safer and more steady alone and surrounded by walls on all sides.
So. Right now I sit in the online deal hotel I cooked up for my two night quick stay in L.A. and here is what I love about airport hotels so far: not much. Well, at least not much about the one I am in. Room is good enough to sleep in, has great mattresses and plenty of space for one. Negatives are that the TV makes a high pitch screech every 5 minutes or so, the thermostat goes up when i tell it to go down, there are no trash bags in the trash barrels, wifi sucks and when I asked that my sheets be washed in hot water only (in advance about 3 months ago and on an official request sheet) because of a skin allergy to detergents I still ended up looking like this. Well, this minus the red hair. I had to sleep in my travel pants, socks and dig up the one long sleeve shirt I packed just to sleep comfortably and get rid of the rash.
Just because you ask for something to be done, make sure you call before you arrive just in case your request is accidentally overlooked - especially in the case of allergic reactions.
Free wifi does not mean good wifi and free breakfast does not mean healthy or filling. Make sure you know just what you are asking for when you pay for it. I knew my reservation did not come with a complementary breakfast - so I was prepared to supply myself with one via room service, meal bar or breakfast nook nearby.
I still believe that if the overnight stay is simply, overnight, a more "sub-par" hotel is O.K. This place looks nice enough but the staff is unfriendly and unaccommodating (except for the guy who brought me my two room service meals). The daily and frequent shuttles to the airport help to make up for this lack of interest in customer satisfaction or comfort ... especially being far from home, having heavy luggage and being under 25 (under which it is illegal to rent a car). Regardless of the poor service, this is the first time I have ever stayed in a hotel alone and I am enjoying the ability to run around naked with no one here to care (kidding!). There is nothing wrong with being a little wet behind the ears but with this in mind, ask your parents about their travel blunders and advice too. I'm sure they will have some lovely pearls of wisdom on why you should not leave you wallet in your back pocket or explain to you just why you should never pack fine china in your check-in bag at an airport. But more on that next time. For now I need to end here and get a good night's rest - check out is at noon tomorrow and I need my sleep to make sure I am awake enough to make my 11:20 flight out of here and to Melbourne!
P.S. - While I am not flying Pacific Blue or drinking Vodka this is TOTALLY what my pre-flight orientation was like while i was comfortably stretched out across my empty row waiting for take-off
Flight Hostess makes Flying a little More Fun
What does Alcohol and Air Safety talks have in common?
P.S.S. - I would like to here note the extreme efforts of Yasi in preventing me from leaving the country and getting to Australia. I would also like to point out that Yasi failed and I am on my way there and I am going to help fix the damage she caused. If you want to follow continued efforts toward recovery click [here] for more information.