Starting your escape

I don’t exactly remember when my dad taught me this, but for as long as I can remember, I’ve always checked that my checked baggage tag reads the correct final destination before handing over my luggage to the airline agent.

It only ever came in handy one time.

In the spring of 2018, I went with one of my girlfriends to the Umbria region of Italy.  Known as the “Green Heart of Italy”, it’s nestled just between Rome and Florence. 

IMG_2035

We were traveling from IAH in Houston to FCO in Rome, via Washington DC.  The airport name for Rome stood out to me – FCO for “Fiumicino”.  How do I pronounce that?!  Because of that, FCO was memorable.

I checked in my luggage at IAH and glanced at my baggage tag in passing.  Instead of FCO, I saw DCA.

I stopped an agent and asked for assistance.  Why isn’t my luggage continuing on to Rome?

“Well, ma’am, you’re arriving at Reagan but departing from Dulles.  Your itinerary has an airport change.”

What?!

Translation:

Arrive at Reagan.  Collect luggage.  Find some way across DC to the other airport.  Re-check luggage.  Go through security.  Get to gate.

Thankfully our layover was about 5 hours, but how on earth did I miss this?

Our travels started off a little hectic.  We made the flight with enough spare time for a beer, but it was stressful. 

The hustle and bustle of getting to an airport, arriving in your destination, and getting settled in at your lodging is always a little stressful.  Being prepared certainly helps, and these are my departure day tips to make your adventures just a little bit easier.

Before you leave for the airport:

    • Take a screenshot of all critical first day information: boarding passes, transportation passes (like train tickets or Super Shuttle confirmations), directions to the hotel, the name of your hotel, and the address.  You don’t want to rely on an internet connection (or a charged cell phone batter!) in a foreign country.
    • And since batteries die, I recommend getting a powerful external battery. I really like this one it holds multiple full charges and can charge two devices at the same time, including tablets.  I carry it with me whenever I’m traveling, even if it’s just for a weekend trip.  
    • Pack a reusable water bottle.  I talk about this at length in my How to Beat Jet Lag post  but having a water bottle means you can get free water basically anywhere.  Hydration is important.
    • Bring or purchase snacks.  I’m a fan of trail mix, nuts, maybe some snack cheeses, jerky, granola bars, and fruit.  Be sure to eat anything that won’t be permitted in the country before landing, however.  Jerky, fruit, and cheese may be no-bueno.
    • Even if you’re checking a bag, pack a carry on that makes it easy to grab flight essentials.  I’m going to write a more detailed blog post on my essentials later, but overall, my flight essentials include:
        • Reusable water bottle (see above)
        • Tablet with my favorite books and movies
        • Phone charger and cable
        • Good headphones
        • Pain medication and sinus medication.  Have you ever had a sinus headache on an airplane? It’s terrible.  Always be prepared.
        • Good travel pillow with ear plugs and an eye mask
        • Layers!  Especially a light jacket.

Landing Abroad:

    • You will have to go through customs & border protection, unless you previously landed in a Schengen Treaty Zone country (for European travel).  The Schengen Treaty is essentially border-free travel.  Most of Europe is Schengen, which means you won’t have to keep repeating security every time you arrive in a new country. 

Practically speaking, that means if you’re connecting in Germany on the way to Italy, you’ll just have to do CBP in Germany and have somewhat effortless entrance into Italy.

    • After collecting your luggage, keep an eye out for an ATM.  I have a more detailed blog post on currency upon arrival, but be sure to find a genuine ATM machine and not a Forex machine.  ATMs are absolutely the way to go for converting currency.  You will get true market rates on currency less your bank charges.  
    • Make your way to your transportation option.  Train, bus, Super Shuttle, Uber, whatever – follow the signs to your chosen method.  If you haven’t pre-booked private or semi private transportation, I would encourage you to investigate public transit.  Trains are almost always faster than even a private taxi.  

Last but not least, language!

Yes, English is the predominant spoken language abroad.  But I think it’s important (and valuable) to learn at least some of the langue at your destination. For one, I think it’s respectful, and two, I think it can help in the event you need assistance.

Google Translate is a wonderful app for helping with this.  Download all the languages you may need before departing so you can use the app offline.

In my experience, there are a few phrases that are worth knowing (or having saved in your phone for quick reference):

    • Do you speak English?
    • Hello & goodbye
    • Please
    • Thank you
    • Sorry
    • Excuse me
    • Can I … (seems obscure, but this is the verb I find I use most)
    • Where is (the hotel, bathroom, restaurant, hospital, police)
    • I need help
    • Speak slowly please

Saying hello, please, and thank you will almost always make the locals happy.  They appreciate the effort, and that means they may be more willing to put in the effort for you.  If you are speaking English and their English isn’t perfectly fluent, be mindful to construct simpler sentences and speak slower (not louder!).  What I mean by that is:

“Excuse me, hello, thanks for the help, we are so lost and completely frazzled, it’s been a crazy day, can you help us find our hotel?”

is WAY more complicated than:

“Excuse me, we are lost.  Where is our hotel?” 

The shortness may feel rude, but fewer words are always easier to understand.

Sprinkle in some of the local language and you will be off to a great start!

Hopefully you’ve consulted the How to Beat Jet Lag post but if not, be sure to check that out to make your first day as successful as possible.

Happy adventuring!

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