It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Earlier in the ESN blog-o-sphere, we discussed the exciting upcoming events that Groningen would offer during the build-up for the Christmas holiday. While many of us are staying in the city, there are internationals who only get a few reasons to get back home to their families and tell tales of their unique experience abroad.
It can get quite worrying and stressful when planning the undoubtedly cold journey back home, and it surely isn’t a cheap endeavour. For those outside of Europe, getting back home can be a major investment, and may lead to a tense feeling to an otherwise jolly holiday.
As the deadline approaches, let’s focus on a few tips to better prepare when leaving your second Dutch home.
As much as airplanes are fast and expedient – there’s a reason why most holiday comedies have the “missed my flight” trope. It’s a legitimate concern. From packing your luggage, remembering your itinerary and check-in, and being sure you can make it to the airport on time.
The most important preparation, in my view, comes from getting the tickets themselves. Remember that booking a flight isn’t as easy as checking the closest airport. There might just be cheaper options in another city, or even in some of the neighbouring countries. Just a few weeks ago, I realized that my flight back home was half as cheap if I took a bus across the border to Germany! The Flix-bus service and other Europe-wide companies are very central to the Netherlands and traveling vast distances without much effort has never been easier.
The second most important thing – the online shopping experience. It’s easy, yes, and you can pretty much get a ticket right from your phone whenever you want, but advertising and selective marketing can make the process grueling. My second tip – never browse ticket prices without incognito mode or a VPN. It’s no secret that your browsing history, your ‘cookies’, are used to track you for marketing purposes. This sort of direct marketing has long since been used by airlines to raise prices depending on your search. Valuing your privacy isn’t conspiratorial – online advertising has always used the opportunity to monitor their client’s wishes.
It’d be unusual if your trip didn’t involve some sort of active waiting. Where your flight or trip is just a few hours away but you’re either stuck waiting in a station or can’t doze off unless you want to wake up having missed it. It’s usually the last thing we want to think about when preparing for a flight but having something to take your mind off the stress of travel is really the best way to make it out fresh on the other end. Without a constant source of fast internet at our disposal, waiting for the seconds, minutes and hours to pass can leave you feeling alone, bored and completely disheveled. My third recommendation would be to download a piece of media that you’ve never had time to get to previously. My favourites are new podcasts, audiobooks, movies or tv-series. Whatever can keep you awake and keep your mind active while hordes of holiday-goers shuffle through airport gates or sit in crowded buses.
Of course, keeping your phone charged for emergencies is crucial, but we’ll get to that later. For now, remember that there are still some remnants of offline media at our disposal. I’m not much of a reader, but I’ve noticed that waiting for a trip is my most productive reading time. Just last year, I got through a 300-page book in just 5 hours, because I was stuck in a Rotterdam station from midnight to 5am.
Also, people-watching is a hobby that is looked at with narrowed eyes, but I feel like it’s made more taboo than it actually is. Most of the time, sitting down and enjoying the crowds of individual people doing individual things can really put your mind at ease, and realize that we are all just the same – a crowd of travelers anxiously awaiting to get home. That same 5-hour adventure in Rotterdam, I was people-watching and suddenly ended up spending an hour chatting with a nice stranger who seemed to be as tired as I was.
Traveling long distances is never safe. It’s a moment in time where all your support networks can’t easily get to you and getting confused or lost is a big risk. As an international, the time it takes to translate instructions and navigate unfamiliar places always takes more time than expected.
This shouldn’t keep you from getting home, but staying in contact, and making sure people know where you are is not only a good way to let the other person know you care about them, but also making sure that if anything happens, they’ll know where you are.
First, keep your phone charged. If you lose your tickets or need to tell the time, or contact help, there is nothing more important than having a well-charged device ready. If your choices are to be bored and wait it out, or use the last of your battery, I’d recommend to always choose the former.
Second, make sure you can get food. Finding food isn’t hard, but it can get expensive and difficult if your mind is already juggling the time and navigating for your next departure. It’s always best to keep a container that you can have on your person and eat a prepared snack when necessary. Most affordable flights are either late in the evening or just short of sun-up. While you might not be hungry then, eating a light meal right before checking in your bags can save you a lot of money, as well as worry.
And third – layers are your friend. Make sure you stay warm: put on a second pair of socks, and you’ll be surprised how much extra space you’ll have left for gifts and goodies.
Groningen is a wonderful place, and nothing’s better than taking a piece of it with you for your friends and family. As the holiday season rears towards its climax, the markets and goodies of the December weeks are worth the extra preparation.
Being an international can really open your mind and award you with new tastes and preferences. The traditions of the Netherlands and Groningen, the delicious snacks and produce will be as much a present to your loved ones as you are. You are in the valued position of having a wide range of resources to bring worth-while presents and holiday cheer back from your studies.
Take that chance, have a wonderful holiday, and we’ll all celebrate your return in the next year! Merry Christmas, happy holidays and a marvelous new decade from your friends in ESN Groningen!
Written by Jānis Lazda – PR & Graphics