This Flight Tonight: Stuck in London

Traveling in Europe can be a tricky process. Trains seem to be the most reliable to avoid delays and save money, however due to constant strikes it is always a gamble if the trains will shut down when you are planning to travel. Buses take so long but are cheap. Planes are efficient and fairly affordable however you can count on delays every time you fly. In summary, traveling in Europe is risky, so how much are you willing to bet? Last weekend we seemed to take gamble after gamble.

December in Paris is beautiful. The cold air was so refreshing in the fashion capital of the world. My best friend and I decided Paris would be our last trip before we prepared for our departure back to the United States. We thought it would be nice to do some Christmas shopping in a city known for its intense shopping scene and amazing sights. We had both seen the Eiffel tower before, but it was just as incredible seeing it for a second time. We took a stroll down the Champs-Élysées and stopped to marvel at the Arc de Triomphe. It is hard to describe the beauty of Paris. It looks similar to the buildings in London and Italy but different at the same time. The sights are just as incredible as Buckingham Palace or the Pantheon, but they also have a uniqueness to them I cannot understand. The whole city sparks certain emotions, making me understand why it is nicknamed the city of love. I tried French Onion Soup for the first time and walked across the many bridges near the Eiffel Tower. We ate a nice dinner at a seafood restaurant near our hotel and it was some of the most amazing food I have ever eaten. We didn’t stay out too late because two girls walking around Paris at night by themselves was not a risk I was willing to take. We never had any issues, but I was not willing to push my luck. We actually felt pretty safe in Paris. I travelled to the city in March of 2019 with my High School. There were fifty 16 to 18 year olds traveling on the trip and we had multiple encounters of pickpocketing, street scammers, suspicious figures, etc. I noticed a few red flags on our journey last weekend, but it was easily manageable. For instance, when we were leaving the airport, there were men in street clothes asking if we needed a taxi. Although this may seem normal, I had a bad feeling so my friend and I ignored their offerings and got an Uber to our hotel. We saw a few street performers doing the trick where they hid balls under cups and make the audience try to guess which cup they are under. Again, seems normal but I didn’t trust there weren’t hustlers or pickpockets in the crowd taking advantage of the distraction. The trip was a huge success, until our flight back to Glasgow.

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Eiffel Tower, Paris
Blog Post 10
Eiffel Tower, Paris

We flew from Glasgow to London, and then London to Paris when arriving in the city. On the way back we followed the same route, flying from Paris to London, having a short layover and then flying from London to Glasgow. When we left Paris the plane was delayed due to heavy fog in London. Fog is very dangerous for flights because it diminishes visibility causing safety hazards when landing. The flight was not delayed too long and eventually we were on our way to London. The issues began when we landed at Heathrow airport. When we got to London, the fog delay made complete sense, we could barely see the ground and after getting off the plane we looked outside and could only see 50 yards in front of us. We received notifications from British airways saying our flight from London to Glasgow had been delayed. Then we got a notification it was cancelled and we were going to be flying from London Heathrow Airport to Edinburgh. it was a slight hiccup because now we would have to take a bus from Edinburgh to Glasgow but the airlines would cover the cost and we would still be home that day. After a short while our flight changed again. Now, we were flying from London City Airport (About an hour and a half from London Heathrow Airport) to Edinburgh at 8pm that night. It was 10am at the time. The customer service representative assured us that was our best flight option and sent us on our way. He said British Airways would cover food expenses and transportation expenses from the airports. Sitting at the airport for 10 hours did not seem ideal so after some quick search on apple maps we found that my best friend’s boyfriend lived fairly close to London City Airport. We took a train to his flat and were able to turn the delay into a nice day in London. We went to the London City airport that night, but by that point it had started snowing. Snow was nowhere on the forecast, but London pulled a page from the Colorado book and decided to give us a winter weather surprise. Our flight was cancelled. 

Standing in the customer service line I was so exhausted, I couldn’t even be mad. I also knew it was not the faults of the British Airways workers, so I hoped no one would get upset with them. To my surprise, no one was really angry. Some people were more irritated than others but in America there would be furious people shouting, making scenes, and demanding fixes. The only man visibly upset was a short ways behind us in line. He was yelling on the phone and it seemed he was talking to a British Airways representative. After he hung up he began pushing his way up the line. He heard my friend and I talking about our flights and he asked if we were going to Edinburgh because he was as well. We offered our support the best way we could by just listening to him rant about how the delays have ruined his whole trip. Before he opened his mouth I already knew where he was from: America. He ranted for a good twenty minutes. I especially enjoyed him talking about how the trains in London are terrible because you have to press a button to open them. In Chicago they open automatically. He seemed very upset by this.  I do feel for the guy. We have traveled so much in so many different places that even though I was exhausted from the delays and stressed about going home I knew we would figure it out. I wasn’t scared or angry. I was just tired. But, if I had never been to Europe before or even had only been there a couple times, I could understand the fear, worry, and frustration. The couple next to us began listening to the man as well. They were also going to Edinburgh and had now joined the conversation. I told the group my honest opinions saying “European transportation is a gamble.” My friend looked at me like I was crazy, saying something like that in front of Scottish people. I was a little worried too that I was going to offend the couple, but I sighed in relief when the man just smiled and said “you get used to it.” 

This whole fiasco is something I will remember for the rest of my life for multiple reasons. 1. The stark differences in how Scots handle delays and customer service encounters compared to how Americans handle it. 2. European travel is tricky 3. European travel is tricky but my friend and I not only survived but thrived under the pressure. If you had told me a year ago I would be stuck in London at two different airports on a flight home from Paris I would have said you were crazy and then I would have freaked out. I remember sitting on the train after our last cancellation thinking this is a test. This is a test of what we have learned about ourselves and traveling since being abroad and I have to say I think I passed. 

We were supposed to fly back to Glasgow on December 11th and after being cancelled due to snow we were put on a flight the morning of December 13th. I had to work on my finals at the hotel and thankfully my friend’s boyfriend let us use his kitchen to make dinner instead of going out to eat. The airlines was covering our hotel, transportation, and food, but we had to book our own hotel and the food allowance was minimal. We made it back to Glasgow at noon on December 13th after two nights in London. Recounting all the details I feel stressed, but in the moment when it seemed we were going to be stuck in London forever, I was perfectly calm, exhausted, but calm. I can’t tell you what made me change or become this person who stays cool as a cucumber when stranded in a foreign country with nothing but the clothes on our backs, and just some extra pants and toiletries in my backpack, but I did it. I did it because I studied abroad in Scotland for three months. I’m not going to give you a sappy piece about how my whole life has changed, but it’s important to take a moment to appreciate the person you’ve become and note how you got there. It’s those moments I will gamble for every time.

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Sunrise on flight from London to Glasgow

Leaving on a Jet Plane…

I have moved 12 times in my life. 10 of those moves were before I turned fifteen. Colorado to Montana to Idaho back to Colorado and over again, but none of that prepared me for moving abroad to Glasgow, Scotland. I came to Glasgow with my best friend. We did not plan it that way, we just have the same major, and Glasgow was our top choice program. This gave me a sense of stability as I prepared to depart from Colorado. I have never lived away from my family before; I stayed in state for college for that very reason. I knew it would be hard and I was afraid. Maybe that’s why I procrastinated packing until two days before I left. I feared being homesick. Little did I know, you don’t get a choice of being homesick or not.

Everyone came to the airport to send me off. My mom, my mom’s boyfriend, my grandma, and my boyfriend. We fit as many people as possible into Nana’s Toyota Rav 4. I tried not to cry the whole way to the airport but every few minutes a tear would slip out. I rushed through the goodbyes as fast as possible trying and failing to keep it together. I was shaking as I watched their car drive away. I was still sad as my best friend, and I made our way through security, but I didn’t understand why. I remember watching the sunset as I sat at my gate thinking to myself “I had already said my goodbyes so why was I still upset?” The plane ride from Denver to London was 9 hours. We arrived at 11:30am and the first thing I noticed when we flew in was the cars on the highway, they were all driving on the left side of the road. It was something small, but it looked so funny to me. Due to British Airways strikes our flights got switched around a month before we left, and we got stuck with an 8-hour layover at London Heathrow Airport. We got food and took turns sleeping while we waited for the flight. I watched the sunset at the gate again, and I wondered if I was going to feel this sadness every time I watched the sun go down. By the time we arrived in Glasgow, we were exhausted. It was 11:30pm when we got into our flat. The whole building was quiet. We were so tired but due to the 7-hour time change, there was no way we could sleep. We ordered Domino’s pizza (of all things) using a coupon we got in our welcome package and began settling in. I remember going to sleep that night I felt odd. I was safe and I was comfortable, but I was sad. I wondered if I was going to feel homesick the whole time I was in Glasgow.

Being the problem solver I am, my mind immediately went to how I could leave early from the program. During finals weeks there were no classes so maybe I could go home sooner than planned, maybe I could change my flight, maybe I could change my boyfriend’s flight so that he could visit me sooner, maybe I couldn’t do this. These thoughts and emotions lasted over a week. I felt physically sick too. I was dizzy and nauseous all the time. I was tired at every hour of the day even after the jet lag wore off. I had headaches and it seemed like this sickness was not getting better. After the third or fourth day of complaining to my best friend she said it was all in my head. I was so offended. Why would she tell me I was making this stuff up? I really did not feel good. But after thinking about it and doing a quick google search I realized she was right. I was homesick.

I was trying to ignore my feelings because I thought it was so stupid for a 20-year-old college student to be homesick less than 7 days after leaving home but that was the truth. Recognizing my feelings was the cure. I remember the conversation I had with myself. I had to tell myself that I deserved this experience. I have worked hard in school and worked hard to financially afford going abroad. I reminded myself that I can do hard things and I am brave enough for this challenge. Once I accepted my homesickness it became easier to manage. After about two weeks I was so intrigued with exploring Glasgow and the surrounding area that the melancholy had worn off. School started and we began taking trips to places around Scotland and Europe making time fly by. My advice to those worried about being away from home is to accept those emotions before you leave. I fooled myself by thinking that after the goodbyes at DIA, everything would be fine. It takes time and a good pep talk before you feel better. The homesickness doesn’t last forever, and the more accepting you are the easier it will be. This may seem like a sad story but it’s not. I am so grateful that I have something in my life that is hard to say goodbye to and they will be right there waiting for me when I get back. Homesickness is not a bad thing, it’s a reminder to appreciate the blessings of family and friends. Everyone needs to be humbled like that occasionally.

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University of Glasgow Campus
Blog Post 1b
Glasgow West End District near the University of Glasgow

Pieces of advice to prepare for arrival:

  • Get a UK phone plan: I can’t speak for people who are studying in places other than the UK but Giff Gaff is a must. Phone plans in the UK range from £10-£20 a month. My best friend and I suspended our Verizon phone plan in The United States for three months (That is the longest you can suspend it) and ordered sim cards from a mobile company called Giff Gaff. My card was £15 which got me 30 GB of Data in the UK and 5 GB of roaming data in European Union countries. This plan also had unlimited texting and calling. Verizon abroad plans are about $300 per month with strict limits on data, texting, and calling so this saved a lot of money. All we had to do was switch out the sim cards at the London airport during our layover and we were good to go. Just don’t lose your US carrier sim card, you’ll need that when you return!
  • Pack light: There’s no way you will be able to know everything you are going to need while abroad and checking bags is expensive. You will also buy a lot of things once abroad like medicine, clothes, beauty products, hair products, souvenirs, kitchenware, cleaning supplies, etc. My best advice is to focus on clothes and leave behind the shoes. How many times are you really going to wear those boots? When you arrive don’t get carried away with bathroom products, kitchenware, and cleaning supplies. You can’t bring back all those pots, pans and wine openers so stick to the basics.
  • Buy a crockpot: One fantastic investment that my roommate and I made was a small £20 crockpot. It made dinners so easy. There are tons of cheap and easy crockpot recipes that make lots of leftovers. We used our crockpot at least 3-4 times a week which saved us so much money in eating out.
  • Don’t ship anything: Due to some harsh procrastination, I did not go to the doctor until three days before I left for Glasgow. When the doctor said I needed new glasses and contacts I was stressed because there was no way I was going to get them ordered and delivered before I left. I didn’t have my UK address yet, so my mom and I planned for her to ship my contacts to me when they were delivered to our apartment. They were just contacts so they can’t be that expensive. We were wrong. For an envelope with a three-month supply of contacts plus shipping insurance, UPS charged nearly $200. This already hurt our wallets but then when they were delivered the courier charged me another $90. So, you may say to yourself while packing “In the worst case we can ship this to me.” This is a big mistake. I could have waited and ordered my contacts when I got to Glasgow, but hindsight is always 20/20.

The Summer leading up to my departure from the United States I would tell people that I was studying abroad for three and a half months, and it seemed like every time they would ask me the same question: “Are you excited?”. And every time I would nod my head yes and say, “I’m so excited, it is going to be so much fun.” But I always felt a little fake every time I gave that response. I actually wanted to say, “I’m excited, but I’m nervous, scared, and anxious too.” I always felt like that was not the right answer. But now I don’t think there is a right answer. It sounds cliché and cheesy but it’s true. I learned that it’s okay to be afraid if it does not confine you. Studying abroad is brave. It may come easier to some people than others but at the end of the day no matter who you are, it is courageous because you are choosing to challenge yourself in every way possible. So, whether your struggle is homesickness, not being able to eat fast food for lunch every day, making new friends, taking classes in a different language, or just not knowing the name of the street you live on, know that all it takes is a little courage. There is always fear, but the response is what matters.

This photo was taken on my birthday six days after we arrived to Scotland. This is the Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh, Scotland.