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Lesson Learned

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In the weeks and months leading up to my departure for New Zealand, where I spent the Fall 2013 semester, I rarely considered any of the traveling I would do while I was abroad. I figured I’d leave the country hopping and non-stop touring to my friends in Europe who could knock out the Lennon Wall, Eiffel Tower, and Coliseum in a few weekends flat. I was more concerned with my upcoming thirteen-hour flight across the Pacific Ocean. I suppose I knew I would want to travel around the country, but before arriving in Auckland I didn’t realize how extensive my New Zealand travel bucket list would be or what would go into getting me to some of the places on it. I quickly realized through the IFSA-Butler orientation that there were so many places in the country I wanted to see. I realized it was now or never and I had to get to work on planning trips if I actually wanted see some of the sights my friends and I had been talking about. So we set to work planning our big spring break trip to Australia and our end-of-term trip to the South Island. Almost immediately, we realized how difficult it is to plan all the logistics of a trip. You need to coordinate your flights with hotel availabilities, figure out transportation at every turn, and identify what your “can’t miss” places and activities are. And you need to do all this on a student budget. We had to learn some of these lessons the hard way, but our mistakes made the travel planning experience all the more memorable. One particularly ill-conceived idea was an attempt to go to Australia and Bali during our spring vacation. We booked tickets and, after we finished, we basked in the satisfaction of our first independently planned excursion…for a few hours. One of my friends frantically called us a few hours later exclaiming, “The tickets are in US dollars, not New Zealand dollars!” This revelation was pretty much a nightmare. The NZ-US exchange rate is favorable, so we thought we were getting our tickets for much less than we actually were. Panicked at the exorbitant amount of money we had just spent, we needed to figure out how to cancel the tickets. With time differences and international calling restrictions, we could only Skype call an airline representative in the wee hours of the morning. We were able to cancel the flights, much to our relief, but not without a lot of stressful and nerve-wracking moments first. After that, we resolved to be much more careful with examining the fine print of flights and hostels before we booked. You would think after a scare like that we would be the world’s most careful trip planners. But the 20-year-old brain seems to have a short memory for mishaps like the Bali tickets. For the rest of our trips, we planned out flights and hostels meticulously, but still managed to overlook minor details like baggage requirements. Once, we all had to pay overweight baggage fees because we had failed to adhere to the airline’s strict 10 kilo carry on policy. Still, our trips were amazing. In Australia we saw the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge, the Royal Botanical Gardens, Bondi Beach, and hiked in the Blue Mountains, just to name a few. We also got to snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef and saw the oldest rainforest on earth, the Daintree Rainforest, both of which were amazing experiences. On the South Island we did as many adventure sports as we could in Queenstown and soaked up classic New Zealand culture in the city of Dunedin. But we figured out a lot of these activities and sightseeing excursions really last minute and not without a few major planning headaches. I’d recommend sitting down with friends you’re going to travel with beforehand and identifying what exactly you all want to do on the trip. For instance, on our trip to the South Island, we all went on a day trip to Dunedin. When we arrived, we realized we all had completely different ideas of how to spend the day. One group wanted to go to a beach where you could see penguins, others wanted to tour the Cadbury Chocolate Factory, while still more preferred to climb Baldwin Street, the infamous steepest street in the world. Being overly ambitious travelers, we tried to do it all. But, obviously, everything went awry. We tried to see the penguins, took a bus out to the wrong beach, discovered the penguin beach was an hour away and so decided to head back into town. Then we learned the bus we had taken out to the beach only comes every hour so we were stuck far out of town for the next 50 minutes or so. We managed to book a tour at the chocolate factory, but were not able to go on a full-length tour of the factory because the factory was only open for a reduced number of hours on the day of our trip. This was something we should have looked into beforehand. Finally, once the rain cleared we wanted to do the one last thing we had come to Dunedin for: walk up Baldwin Street. We decided we could walk to Baldwin Street after seeing signs directing people to it all over town. We set off down the road, thinking that our destination wouldn’t be too far off. As we walked further and further we realized our idea to walk might have been ill conceived. We started getting nervous since our bus back to Queenstown was coming soon and we couldn’t risk missing it. But we felt like we had come to far to turn back and wanted to complete our trek to the mountainous street. Tempers flared as we approached our destination, but when we finally arrived and saw the street rising impressively above us, we all calmed down. Truly, Baldwin Street puts the hills of San Francisco to shame. We raced to the top and enjoyed taking in the amazing view. After catching our breaths, we decided it would be best to take a taxi to the bus station. We called a local cab company and asked for a car to meet us “at the bottom of Baldwin Street.” The dispatcher chuckled a bit but happily acquiesced. We soon were en route to the bus station, happy to have climbed Baldwin Street and relieved we weren’t going to miss our bus after all. It was all well that ends well, but we certainly would have done well to prepare our itinerary in Dunedin a bit better to save ourselves the stress and headaches we endured. In the end, things are bound to crop up whenever you plan a trip. You can’t prepare for every possible eventuality, so you really just have to be able to roll with the punches. Just being able to study abroad in any of the cool locales IFSA-Butler offers is such an amazing opportunity as it is, and being able to travel beyond that is something I feel truly fortunate that I was able to do. Not just because of the amazing experiences I had and unforgettable things I saw, but also because of the lessons I learned about trip-planning and organization/attention to details more generally. Caroline Abushakra is a student at Colby College and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler at the University of Auckland in 2013.