How to prepare your trip abroad
So, you got invited to a congress, student conference, or you are taking up studying in another country. First of all, CONGRATULATIONS! We're really happy for you, and because you're getting a fine reward for your work. And if happened that EastChance helped you a bit on your way, don't forget to drop us a line. It's the kind of thing that keeps us going.
Well, what next? You're just getting on train or plain and take off to the week/year of your life? If that's the case, happy you. Still, here's some advice that should help you prepare your trip pleasant and lean, really an event to remember.
When waiting for the answer, pay attention to the timeline the organizers announced for the publication of the results of the application process. If there is a clear date, and you don't get your answer in two weeks following that date or the date of the event comes to close, and you're afraid you won't be able to make it, try an email, reminding the organizers you're waiting for an answer. You never know when the letter or email gets lost underway. In some cases, as recruiting events, the over qualified are announced first, and in due time for travel arrangements. So, in some cases, but not in all of them, no news is bad news. Still, try an email or phone call first, before leaving any hope.
And still, one day you get an invitation. Shortly after celebrating, take a look at the letter of invitation. Check, once again, what is it that the organizers cover (travel expenses, accommodation and meals, participation fee, insurance) and what not. Broadly, the events in our full grant section should cover all of the above. The ones in the no fee category ask from you to take upon yourself the travel expenses, and the ones under small fee ask for a participation fee usually covering accommodation etc. Travel expenses are also in this case on you. The participation fee should be under the actual cost of what it covers - we have a policy of listing those events that present some form of finaid for CEE students. The classifications from the invitation letter should help you build a budget in order to know for certain whether you can afford to participate or not. If you're still not clear about financial details, write the organizers an email asking more information. If you think this might be embarrassing, think how it would be to arrive there and discover you're short of 200 USD! Another thing: if, for any reason, you realize before the start of the event that you won't be able to participate, let the organizers know. Very often it happens that the number of invitees - especially those on finaid - is limited. If you won't take up your place, and there is still time, maybe somebody else will be invited. Think of it this way: if you would be the first on the reserve list, wouldn't you like that somebody else does so? Of course, you're not bound to do this. And still ...
You have an invitation letter, and you can cover the expenses that come upon you. Time for travel arrangements. Check first what you need to enter that country: a valid passport, maybe a letter of invitation (the case if you're travelling from Belarus to Romania, or from Bulgaria to Poland, for example) or even a visa. If you don't have a passport, ask the authorities for it in due time. Very likely, it will last a little until you get one. If you need a letter of invitation, probably the one you got from the conference should do, but check with the embassy of the country of destination first.
As for visas, this part should be dealt diligently. Typically, in order to get a visa, you will need a letter of invitation, a valid passport, photos, health insurance and transportation reservation. You will need to fill in a form (attention, the form for Schengen aria has questions like the name and address of the person who can give details about you - have the name and address of the organizers; where you're gonna live, through what border crossing point will you be entering the EU etc.), and usually pay a fee. Give the embassies more time to review your visa application than the official say it will take - you don't wanna miss the trip for not getting the visa in time.
In any case, call the embassy and ask for all these details in advance. Policies may vary from country to country and from embassy to embassy. If you're travelling by plane, don't buy the ticket before getting the visa, just make a reservation, which costs nothing. In any case, secure transportation well in advance, be it by plane, train or bus. Especially during the summer and around public holidays seats fill up quickly. Also, in the case of the planes, the earlier you get the ticket, the less it costs.
No matter how much of the costs is paid for you, you will still need some pocket money. If you have a card, see if it is accepted at ATMs and stores in the country you're travelling. A Maestro, Visa or MasterCard compatible card should do. A multicurrency card - which gives you local currency abroad as well as in your country - is probably the best option. If you decide to carry cash, try to secure some of the currency of the country of destination before leaving. Should you not manage to, get some widely accepted international currency like USD or DEM. When you're changing money at the destination remember that exchange rates in airports, train stations and hotels are traditionally worse that what you can get in a bank or in town. So don't change all your money at once. Check at the exchange office whether you'll have to pay a commission for the operation and how high that is. To get an idea about exchange rates, try www.oanda.com. Don't exchange money outside exchange offices, no matter how appealing the rate is!
If you carry cash, don't keep the money together with your papers and preferably have your cash divided into two or more different places. This way, if you get robbed, lose your luggage or whatever - God forbid! - you're not in danger of getting moneyless.
About the luggage - well, we're not gonna tell you what to put in your luggage. Ok, two things - have some formal clothes and make sure you can lift your case from the ground! - You'll have to carry it after all.
One important thing is to make sure that you know how to arrive from the airport or train station to the conference venue. Usually, when you receive your invitation letter you should also receive information on how to arrive to your destination. If this is not the case, send an email to the organizers asking for detailed instructions. Also, if you receive the information but you're not sure whether you can find the place, ask the organizers to send someone to wait for you at the airport/trains station.
Just before leaving your home, check whether you have on you: passport, a copy of the letter of invitation, name, address and phone numbers of the organizers, the address of the place where you're going to stay, cash and/or cards, transportation tickets and a copy of this guide :)
Our last piece of advice:
When crossing borders, try to state you're a student early in your dialogue with the customs officer (an ISIC card "forgotten" over the passport usually did the trick for one of our friends). Customs officers are not always particularly friendly (this is why having a copy of the letter of invitation may help) but usually students get a better treatment.
This being said, we wish you a very pleasant time. You're there to enjoy the results of your work, so enjoy it! :) And when back home, maybe you'll find time to write us about your impressions. We'll greatly appreciate it.
Have a great time!