If you're reading this, I'm assuming that means you signed up for a Semester at Sea. Go you!! I sailed in Fall of 2015, and it was the best experience of my life. I guarantee this trip will change you, challenge you, and grow you in so many ways. You will be so (SO!) glad you went.
I remember being in your shoes, leading up to the voyage and feeling clueless and overwhelmed, having so many questions and wishing I could talk with someone who had done it before.
So here's some of the things I wish someone had told me before I set sail:
You will get seasick. It’s inevitable. Especially if your voyage is taking off from London (Hamburg, England). Those first few days going through the Bay of Biscay were rough for my ship. Literally every person got sick, even some of the crew who live on the ship full time, and throughout the rest of the voyage there were occasional rough seas.
Don’t let this stop you from going though!!! You will survive. Seasickness never killed anyone. I would just recommend coming prepared.
-I found that Bonine was a great over-the-counter pill, little drowsiness involved.
-I also wore motion sickness wristbands most days on the ship. To be honest, I'm certain how much they helped or if it’s just a mental thing, but you’ll see lots of people wearing them on the ship.
-Biggest help: I got prescription seasick patches from my doctor before the trip, and these were amazing. You can wear one for up to 3 days and my doctor gave me enough to last every day at sea, and oh my word it’s a good thing she did. I used them all! The patches really helped me feel better the whole trip, and it's nice to be able to wear it a few days and not have to remember to take pills every few hours, plus they don’t cause fatigue like pills do.
-There’s also free sea sick pills on Deck 3 at the doctors office. It’s right next to the jar of free condoms. You won’t miss it. (I’m not kidding. Shipcest is for real, keep it classy people.)
First of all- you’ll survive without your phone. In fact, you’re going to love it. Trust me. (You should be more concerned about surviving the reverse culture shock of getting back home and having constant stimulation all over again. Let me know in the comments if you'd like a future blog on that..)
Should you get an international data plan? I’d say yes, because if you find yourself in an emergency in another country and you need to get ahold of your friends or the group you’re traveling with, you don’t want to have to find a shop with WiFi in order to use your phone. You definitely won’t regret getting international data, and if you don’t, you might end up in a situation where you wish you had it.
Just promise me this: don’t use it on call home!
Communication with home while you're at sea is tough. When you’re at sea, the only communication with home available to you is email (seamail actually) and buying minutes on the phone in your room. This makes it tempting to spend your time on land finding WiFi, Facetiming back home, catching up on social media, etc. But don't miss out on these amazing countries by focusing so much of your attention on communicating back home while you're there. Don't waste the time of your life trying to keep up with life back home.
My advice: give your friends and family at home a fair warning that you’ll be hard to reach, then you won’t feel so much pressure to keep up with them while you’re gone. Give them a call when you feel like it, like when you're waiting for the ship to depart the country, but don’t waste your time on land!
Another recommendation: Buy some minutes on the phone in your room. I was paying for my whole SAS trip on my own (shout out to any of you doing the same! financial advice and tips for keeping the price of this trip down coming in the next blog, see below!), so I tried to be SUPER frugal and I resisted buying minutes on my phone for the first half of the voyage. However, half way through I caved and bought some time on my phone and I was so glad I did. Ship time is the time that feels loneliest and you get the most homesick, so it was really nice being able to call my mom and dad, even just for 5-10 minutes, from the ship. And that way, I wasn’t missing out on any of my time in countries.
A question I get alllll the time: should you sign up for field programs before the trip? This one’s hard, the answer is maybe.
I say you should only sign up for trips you absolutely want to do and you’d be disappointed if you missed out on. If there’s a trip going to a spot you’ve always wanted to see or doing something you’ve always wanted to try, definitely sign up. Otherwise, I think the best part is porting in a foreign country and figuring it out from there with your friends. Finding your own Airbnbs, getting around the country by yourself, deciding where you want to eat, it’s all a part of the experience.
Also, if you sign up for too many trips ahead of time but end up making really great friends with other people on the ship who didn’t sign up for those same trips, you might be locked into all of these in-country itineraries and not get to spend in-country time with your new friends.
So only sign up for a few if they really really appeal to you, and maybe hold off on the rest. Here's the field programs I signed up for before my trip:
-I picked a tour in Italy, our first port, because I knew there would be a lot to see in Rome and I wasn't an expert at navigating foreign countries yet.
-I also picked a program to the pink lake in Senegal, a destination mid-voyage, because I assumed Africa would be hard to navigate on my own so it'd be better to go with a group from our ship.
-I WISH I had signed up for some bigger field programs before the trip (again, I was trying to be super frugal since I was funding everything on my own so I didn't invest in any big field programs) such as the trip to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, the camel trek in Morocco, and the Amazon Riverboat tour. These attractions were each located hours away from the city our ship was ported in so I couldn't have possibly gotten to those spots and done it one my own, plus my friends who went on these trips raved about them. So if there's a bigger trip with high ratings, and you know it's located far from the port, I'd recommend pulling the trigger and signing up before the voyage.
Don't worry, you can also add on to a trip if there's still room at any point in the voyage. The day you arrive in Greece (or wherever) you can still join a Greece field program if there's openings.
The final thing I'll say is it's better to sign up for field programs scheduled towards the beginning of the voyage. It's a good way to meet people at the beginning, and you'll still have room in your schedule later on in the voyage to explore with your new besties.
I've also been asked for advice on embarkation day.
The best advice I can give is this:
Take deep breaths, expect things to go wrong, and just be present.
There’s a lot going on and it seems really stressful with 600+ students showing up from all over the world carting around 4 months worth of luggage, not to mention most people are jet lagged and running on 20+ hours of travel. It's a super long process to have your luggage checked, board the ship, find your cabin, get your ship ID, etc. so do your best to just relax, let the little things go, and make the most of it by becoming friends with the people you're standing next to in line.
I would also recommend flying in a day or two early to your deportation city. I flew into London just one day before I embarked the ship, so I spent embarkation day feeling extremely jet lagged and groggy. The more time you have to catch up and adjust to the time change, the more alive and alert you'll feel when embarking. And trust me, you'll want the energy!
Once you get on the ship, don’t worry about unpacking everything right away, just explore the ship, introduce yourself to everyone, relax and have fun.
Think of how long you’ve waited for this day, this moment!!!!! You did it! Just getting to where you are is SUCH an accomplishment in itself.
I could talk about SAS all day, so another blog post will be coming soon with packing tips, financial tips, and my biggest regrets from my trip.
Enter your email if you'd like to be notified when it's published, and let me know in the comments below if there's any other questions you'd like me to answer!!