As we go along in planning, it becomes more and more clear that we are the pioneers. We knew this from the start, but it sure would have been helpful to have some hints and tips before we made a few of our decisions!
For anyone considering following our footsteps and moving to Birmingham for a semester (or anyone going to travel in the UK):
- start the process EARLY! Although it has generally worked out, making the decision to travel abroad six weeks before the plane leaves was a little crazy of us.
- First, get your passport (even if you only think you might go). Raymond had to pay a ridiculous fee to expedite his so that we could apply for a visa in time. Money makes things happen, so we received it within a week of his application, but if you apply with plenty of time you can save about $80 in rush fees.
- The visa will be a pain, but start that as soon as you get your passport. There's no way to start it any sooner because you need your passport information, but you can apply up to six months before your actual trip date. The sooner the better, because once you finish the application and have your biometrics taken, you have to mail your passport to New York and wait for it to be verified and sent back. Once again, save money and don't wait until you have to overnight the package (and then pray for it to get back in time). Yeah, we're still waiting.
- For us, flying into London was much less expensive because we want to go to Rome before school starts. In hindsight, it probably would have been worth the expense to either fly into Birmingham first or get flights back there from Rome. It's not that big of a deal, but if we had flown into Birmingham the school would have picked us up from the airport (we found that out after we booked tickets to London). Although it's only a two hour train ride from London to Birmingham, the train and taxis add up. It might have been worth the extra money to skip all the public transportation and get picked up by the school.
- If you want to go to Rome, talk nicely to the sisters! We're going to stay with them and they are even picking us up from the airport in Italy.
- Apply for housing in Birmingham early if you want something specific. By the time we applied, we were just hoping for anything! Thankfully they still had a couple standard dorm rooms or otherwise we would have had to try and find our own housing.
- When booking airlines, don't just look at Expedia or Travelocity or Orbitz. We booked with KLM directly (a Dutch airline) because the tickets were less expensive AND they included our luggage. We also looked at British Airlines and AirFrance.
Good luck and be ready to take some risks!