The stress from going to the consulate is caused by all of the preparation that the visit requires. Basically, if you go to the Consulate website and follow the list you’ll be fine. HOWEVER… 🙂 SIT gave out some awesome checklists that covered, literally, everything and then some. These lists weren’t just on what papers to bring, but also how to correctly fill them out. I loved having these. They seemed to make the whole prep-process easier.
Now, after you’ve triple checked all the paperwork the big issue becomes how to get there. You could waste a ton of needed money on a plane…or you could use the MegaBus!!! My dad pointed me toward the MegaBus system. They might not service your particular city, but if they do then use them. I go on at length about them on my Important Resources page.
As for finding a place to stay: my step-mother called a friend that she knew from college that lived in Chicago. I was supposed to stay with this friend. But, this friend got sick and so I stayed with a friend of the friend and ended up having a fabulous time with this family. The point: Try to stay with family friends. Why? Because its a) cheaper and b)rekindles or makes connections and friendship that you wouldn’t have made otherwise. This process of staying with family and/or family friends is common in my household. It’s a bit unnerving, but its never gone awry for me. My dad always likes to tell me “Just remember that when you can offer a place to stay, you have to offer it.” I’m only quoting him because he puts much nicer than my long winded explanation would be. I wholeheartedly agree with him 🙂 Traveling and adventuring are about meeting new people, making new connections, learning, etc- so if you can encourage it, do!