10 Travel Tips for the Study Abroad Student
Try adding these tips to your POA (Plan of Action)
During my fall semester abroad, I traveled to six countries, navigated around 13 different airports, gone through take offs and landings on 13 flights, and taken countless buses, trains, metros, and taxis. And most of it wasn’t even in English. In that time, you could say I’ve learned a thing or two about traveling. So here it is, my list of what I’ve learned, as told by Shannon. Not an expert, but maybe an expert traveler; you be the judge.
1. On Time? What a concept.
“On time” in Europe isn’t a thing. Every flight I’ve been on here has not left on time. Whether it’s over 24 hours behind schedule or just 30 minutes, I guess the Europeans are a little more lenient about timing. However, time is usually made up in the air so I’ve always landed on time or early. Multiple buses I’ve taken to or from the airport have also been late. I’ve learned to plan for this and add about 30 minutes onto the departure time and give yourself about an hour between getting off a plane and trying to catch a scheduled bus. It’s not worth the aggravation of trying to rush through customs to try and catch your bus to the London city center.
2. “I’m flying to Rome this weekend and Ireland next weekend.”
This is going to sound bratty and spoiled but I’ve learned flying really isn’t a big deal. At this point, I feel like I can navigate an airport with my eyes closed I’ve done it so many times. Also, there is no need to get to the airport two full hours before takeoff. In Europe the gate numbers aren’t even posted until 30 minutes before boarding. I can’t count all the combined hours we must’ve spent just sitting at Starbucks waiting to find out our gate number. Also, boarding the plane is a free for all. There’s no calling by row, everyone gets on at once and yes, trying to find overhead storage for your carryon is a mess (that’s why you always make sure it fits under the seat).
3. Look for the reflective clothing.
Let’s face it: maps can only get you so far in a foreign country. The tiny print and elusive markings don’t help that much. You will need to ask for directions and it is best to do this from someone who is wearing reflective clothing: a police officer, tour guide, or bus stop attendant. They usually will speak English and are very knowledgeable of the area. They are also trustworthy; you don’t have to worry about them sending you down some back alley or trying to sell you something.
4. “Would you mind taking our picture?”
Everyone says it, everyone does it, there’s no shame in it. Everyone wants his or her picture in front of the Eiffel Tower. Don’t be scared to ask because whomever you ask will most likely ask you to return the favor. I could however write a whole other blog entry on picking the right person to take your picture, but I will spare you.
5. Subway or McDonalds?
America is everywhere. I’m not going to lie and say that the Burger King down the street from the Trevi Fountain didn’t take away from some of its magic. Although you may go to a foreign country, you will still see Coca-Cola, Abercrombie and Fitch, and of course those golden arches. I am guilty of going to a McDonald’s in Germany and a Subway in both Ireland and Spain. But hey, a little taste of home isn’t such a bad; except maybe when you go to the Starbucks in the Louvre.
6. This tastes a lot better than Olive Garden.
The food is quite possibly the best part of traveling because you get the chance to taste each cuisine in it’s birthplace, so to speak. I’ve had beer and a pretzel in Munich, spaghetti and lasagna in Rome, potatoes and a Guinness in Ireland, a fresh baguette and a crepe in Paris, and paella and sangria in Spain. My taste buds will never be the same. Sorry mom, but I now have higher expectations for your spaghetti.
7. Lesson learned: everything that can go wrong will.
I have learned this the hard way. Just remember: it’s not the end of the world, there’s nothing you can do to change it, and you will get to where you are going; even if it is 24 hours behind schedule.
8. Anticipation isn’t overrated.
It is best to have a plan before you go and do your research. Knowing how to get to/from the airport and to/from your hostel before you get there is huge. Also having a list of all the stuff you want to see/do/accomplish/buy is really important. A POA (plan of action) is never a bad idea. Research the city before you go so you can get a sense of where everything is. For example, in London you can hit Hyde Park and Buckingham Palace all in one day because they’re right next to each other. Another day can be devoted to Big Ben and the London Eye, which sit diagonally across the Thames.
9. No 4G or Wifi? No problem.
You’re going to have to accept that traveling internationally is not feasible to an iPhone addiction. Surprisingly, that’s actually a good thing. Obviously you can’t use your data because international rates are astronomical. You also don’t get free wifi as easily as you would think; you get in your hostel but free airport wifi is almost always limited (about 45 minutes only). The only wifi guarantee is Starbucks, but then you have to buy something and sit there, so I guess it’s not really free. However, being wifi and data deprived while traveling has been nice. I can really enjoy my time wherever I am because I am not distracted by twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. (That’s not to say whenever I reach wifi I don’t furiously check everything). I have learned to live without it and so far, I’ve survived.
10. It’s the journey, not the destination.
Going to foreign places, learning about new cultures, eating amazing food, and seeing breathtaking sights is undoubtedly one of the best experiences of my life. London was my home away from home and undoubtedly the best place for me to study abroad. Leaving London was a strange feeling. So much had happened over three months and I wasn’t sure I was completely ready for it to end. However, I’ve learned that an even more important part of the journey is the return home. After my time abroad, I was able to come back to the US feeling like a real adult because of all I was able to experience in Europe. As Nelson Mandela says, “There’s nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” So don’t be sad to return home and don’t think of it as an ending. Instead, think of it as the beginning of your newfound confidence and adulthood. When this happens, you truly realize the wealth of your experience.