5 Preparation Tips for the First Time Studying Abroad
Suggestions from one amateur world traveler to another
Planning a trip can be exciting yet extremely stressful at the same time. It is not every day that we go on a once of a lifetime adventure, so preparing for it is difficult. From trying to fit everything in one suitcase to the car ride to the airport, anxiety juices are flowing at a fast pace and there are ways to deal with it. Here are a few tips that I learned from planning my first trip out of the country to Barcelona, Spain!
1. Don’t be afraid to travel alone.
It is OK to miss out on a few social events in your hometown. Your friends will still be waiting for you at home! Studying abroad is a great opportunity and you will meet plenty of people in your program. Many programs have Facebook groups once you are accepted. Connecting with other students through social media is a great way to see if other students are on the same flight. It will also allow you to connect with students before your travels! If this will be your first time flying alone, don’t be afraid! When I first signed up for studying abroad my biggest fear was messing something up during my flight, (missing passport, lost luggage, etc.) but flying alone was not nearly as bad as I expected it to be. Just make sure you are prepared with your paperwork and stay positive!
2. Plan accordingly.
This may sound like an obvious suggestion, but you would be surprised how much you don’t know about the country your traveling to. A big struggle for me was figuring out what type of clothes I could wear that would not make me stand out as an obvious tourist. In Barcelona, you are easily identified as a tourist if you wear denim shorts walking around the city. Check out any local half priced bookstore, and you will find tons of books on your host country telling you every little detail there is to know. One of the books I purchased even has a list of all restaurants in the area and their price range; which is very good to know for students on a budget! Not only clothing, but figuring out basic cultural norms before traveling will help with planning your day. Find out general store hours and what time the locals eat their meals each day. Before you leave, be sure to check the weather! I thought Barcelona was going to be warmer during the nights, but the temperature was actually in the low 60’s! Be sure to pack clothes to fit in with the culture and weather.
3. Don’t book confusing flights.
If this is your first time traveling alone, book flights that connect in the United States! Don’t trouble yourself booking flights with connections in other countries. Try and find the easiest one possible with the most connections in the United States. If you are on a budget, it might be worth it to spend a little more for an easier flight. If you are searching online for a flight, don’t repeatedly search through search engines for flights on the same device. It is rumored that companies can rack up the pricing of your flight after you continuously search for it.
4. Figure out technology before you leave.
Although you are going to be very busy while abroad, you’re going to want to use your phone to connect with your friends and family. While many people know, if you have an iPhone or smart phone you are able to use your phone in wifi. While there are options such as renting a cell phone, buying a different SIM card, all those processes seemed too confusing for me. With many cell phone providers, they offer affordable international plans while traveling abroad. This is a great back-up to have for when you need to use your phone without wifi. I would suggest also purchasing a data plan, just incase you get lost walking somewhere, you will be able to access your map to take you to your location.
5. Find out the best way to spend your cash.
This is a very important detail that needs to be sorted out before you travel. Many banks will provide free currency exchanges for their members, so you don’t have to pay any additional fees before hand. Going to the bank and getting a few hundred dollars exchanged before you leave for your destination will create a better start for your trip, especially since you won’t have to immediately stop at the bank. Be sure to look into your credit card or debit card fees before traveling to see how much you are charged for using it while abroad. Applying for a credit card with no foreign transaction fees eliminates any additional charges for paying for items while abroad. Some debit cards will charge fees such as 3% for every transaction. Although you can use a credit card the entire time, many places will not even accept credit cards. It is good to have cash available to you at all times. Many restaurants and small shops will need to be paid for in cash. Follow these tips and your first travel abroad experience will be a great one!