Cultural Experience | All Experiences

7 things I Wish I Knew before Traveling Abroad

Nothing good every came from comfort zones and travel always challenges and changes us in the best way.

Travel will challenge you

Traveling, especially internationally, is one of those things in life that is designed to challenge you. It’s just built that way. Do not resist it. Nothing good ever came from comfort zones and travel always challenges and changes us in the best way. Enjoy.

Don’t buy an international phone plan

Do not buy an international phone plan. I repeat, do not buy an international phone plan. You think you need one but you don’t. In addition, they’re entirely too expensive. Instead of buying an international phone plan, buy an unlocked cell phone that will allow you to insert an SD card from the country you’re traveling to. This will save you so much money in the long run because you can buy a pay-as-you-go phone plan. If you’ll only be making phone calls in cases of emergency or to call your family, then save yourself money and go this route. American cell phone companies charge way to much to make phone calls abroad and I promise you the rate of $0.54 cents a minute and $0.25 cents per text (or whatever they’re charging these days) adds up. Keep your smartphone on airplane mode, us WiFi, Facetime, and other applications to keep your friends and family at home updated and if you desperately need to hear someone’s voice, call them on the unlocked phone you bought that has your local SD card in it.

Pack lighter

All those clothes and shoes you think you need? You don’t. I’d advise only bringing clothing and accessories that you absolutely love and can’t live without because if you don’t wear it at home, you’re surely not going to where it abroad. You’re already outside of your comfort zone when you travel, your clothes don’t have to be too. Bring things you feel comfortable and cute in, not things you think you might want to wear for XYZ picture or in XYZ destination.

Study up on the culture before arriving

One thing I never regret doing before a trip is reading a bit about the history and culture of the place I’m going. You obviously can’t learn all there is to know about a country from a guidebook or blog post, but doing your due diligence will pay off the end. Going to Spain? You should know they eat dinner really late and take a 1-2 hour siesta everyday. Going to Thailand? You should know that Thailand is the land of smiles and be aware of other cultural norms like saying “kap kun ka” (thank you) and bowing when you say goodbye. Knowing little tidbits of a country’s history and norms will help you feel more comfortable upon arrival and lesson the time it takes to adjust once you’re settled in.

Don’t buy the tourist trap souvenirs

As cool as shot glasses, snow globes, a mock Eiffel Tower, or an I love NY t-shirt are, you can find more inspired souvenirs for yourself and other people if you think outside of the box. You’ve been wanting a leather jacket? Why not buy it on your next trip to Italy. I bet it will be a touch more special if you do. Your mom has been wanting a new serving bowl? If you’re riding through the floating markets of Bangkok, why not buy one there? You’ll have a cool story to tell about the bowl that your mom will subsequently pull out whenever someone compliments her on it. These things are not the typical gifts to yourself or others, but they will have extra value and probably be used more often than a magnet or shot glass.

Go for the authentic food.

One of the best ways to experience a country is through food and the customs and traditions surrounding it. In order to really incorporate this into your experience, it’s important to eat from authentic places. In order to do so, I’d advise not eating around tourist attractions as those locations are more likely to have chain restaurants or fast food places around them. Before I first went to Europe, my mother told me never to eat McDonalds or anything I can get in the US when I’m in another country, I hope you’ll do the same!

Money goes faster abroad

BUDGET, BUDGET, BUDGET! Unless you have income coming in during your trip, budgeting your expenses ahead of time is going to be key for not coming home from your semester or trip abroad flat broke until your next paycheck comes in. Leave room for spontaneous adventures and emergency expenses, but having an idea of what things will cost will ensure a fun, worry-trip and not cause any awkward conversations with your family.

Do you have a travel tip? Share your tips with our Student Community here.

Gabrielle Hickmon

Cornell University | 7 stories

Gabrielle Hickmon is a senior at Cornell University who just returned from studying abroad at the University of Warwick in Coventry, England. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram at @gabgotti. She rants and writes regularly on her blog The Reign XY. But, when she isn't, you can find her laughing with her friends, binge watching way too much Netflix, and planning her next adventure!

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