English Literature and TESL student Brittany Cass studied abroad in England during the Winter 2012 Semester. “It was a lot of firsts for me,” she reports. “First time on a plane alone; first time outside of the continent; and first time submersed in another culture.” Based on personal experience, Brittany shares practical advice (most of which she had to learn the hard way) for anyone preparing to travel abroad:
Before you leave home, print out a map of your destination, and plan out how you’ll get from the airport to your hotel or university
Research online and email your host institution for details about getting around the area. Having a printed map is ideal, instead of relying solely on technology to show you where to go. Your iPod or smartphone with all those maps could run out of battery or be out of range just when you need it the most.
Research prices for transportation
Try to find out beforehand how much it will cost to take a taxi or bus to get you to your destination and bring the money (in the appropriate currency) with you. If you arrive later in the day, currency exchange kiosks may be closed. On that note, Brittany adds: “Always keep some emergency cash with you.”
Don’t leave packing for last minute – and pack light!
“Maneuvering in a crowded tube station with two suitcases and a laptop bag is not fun,” Britanny points out. Also consider the fact that three to six months is plenty of time to accumulate even more treasured belongings, which you will undoubtedly want to bring home with you.
Double-check that you have pre-authorized your credit cards before you leave.
Avoid a major headache involving long distant phone calls with your credit card company. Let them know ahead of time that you will be using the card in another country – also, it doesn’t hurt to double check right before you leave that they have made a note on your account.
Create a weekly budget plan.
“Some of the people I was with did this and knew exactly how much they could spend every week,” Brittany says. “I wish I had too, instead of just checking my bank account every two weeks. I kept thinking, ‘hm – I’m good,’ until it got towards the end.”
Once you get settled and acquainted with the average price of daily life in your area abroad, plan out how much you can spend every week so you have enough money until your very last day.
All the while…
Observe the locals.
If you are sitting at a pub for over half an hour and no one has come to give you a menu, it may be time to observe the locals. In England, Brittany reports that it’s most common to order and pay ahead of time at the bar. Be alert to these little cultural differences.
Just take it as it goes.
Many factors will influence your travel experience, many of which will be out of your control. What can you control? Attitude. Try to stay level-headed in stressful situations. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
Have a completely open mind
“Just accept that things will be different,” advises Brittany with a laugh. “You are going to embarrass yourself a lot.”
Do you have hard-learned advice about travel and pre-planning? Leave a comment below! Or, share a story by submitting a post to the Study Abroad blog.