Many of my friends, family, and even strangers I’ve encountered all ask me similar questions about my experience so far abroad, how I prepared for it, and how I’m managing while being half way across the world. My number one piece of advice: Be open minded and embrace all experiences.
My OCD self constantly desires full control over situations, I’m a planner, and I can oftentimes rely on how life is in California to determine how life should be here. However, when traveling to multiple different cities, countries, and encountering various cultures, you have to let go and let be. It is the best way to allow the experience to shape you, instead of you shaping the experience.
If I could give everyone I love one thing, it would be the gift of travel. I’ve put together a simple guide on how to prepare for life abroad. If it can at least help one person to feel more confident in pursuing moving across the world, I will be happy!
1. Make a trip calendar: Make a list of countries, then cities, then specific destinations within those cities. Research the best times to visit (warmer weather, longer days, less tourists), and give yourself flexibility with flights to find the most affordable option.
2. Make reservations in advance: Flights, hostels, AirBNB, etc. Companies only allow so many tickets to be sold at a low fare, because they have to make their profit at one point. Figure out which online flight service you are most comfortable using, become familiar with websites like SkyScanner, HostelWorld, and AirBNB.
3. Find what you are looking for: When you go to a city, are you there for the nightlife, food, history, art? It is important to go somewhere with a plan and idea of what you want out of your experience. As an abroad student, time to travel on the weekends is limited and you want to be prepared and know what you want from each excursion. And if you don’t know much about what a city has to offer, research! But lean more towards blogs and articles where you can read from other students with similar interests as you.
4. Have a budget: Know the general prices of different cities. For example, Amsterdam and London are more on the expensive side, while Lisbon and Barcelona are a bit more affordable. Without a set budget, your spending will likely spiral out of control, and you will be left in the airport on your way home, begging your parents to transfer you money so you can eat a meal and pay for your luggage to come home… Not that that’s happened to me before!
5. Go off the beaten path: And by this, I mean try to steer clear of only focusing on tourist attractions (traps). If you want to see the Eiffel Tower, I encourage you to go see the Eiffel Tower! But perhaps instead of eating lunch at the cafes surrounding the tower, head over to a local cafe on a beautiful, narrow street and experience life the way the French do. I guarantee you the food will be better, cheaper, and the experience is one many miss out on.
I haven’t covered everything, as I could sit and talk for hours about my experiences, how I’ve prepared, and what my plans are for the future. As long as you plan, know yourself, do your research, and allow yourself to be open to embrace new adventures, I know you will do great! I have encountered way too many students that wait until the day before to book a hostel, the week of to book airfare, and have no idea what each city has to offer.
Because of my OCD planning and passion for adventure, I was able to see more of Paris in two and a half days than many are able to see in a week. Know what you are looking for, wake up early instead of partying late, and go explore!
Until next time, friends!
Madeline Alice Johnson