So you’re studying abroad! First of all, CONGRATS! That is so exciting, and you should be jumping up and down right now! Studying abroad was one of my favorite things I have done in my life thus far, and holds some of my dearest travel memories. If you do your research and prepare accordingly, studying abroad can be one of your favorites too!
** A little disclaimer – I did study abroad in Europe (specifically Florence, Italy) so some of these tips may pertain more to that than other places like Australia or Asia! Nonetheless, a lot of these tips are generalized across the board so that they will be helpful to anyone setting off on their study abroad adventure.
During my study abroad experience, I took honest notes on things I wish I knew before I came abroad. I documented all of my mistakes, all of the times I could have saved more money, and all of the things I did right that I just said ‘Thank God’ afterwards. I have tons of tips listed here, but if you’re studying in Florence (you can read my Florence city guide here) and want more feel free to DM on Instagram. I’m more than happy to answer specific questions! I loved my time abroad and LOVE the city of Florence so much. I went ahead and categorized my tips so it’s easier for you all to read. My categories are (in order): Before You Go Abroad, Weekending Abroad, Traveling in Country, and Misc. Tips. Alright, lets go ahead and get started!
Before You Go Abroad
Tip No. 1: Packing Cubes and Space Bags are Your New Best Friend. Not even kidding you guys. You NEED these when trying to fit four months of life into a suitcase in a carry on. They are so helpful for weekend trips too. If you are buying space bags DO NOT buy the vacuum kind, because chances are you won’t be carrying a vacuum with you all over Europe.
Tip No. 2: Bring Basic COMFY Clothes You can Rewear. This is huge – I’m all about statement pieces, but not only do Europeans tend to wear all black, but also these kinds of clothes will be worn once and thrown to the side. You have SO much time abroad. Being able to mix and match and also rewear the same outfit without it being painfully obvious is a must. Also, don’t travel in uncomfortable clothes. I don’t think I should have to say this but I mean who wants to wear heels on a 4 hour flight? Not me.
Tip No. 3: Check & Know Your Adaptor! This is a super basic tip but I still thought it was important. You could potentially be traveling to lots of places that require different adaptors so I personally recommend attempting to find a multi-use adaptor that encompasses lots of different countries. Most importantly though, make sure it works for your home country! I would bring two or three, because sometimes they break and you don’t want to be left in a bad situation.
Tip No. 4: Buy Yourself Some Versatile, Functional, and Comfortable Shoes. I personally swear by short rain boots, or comfy white sneakers. I wore my short rain boots SO MUCH! They’re one of the things I’m so glad I brought. They can be worn with any outfit, in any weather condition, and they’re perfect for staying comfortable. White sneakers are great for the warmer weather! They are literally the most versatile shoes ever, and always look trendy while on the go.
Tip No. 5: Schedule Your Classes For Maximum Travel. I had class Monday-Wednesday and could leave Wednesday night or Thursday morning to spend almost 4 full days in a new country on the weekend. That is a ton of time! I personally think its worth it to pack in full days of class for a few days, rather than spread them out and miss out on extra exploration time.
Tip No. 1: DON’T Book Your Trips Before You Go. What I mean by this isn’t that you shouldn’t book any trips before you go… If there are special holidays or very expensive cities, those are fine to book before because the prices will increase. The reason I say that you should hesitate on planning every weekend before you go is because it doesn’t leave room for any of the fun stuff. While you’re abroad you will probably meet new friends you want to plan trips with, or talk to people about a cool place they went that has a deal on flights. All of this is possible, so just leave room for the unknown.
Tip No. 2: DO Plan Your Trips! I am an avid planner. Which is why it took everything in me to say not to plan every weekend meticulously before you even get abroad. But I stand by that, and I also stand by the fact that you SHOULD plan your trips. I’m not talking about an hour by hour schedule, but I think its important to know things that you want to hit each day for location purposes, to save money (cab or uber costs/budgeting purposes), and to be able to spend the time you’re there exploring and not planning. A great way to do this is through blog posts, Pinterest, making Instagram collections (save pictures with locations!), or the best of all – word of mouth. If your friend went there last weekend pick her brain!
Tip No. 3: Master Lists are Key. I loved having a master list from the beginning of things I thought I needed to pack, and adjusting it as I went. After my first weekend trip I realized how much I overpacked, and my list just went down with each trip I took. This made it so much easier to tackle packing when time was limited (after class, trips that happen on a whim, etc.) and it made me stress so much less about packing and enjoy myself more!
Tip No. 4: Download Travel Entertainment Beforehand. Another basic tip, but just so you don’t forget I’m including it. Budget airlines will not have any form of entertainment (or snacks) so you’ll want to have your music and shows downloaded on your phone, with a portable charger in hand so you’re ready to go. This is also a great time to get homework done so you don’t have to think about it while you’re exploring.
Tip No. 5: Fly With Budget Airlines; but Be Aware of the Guidelines. The entire time I was abroad I flew budget airlines like RyanAir or Lufthansa. I loved how cheap they were, and honestly think the price is worth it. BUT there are some serious things you must remember before you go, or they’ll be charging you enough to make the flight not worth it. You need to check whether or not your ticket is required to be printed, and you also need to check how much luggage you are allowed. Almost always it is 1 personal item, but you can buy more. This is enough for a weekend away if you pack smart. Don’t have any specific travel arrangements immediately before or after the flight, because these airlines are COMMONLY delayed. Especially night flights. Just leave room for error and you’ll be okay!
Tip No. 6: You Can Take a Cheap Train To Catch Cheaper Flights Out of Other Cities. This applies especially to Italy, because two of the cheapest airports in Europe are Rome and Milan. We often got a cheap 1-2 hour train trip to either of those cities, took a bus to the airport and flew from there for a few hundred less than the Florence airport. Definitely check out these options before you book any travel BUT DO NOT book a flight without checking the trains running. And remember to leave room for error like I said in the previous tip.
Tip No. 7: Pack Small Snacks For Travel Days and Breakfast. This will save you SO much money. Buying snacks at the airport or train station adds up, and sometimes if its late at night places will even be closed. Save money on the crappy airport food and spend it on delicious local food while you travel!
Tip No. 8: Skip Out On Hotels, and Focus on Hostels and Airbnb. If you want to stay in hotels do it! The reason I don’t encourage it though, is because you won’t even be in your room that much if you’re doing traveling right. You might as well spend less on a hostel or airbnb, and spend more on experiences and food. At least, that’s where my priorities lie. Hostels are often JUST as nice as hotels, and if you’re traveling with a group of 4-8+ you can usually even buy out the whole room, making it one giant sleepover! Try to book a hostel with free breakfast to save even more money. Hostelworld.com is an awesome resource for finding good hostels, and you can filter for things like breakfast included! Airbnb has a lot of hacks and discount codes to save money and stay in GREAT locations. Just get crafty!
Tip No. 9: Take Note of WHERE You Travel When Budgeting. Some places are more expensive than others, so when you’re making your budget, you have to budget more for these places. A few of the more expensive places I know for sure are: Switzerland, Paris, London… I’m sure there are more, just do your research!
Traveling in Country
Tip No. 1: Use The Train System + Use Your Travel Time Wisely. My favorite place to do homework/write in my travel journal was the trains! They are so scenic (imagine: traveling through the Italian countryside via train with your headphones on blasting music as if you’re in a movie scene) and so inspiring. I always feel motivated to do things, although sometimes I just wanted to stare out the window. Planes or buses are usually a bit crowded to do homework, but trains can actually be pretty spacious!
Tip. No. 2: Remember To Call Cabs, and Pay Attention To Misc. Cab Fees. In Italy there is no Uber. So you go about things the ‘old fashioned’ way! There are quite a few places in Europe that do use Uber like Paris! But if not, cabs don’t run NYC style. You have to call the cab company beforehand and schedule a time for the car to come. If you’re doing this early in the morning or late at night the cabs will need extra time (call the night before a 4 am cab ride) and will also cost a little extra. Cabs also may charge per piece of luggage you have.
Tip No. 3: Take Lots of Cheap Day Trips. I can’t stress this enough, never will you be able to travel this cheap and easy throughout Europe (especially the country you are in!) again. Visit every small town and every big city. Do research and find the places that interest you and actually go there. Because you can! It’s so easy to just go and you should take advantage of that.
Misc. Tips (Money Saving, Living, Etc.)
Tip No. 1: Decide How you’re Going To Go About Your Phone Plan. There are a few different options when it comes to your phone abroad. Some people get SIM cards when they get there – an easy and inexpensive plan for sure. BUT you could totally get a data plan through your phone company and simply use wifi when you have it. I personally almost always had wifi, and when I didn’t I thought it was a nice break from my phone where I could really take in everything that was going on.
Tip No. 2: Use Tripcoin For Budgeting. Before I went abroad I acknowledged the fact that I would probably need to find a good way to budget my spending. I heard about the app Tripcoin and downloaded it before I went abroad. It took me a little while to get into the swing of using it on a regular basis, but once I got it it was so great. You can divide up your spending by trips, and add in the dollar amount and name of each spend. This really helped me know where my money was going and to actually be conscious when spending it.
Tip No. 3: Save Money at Home By Grocery Shopping. As much as you may be tempted to just go crazy with your native countries food, I would advise eating out in small doses while at home (weekends to special occasions) so that on the weekend when you travel to a new place, you can spend lots of money on trying new things!
Tip No. 4: Don’t Underestimate The Language Barrier, But Don’t Let it Scare You Either. Unless you are studying somewhere the people primarily speak English, you can be sure to run into a few road blocks in regards to language.As long as you are polite, respectful, and attempt to learn basic phrases everything else should work itself out.
Tip No. 5: Stay Home For a Few Weekends and Get To Know Your City. This is something I cannot stress enough. You will regret not taking the opportunity to make the city you’re living in feel like home. Imagine traveling back, years down the road, and still knowing the streets. You most likely won’t get to live this way again with this few obligations in this city. Take advantage of it.
Tip No. 6: Don’t Panic About Bad Travel Situations. Ride them out and know that nothing is the end of the world. You’re so lucky to be seeing the world and exploring with no obligations! If you feel you’re in a bad travel situation, just remember – at one point I was stuck overnight in an open air Rome train station during a blizzard. It happens to all of us!
If you’re going abroad soon I hope this post was super helpful. As always with any questions or concerns you have PLEASE dm me on Instagram! I love to answer all questions especially about study abroad (and Florence) because I love it so much.