After going abroad to Copenhagen, Denmark last fall and having the most amazing time of my life, I have compiled 10 tips that I believe really made my experience. To anyone going abroad this summer or fall, I hope these will help you make the most of your time. And to anyone considering going abroad, go!
1. Keep a Blog- As much as you won’t want to sit down and write about your amazing weekend trip to Vienna the Sunday you return from it, just do it. Keeping a blog of your travels, eats, funny stories and various experiences will be one of the most valuable things you leave abroad with (especially come exam week back on campus…). Blogs are so easy to do and an awesome way to share your pictures and videos with friends/family back in the U.S. However, make sure that what you’re writing will be well received by your parents and potential audience.
2. Travel, Travel, Travel! – The highlight of your abroad experience will be the amazing memories you had with your best friends while traveling, not the awesome pair of shoes you bought. Be smart about your budget and allow yourself some money to travel so you can take advantage of being halfway around the world. Be realistic about the places you want to visit and why you want to visit them- if you want to go to Monte Carlo because you think you’ll be able to Instagram some ritzy pictures of you and your friends drinking mimosas in front of the marina, keep in mind you will be paying the full price to do so.
3. Travel Wisely- The above being said, be smart about traveling. In Europe there are tons of budget airlines that make flying really affordable. Finding cheap flights is only half the battle. Make sure you arrive knowing how to get from the airport to your hotel/friends apartment using public transportation. By doing so you can save tons of money and avoid getting ripped off by taxi drivers. From my experiences traveling around Europe, public transportation is clean, fast and easy. And when you can’t take public transportation, walk! You’ll learn a lot more about a country walking around it than sitting in a taxi WhatsApp-ing your friends in the U.S.
4. Friends in High Places- If you are lucky enough to have friends from college/high school abroad at the same time as you, take advantage of it. By staying with someone you will not only save money but also get access to someone who knows the city. They’ll know the easiest ways to get around, the sights you’ll want to see and have restaurant recommendations for places off the beaten path that you’d never notice.
5. Eat- As much as you don’t want to hear it, abroad is not the time to start a diet. Food is such a big part of many countries’ culture and you really are missing out if you bring protein bars to avoid trying new foods. Carbs really aren’t that evil, and I promise you’ll still survive and fit into your skinny jeans if you eat pizza while you’re in Rome (When in Rome right?!).
6. Student IDs- If you are studying at a foreign university, be sure to bring your student ID with you wherever you go. In Europe, if you are attending a school within the EU you can get into most major museums and landmarks for free (if not for free, a reduced price). It’s easy math, saving 18 € visiting Versailles is 18 croissants, 3-4 bottles of wine, a cool top, 6 metro day passes… the possibilities are endless.
7. Your Ipod is still your best friend- The best way to get to know the city you are studying in is by throwing in your headphones and going for a walk. All you have to do is pick a direction and go. Don’t be afraid to get lost, because you’re probably not as far from your apartment/dorm as you think and this is when you’ll find cool restaurants, parks, attractions and stores you never knew existed. Don’t be afraid to wander from the major shopping streets, because most of the times things on them are overpriced and sold in the U.S. anyway.
8. Meet the locals!- Dreaming of falling in love with a guy from the country you’re studying in? Well newsflash, you aren’t going to meet him if you only hang out with American students at American bars. My friends and I found that in about 90% of the places we traveled, we were extremely welcomed and able to make tons of local friends. Getting to know people from different cultures really was an enlightening experience and taught me way more than any class could. Remember when making new friends to keep in mind the cultures of the people you are meeting so you can gauge friendly and honest gestures from overly aggressive ones. Locals will also be the best guides of their cities and will want to leave you with the best impression of their country.
9. Bucket List- As cliché as it sounds, make a bucket list. There is no other way for you to remember everything you planned on doing, seeing and trying otherwise. On it, include festivals, restaurants, museums, cultural celebrations and anything else you can think of. While it’s so easy to waste a Sunday streaming movies on Megavideo, remember that you’re only abroad once and that it will go by much more quickly than you think.
10. Be spontaneous!- Some of the best times I had abroad were the result of spontaneous decisions. Whether it is hopping on a train to Sweden 2 hours before a concert starts or going to a traditional Danish Christmas dinner, you will not regret it. Take advantage of all the opportunities on hand!