One of the best parts of studying abroad is having the opportunity to travel to places you’ve never been to before. Maybe you’ll even get to see places you never thought you’d be able to visit. I know that as soon as you settle into your host country, you’ll be dying to hop on a plane the first chance you get. However, as someone who studied abroad, there are a few things I recommend you keep in mind as you prepare to travel.
Research the Places You’re Going
My semester abroad was the first time I had been to Europe, so I wanted to make sure I knew what to expect. On top of that, as a single woman traveling alone, I wanted to be safe. I made sure to read reviews about the cities I was visiting and figure out where the safest, or least-safe, places would be.
I can speak to the fact that you may arrive in a city you think is going to be nice, and then end up feeling incredibly unsafe. If this is something you would like to feel very prepared for, you can read blog posts for a personal or inside look at your travel destination. These blog posts contain the best local food carts, places to take pictures, and things to put on your bucket list. TripAdvisor is a great place to check.
Travel in Groups
This one seems pretty obvious, but if you’re going somewhere you don’t know a ton about, traveling with at least one other person is always a good idea. While you don’t want to look at traveling from a fearful perspective, showing caution when you need to is always a good idea.
In that same vein, once you begin exploring, you can gauge whether or not you feel comfortable walking around at night. Don’t feel guilty or embarrassed if you want to turn in for the night earlier than your friends. Go with your gut and your instinct!
Respect the Local Culture
In some cases, a country you enter may have cultural expectations and norms that are very different from your host country. As a visitor, adhering to these norms will show locals you care about their culture, but it may also keep you safe from pickpockets or even offending anyone that you run into. You don’t want to stick out as a tourist too much!
Keep Your Paperwork Handy
While I was traveling across Europe, there were certain papers I needed to get back into England, including a bank statement, proof of my English address, and an acceptance letter from the college whose exchange program I was in. I kept all these papers together in a Ziploc bag that I stored in my purse so that I didn’t have to dig through my suitcase for loose sheets of paper.
Even if I didn’t end up needing a particular document, it was good to have everything handy for a flight check-in, or as proof of residence if I was approached by the police for any given reason. American drivers’ licenses are not considered legitimate forms of identification outside of the US, so make sure you know all of the paperwork and documents you need when leaving and entering different countries!
Prepare Your Travel Route
Throughout your time abroad, you may find yourself in the middle of a new place with a dead phone, or having to follow signs in a language that you cannot read (both of these happened to me!). Look at your travel route before you begin your day so that you have some kind of idea of the direction you’re going. Pay attention to any updates about trains switching platforms or metro delays. I always had my phone charger easily accessible in case I needed it.
All in all, your travels have the potential to become one of your fondest memories. There are so many new foods to try, views to see, and relationships to form! If you keep these simple tips in mind while leaving your host country, it may help you have a smoother transition and travel experience. Just keep a cool head, be smart, and be confident. It’s a big world. Go enjoy it.