You know that friend—the one studying abroad—who seems like they’re in a different country every week? The one who is supposed to be at school but looks like they’re never in their home country? The one whose Instagram you’re, like, really jealous of? You have to know at least one, and I bet you’ve wished you were them once or twice. And maybe when your application has been submitted, and your acceptance letter has been received, and it’s finally time to start preparing for your study abroad trip (!), you read up on a few posts that tell you how to become that person.
Well, that was me. And now I am that person. And let me tell you: It really is all it’s cracked up to be. Of course, everything has its ups and downs. In this case, there are far more ups, but it’s almost impossible to know the downs before you experience them yourself.
Let me start off by saying that I didn’t think I’d have enough money to visit all of the countries I have so far when I left my small town in Washington state and headed for London, England. I had barely two (jobless) months before I left to save up any money, and I was totally planning on taking advantage of all the free activities in my home country so as not to go broke a month in. That definitely happened some of the time, but I guess I really didn’t believe everyone when they said that flying within Europe is dirt-cheap (like, I-flew-to-Italy-for-thirty-dollars dirt-cheap). With a bit of knowledge and a lot of planning, you could absolutely be taking the Eurostar to Paris one weekend and flying to Amsterdam the next. (Yeah, I did that.)
With some newly acquired experience under my belt, here are a few things I’ve learned by country-hopping more often than my body can probably handle:
DO: Just plan that trip you’ve been wanting to go on already.
Duh. If you have the money and time, it’s absolutely worth it to get your traveling in when you can. Whenever I would second-guess booking a trip, my family sternly but lovingly reminded me that while I’ll probably return to Europe one day, I will never be able to travel this cheap again, and I’ll never be this young and adventurous again. While that last bit was quite the shock at first, I got over my impending mortality and realized that they were right. I may return to Europe, but I doubt I’ll be living here for an extended time within the next few years. So I would definitely take Nike’s advice and Just Do It.
DON’T: Think you can just go with the flow once you get to your destination.
Unless the intention of your trip is to just relax and not do anything, then this tip is useless. But we’re talking cheap college travel here—you’re going to want to fit anything and everything in your short stay, which probably includes all the fun, touristy things as well as the off-the-beaten-path activities. I admit that I’m a bit of an over-planner, but I strongly believe in not leaving for your trip until you have a loose itinerary (or at least a bucket list of all the things you want to see or do). This is also a good way to make sure you don’t fit too much into one day. It’s hard to imagine being too tired to explore a new city, but it happens. And that being said…
DO: Give yourself the first day of a trip to get settled in (even if that means making the trip a day longer to make up for it).
I know time feels limited when you’re traveling, and if you’re anything like me, you want to spend every second of it doing something amazing. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself as a traveler, it’s that the first day of a trip (even if there’s no time difference) is tough on me. I’m tired from the transportation, and I’m always homesick like the first day I got to England all over again. It’s a struggle to get out of my funk and go and do something, and I’ve consistently found myself wishing I had one more day so I wouldn’t have to feel guilty about wanting to take it slow at first. I do encourage you to explore the city a bit instead of staying inside all day, but there’s nothing wrong with a quick nap and a nice meal to get you settled and energized for the rest of your trip. And on that note…
DON’T: Give yourself less than two weeks in between international trips.
Something not everyone tells you before you arrive at your study abroad location is that you’ll probably get sick. Planes are gross, and getting used to the new water and food (wherever you are in the world) is not easy on the immune system. Add consistent travel to that mix and you have yourself a miserable few months ahead of you. I’ve never been sick enough to go to the doctor, but I do feel like I’ve had at least a runny nose or a cough for the past three months straight. It hasn’t stopped me from living up my time here, but I do wish I would have given myself more time in between planes and trains to just relax and let myself rest.
DO: Document everything.
I got an iPhone 7 Plus right before I left America, so I’ve been taking pictures like no one’s business (which is also why I’d say my Instagram is pretty bangin’ right now). As much as people like to say that taking pictures is a waste of the short time you have in a new place, I’d have to disagree. Everyone is different, and I’m sure I take way more photos than a lot of other people, but most of my free time is spent reminiscing on them with fond memories. I have a friend who makes videos of all our trips, and watching them is like being back on some of the best times I’ve ever had. You don’t have to spend an hour making sure you got the perfect shot, but don’t leave wishing you would have made more tangible memories when you had the chance.
DON’T: Think it will be easy to travel in huge groups.
I went to Paris with my school, which was entirely organized by them. They made traveling in a group of probably 100 students seem a lot easier than it really was. The very next weekend, I went to Amsterdam and Germany with a group of 7, without the planning expertise of our supervisors at school. It was, to say the least, a frustrating experience. It was so fun, and honestly one of my favorite trips nonetheless, but we underestimated how hard it would be to keep track of so many people who all wanted to do different things. In the next weeks, I went to Italy and Greece with just four people, then Ireland with three, and I realized a pattern: It’s a lot easier to travel with small groups. That’s not to say you shouldn’t travel with all of your friends at once, but be aware that it’s not all fun and games when it comes to varying leg lengths and attention spans.
In the end, it makes total sense to take advantage of your short time abroad, but you have to do it right. I don’t regret a single thing I’ve done so far, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wish I gave myself a little more than four days in between weekend trips.
I’ve been abroad for almost an entire semester, and these have been, without a doubt, the best three months of my entire life. I passionately encourage every single person studying abroad to take advantage of the cheap and easy travel—but make sure to take care of yourself, too.