Wednesday, May 28, 2014

what i've learned from not yet studying abroad

Let me tell ya - preparing to study abroad is NOT fun. Maybe it's just my crazy brain, but I have been thinking of EVERYTHING for a while now. What should I wear? What should I bring? What if this? What if that? It's exhausting. So, in order to make your lives easier, here's a list of things to do/think about for your study abroad trip!

1. Money

Oh, goodness. The root of all my problems. So the big question is, how are you going to have money while abroad? After countless research and talking to my friends who have gone abroad, this is the best method I can think of:

  • Carry and use cash. It's so much easier than wondering if the place you're going accepts plastic. Just take out what you need at the beginning of each week and be done.
  • Open a Charles Schwab account. There's no minimum balance, and it's fast and easy to do. The reason why you want Schwab is NO ATM TRANSACTION FEES WORLDWIDE. *Cue the Hallelujah Chorus* This means that you're not limited by how many times a week you take out cash/you're not burdened with ATM fees. I still say don't withdraw too often, but this gives you a little more leeway.
  • Hook up the Schwab account to PayPal, and then have your parents (if they're the ones sending you money) transfer it over. It's fast and free, unlike a wire transfer, which could take days and charge fees to do. 
  • Get a credit card with no foreign transaction fees, like the Capital One Venture card or the Discover It card. I would recommend the Discover because it has no annual fees, cashback, and a lot of other cool perks. For more info on credit cards with no foreign transaction fees, go to and do some research. This card is for emergencies/big purchases while abroad, and can be used later for your regular credit card.

2. Electronics

If you know anything about me, it's that I have to live next to an outlet because I'm always using something that requires a plug - my phone, my computer, my straightener, my blow dryer, etc. However, if you go abroad, the outlets/voltage is going to be DIFFERENT. You can't use all your stuff in the same way, so it's important to know what to do in order to keep your electronics intact. 

  • There are two things you'll need - a voltage converter, and an outlet adapter. The outlet adapter turns your US plug into another country's plug. However, that's not all you'll need. The voltage in the US is 120v, but the voltage in other places (namely Europe) is 240v. That means, if you try sticking your straightener into the socket with just an outlet adapter, it's gonna be toast. Which means, you also need a voltage converter for many of your items.
  • That being said, don't bring things you wouldn't want accidentally ruined. Buy a cheap straightener there. That way, it won't need a voltage converter OR an outlet adapter. Or, buy products where the voltage can be converted. I just bought a hot air brush, and it turned out that you can change the voltage from 120v to 240v on the product itself. Ebay is a good place to find things that people used when going abroad and don't need anymore. 
  • Good news - Apple products are built in with universal voltage conversion, so they will only need the outlet adapter. 
  • I recommend buying a kit with a voltage converter and outlet adapters, just to get you started. After that, there are several things you can get to make your life easier. You can get universal power strips with voltage conversion on Amazon. That way, you can plug in all your American stuff and not worry about it blowing up. Or, if you have products that are already converted to the right voltage (Apple products, for example), you can buy a big pack of outlet adapters, also from Amazon. Basically, Amazon is going to be your new best friend.
  • If you're going abroad for the summer and you won't be writing lengthy dissertations, I highly recommend not taking your laptop. They're heavy, they're bulky, and they're the first thing that could get stolen. Instead, invest in a tablet of some sort and get a keyboard attachment or a stylus. Or if you just HAVE to take your laptop, have a way to lock it up when you're gone, just in case.

3. Phones

I felt like I had to make a separate category just for cellular devices. I know it's going to be hard to part with the extension of your right hand, but it's just not practical to use. Doesn't mean I said don't take it with you...

  • If possible, take an old smartphone or iPod Touch instead of your usual phone. That way, if you lose it, it's not the end of the world. The good thing about old phones and iPod Touches is that they have no cellular connectivity, so you're also not tempted to turn it on, or turn it on by accident. They will only work on WiFi, which is what you'll need most of the time. But the good news is, WiFi is EVERYWHERE, especially in Europe. 
  • Take pictures of important lists, maps, guides, etc. so when you're not able to get WiFi, you can have access to things you need. Download handy apps for when you do have Internet connectivity. 
  • For calling, most study abroad programs will provide phones. Or, if they don't, you can always pick up a cheap-o at a hypermarket (their version of Walmart) and load it with minutes. You probably won't use it much, but it's good to have for emergencies and getting ahold of fellow students/staff quickly.

4. Packing

And, of course, you're going to need a way to pack all this stuff up and get it on the plane. Here are some things you should/shouldn't pack:

  • Already said before, laptop is not recommended, but if you must take it, keep it with you on the plane, either in your carry-on bag or personal bag. 
  • You'll need 3 bags - a large rolling suitcase (whether you stay in one place or move around will determine how large that suitcase will be for practicality), a carry-on that will go in the top compartment on the plane, and a personal bag with your ticket, passport, snacks, medicine, and plane entertainment. 
  • Your carry-on should act as a "If my luggage gets lost and I'm stranded for a couple days without it, this will get me through" bag. Put in an extra outfit, pair of shoes, small toiletries, and anything else you wouldn't want to lose. But make sure it fits TSA standards (i.e., travel sized products).
  • Don't bother bringing full-sized toiletries - they'll just be heavy and take up room in your suitcase. Instead, go to the drugstore when you get there and buy the products there. Unless you absolutely HAVE to have a certain kind of shampoo, you'll be fine with what is in the country you're staying in (and if you're in Europe, it's probably better for you anyway). A full-size bottle or two will last you for the duration of your stay, and you can throw it away when you leave and be done!
  • Don't pack anything you wouldn't want to get ruined. Your $100 hair straightener? Buy it when you get there. Your favorite pumps? Those cobblestone streets will ruin them. Just think, "Would I want this ruined?" and if the answer is no, then don't bring it. 

5. Clothes

Depending on where/when you go, what you bring to wear is important. And what may be cool and in style here may not be there.

  • Europeans don't wear athletic wear. They don't wear shorts very often. They dress up. They always look presentable. That being said, bring one pair of norts for working out/sleeping and be done with it. Life is too short to go to Europe and look like a tourist! 
  • If you're going to bring jeans, don't. It gets hot there in the summer. "But you just said don't wear shorts!" You're right. Therefore, buy your jeans abroad. Europeans make their jeans of a lighter material during the summer, so they'll be more comfortable than your hot American winter jeans. 
  • You want clothing with a little stretch in it. Most people abroad don't have clothes dryers, so they line dry everything. If your clothing has no stretch, it will stay large because the heat from the dryer normally shrinks it. I don't think this is a big deal, this is just what I've heard. 
  • Cobblestones + high heels = dead. Don't even bother. If you want height, go for wedges. You'll be able to walk better and be more comfortable in them. 
  • Bring things that can go with other things. What I'm trying to say is, make many outfits from few pieces of clothing. Make that shirt go with different pants and those pants go with different shirts. Here's a great article that has packing tips for making outfits.
I know this is a lot of information. I know. And some of it may come in handy, and some of it may not. But this is what I've heard to do for studying abroad and what I intend to do when I go. I hope this helped answer some questions you may have been having!

Have you studied abroad? Do you have any tips I may have forgotten? (Or did I get anything completely wrong?) Leave a comment! And if you want more inspiration, check out my Pinterest board :)

No comments:

Post a Comment