How to prepare to go abroad
There is so much to do before going abroad. Lots of planning and preparation goes into the adventure that lies ahead. However, with so much to do (and so much excitement in your blood) it’s more than likely you might miss a step or something important. Here is a Time Well Spent guide on how to successfully prepare to go abroad!
1. Make copies of your passport & driver’s license
First things first, if you are leaving your country, you’re going to need your passport! Make a copy of your driver’s license and passport and put these copies in a separate bag than the originals. This is a good lesson to use along your trip: have a back-up plan. If you have a safe place to store your things I would only bring the copies with you when you are out and about during the day so that you don’t risk losing your actual passport.
2. Bring different methods of payment & warn your bank you’re going abroad
Tell your bank that you’re going to another country and the places you might be traveling while there. I brought a credit card, two different debit cards and cash. (I didn’t even use one of the debit cards; it was solely for a backup.) Keep different methods of payment in different areas, so if you lose your wallet you aren’t totally screwed. While traveling for long hours to your destination, you might consider getting a thin money fanny pack that goes around your waist and inside your pants to keep your cash secure. It’s definitely a good idea to always have a little bit of cash on you because you never know when you might have trouble with a credit/debit card. I would bring enough of the foreign currency to get you out of the airport (exchange prices tend to be higher in airports, train stations, etc.) but once you are there it’s easy to use an ATM. Tip: Since there are usually pricy international ATM fees, I would get the maximum out so I didn’t continue paying that fee. I would put most of it in a safe in our apartment; however, if you don’t have a home base I would not suggest traveling around with that much money.
3. Get your plane ticket as soon as possible
Get your plane ticket as early as you can. Flight prices get more expensive the closer you get to your departure date. Also, when traveling internationally you usually need to get to the airport at least two hours early. Many airlines suggest three hours early for international travel, depending on where you are going. I’d say the earlier the better.
4. If you don't have a home base, plan ahead
If you do not have a “home base,” abroad (aka a place where you will always have your belongings and be staying most nights) then you should book (at least) your first week’s stay (hotels, hostels, airbnb) and transportation before you arrive. This requires more planning ahead.
5. Plan most other travel arrangements once you arrive
As for booking flights/trains and planning different trips during your stay abroad, that doesn’t necessarily have to be done until you get there. Example: we waited until we were in Spain to book flights on European airlines to France, Italy and Greece. We also didn't purchase bus or train tickets until we arrived at our first destination. However, we had a home base so if we hadn’t gotten flights to these places, we would still have had a place to stay.
6. Get travel insurance
My study abroad program provided travel insurance in the cost of our program. If that is not your case, you might consider purchasing travel insurance.
7. Make sure you are properly vaccinated before you leave home
Go to the doctor before you leave to make sure your body is in good health. Also, make sure that you are up to date on the proper vaccines for the countries that you will be traveling to.
8. Learn about the culture of your destination
Read up on the places you will be going. This helps you slightly familiarize yourself with your destination and will help you have some ideas in mind on what you might want to do, see and eat. Be familiar with the culture before you emerge yourself completely.
9. Bring an adapter that works in the electric outlet plug in the country you're headed to
Make sure you have an adapter that fits the plugs of where you are going, so that you are able to actually plug in your electronics and charge them. That being said, also bring a battery pack/portable charger. (Eventually you’re going to have to charge that too.)
10. Figure out how you will communicate when you arrive
As for communication, I would suggest doing a little research to see how much Wi-Fi is used in the country you are going to. Most places I went in Europe had Wi-Fi. If you have an iPhone you can iMessage and Facetime on Wi-Fi; you also have the ability to use many apps that will allow you to communicate. However, if you turn on your data and do not have an international plan, you will be paying for it. Literally, it can get extremely expensive, fast! Consider getting a phone plan from the country you will be in if you are staying for a long period of time. I signed up for a Spain phone through my study abroad program that way I was able to communicate with my boyfriend if we were apart in the city, with friends when we did not have Wi-Fi and to have an electronic map to use at all times.
11. Download a map that works offline
That brings me to my next point. We used an app called “Ulmon,” it allows you see your location on a map with no Internet connection. I would download this before you go because you always want to make sure you have some sort of map when in a very unfamiliar place and possibly with no way to connect with others. If you prefer to use Google Maps, you can download an area on that map (download the area or areas that you plan to be in and around) and it will allow you to use those areas when you are offline. If you have room for a small, physical map of where you’ll be, you might as well throw it in your bag.
12. Make sure there are rollers on your bags
If you are bringing a carry-on besides your backpack, bring a bag that has rollers. You will be walking a lot and a bag that goes over one shoulder could hurt your back or neck. (Speaking from experience.)
13. Use bag locks to secure your belongings
Lock your backpack and bags. Use small bag locks to keep all of your belongings secure. This allows you to walk around and not have to worry about anyone getting into your backpack. You can also leave your bags in a locker or somewhere that you are staying and feel better about no one tampering with your stuff.
14. Important items to pack:
Clothes that you can mix & match to make different outfits and that you can wear numerous times. (Check the climate for the places you will be going.)
If you take prescription medication regularly, don’t forget to bring enough to last you.
Safe travels and I hope you have the most wonderful adventures! XXO