Preparing for a summer or semester abroad can be challenging! You’ll have lots of checklists, reminder emails, and traveling plans to keep organized. Beyond your academics, passport, and visa preparations, though, there are small and simple things you can do to make your time abroad a little easier.
1. Read local news.
Stay up-to-date on current events in the place you plan to study. Check out local news sources (in English or the native language). Even skimming headlines will give you a good idea of what is happening. Knowing what is going on before you go abroad will help you ease into the culture and make conversation with locals easier. It can also be a good way to stay aware so you know of any potential safety concerns. If you can’t find local news in English, try checking out a non-U.S. based news source, which will at least offer a different perspective.
2. Learn about the local history.
Along with knowing about current events, knowing a little local history will help you understand what you see and give you context.
3. Plan your commute.
Do you know where you will be living and where you will be studying? Then start planning your commute! You could also figure out where the nearest grocery stores are and how to get to them, and research ways to get around town. Learning about public transportation before you arrive will help you feel more confident.
4. Plan your airport transfer.
How will you get from the airport to your housing? Figure it out now so you aren’t stressing about it an hour before you get on the plane. If someone is supposed to pick you up, create a back-up plan in case they have problems or your flight is delayed.
5. Download guide books.
Guidebooks may seem lame, but they can be extremely useful. If you are taking a tablet or smart phone, download the Kindle app. Find a good, downloadable guidebook so you’ll have travel tips and advice at your finger tips, without having to carry around a heavy book.
6. Make Google maps!
Google “My Maps” are a great way to mark places you want to visit or save directions. You can save these maps so they are available without data or a WiFi connection. Also, some cities will have downloadable (and free) apps for publication transportation and tourist information.
7. Plan out your layovers.
Layovers are (usually) boring, but sometimes (when your flight is delayed) they can be really stressful. Plan for the worst–look at a map of the airport terminal and figure out the fastest way to get around. Also plan for lots of downtime–consider downloading a few books or movies to keep you entertained, and pack snacks so you don’t spend too much money on food. Does the airport have free wi-fi? Are there charging stations or other services (some airports have beds or showers you can pay to use) that you would find helpful? Also, many airports tend to be cold/hot/uncomfortable, so consider packing items to keep you comfortable in your carry on.
8. Talk to your bank.
This one is obvious, but it is always good to have a reminder. Call your bank and your credit card companies and let them know you are going abroad. They can give you more information about using your cards overseas, help protect you from theft, and advise you on their foreign transaction fees.
9. Prepare for holidays and festivals.
Are there major holidays or festivals in your host city while you are abroad? How do people celebrate? Should you stay in town or take advantage of the break and travel? Do some research so you are prepared. Some cities effectively “shut down” for holidays, and you might not be able to get groceries, use a bank, or take your regular bus that day. It’s good to know in advance so you can plan ahead. If you’ll miss an important U.S. holiday (Thanksgiving, Halloween), think about how you can share and celebrate it with the people you meet abroad. Tip: cranberries are hard to find abroad. So is canned pumpkin and condensed milk for pumpkin pie!
10. Organize your carry-on bag.
Having a well-packed carry-on can make a huge difference in your happiness and comfort, even in bad situations. Consider bringing the following: things to keep you entertained, important documents and travel information, contact information, chargers for your electronics, glasses/extra contacts/solution/etc. if needed, deodorant, hand sanitizer or wipes/face wipes, a change of clothes, underwear, toothbrush, toothpaste, ear plugs, eye mask, snacks, headphones, layers to stay warm, socks, sleep medicine (if you want it), cash, gum, and… maybe a small towel and a bottle of shampoo or some dry shampoo. You never know when a flight will be delayed or when your bags will be lost, so bring anything you would really need if you had to spend a day in an airport (or airport hotel) or if your bags were lost and didn’t show up for a few days.
11. Call your mobile provider.
Your mobile provider should be able to tell you about how to use your phone abroad so you don’t incur lots of overages, and they can give you rates for texting internationally. You might also decide to cancel your mobile plan, so you should discuss that with them.
12. Car insurance–do you need it?
Call your U.S. car insurance provider and talk with your family to see if you need to maintain car insurance while you abroad. As a general rule, if you will be abroad longer than 3 months, it’s probably worth the savings to stop your insurance coverage while you are overseas.
13. First meal abroad?
This is a weird one, but what will be your first meal overseas? Are you arriving at an odd time of day? Will you have problems adjusting to the time change and be hungry at a weird time? Will you have access to groceries or restaurants? Consider packing something small and light so you don’t go hungry when you finally get to your destination.
14. Plan for exercise.
If you regularly exercise, you might want to think about how to maintain or change your fitness routine so you are able to stay active abroad. Look up safe running routes, find a local pool, see what the campus offers, or even find a yoga class. Make sure you pack appropriate clothes and shoes to maintain your healthy lifestyle.
15. Make extra copies of your passport, credit cards, and other documents.
Leave a copy at home with someone you trust and pack a copy in your checked luggage. You could also save them as electronic files.
16. Plan for meal prep.
Have a favorite recipe? Consider bringing a copy (paper or electronic) with you. If you want to bake a secret family recipe for homemade cookies for your host family, consider taking hard-to-find ingredients with you. You may also want to pack measuring spoons and cups if you don’t feel like doing metric conversions, but most online recipe sites will let you choose metric or U.S. customary measurements, so that might not be necessary.