Hey everyone, the bush is back! As my program is coming to a close, I wanted to put together a list of tips and lessons I learned while studying abroad in hopes that it’ll be useful for other students and travelers. Here it goes!
What to bring: Essentials aside, here’s a list of items that I found were really helpful while I was abroad in Granada, Spain.
- Powerstrip adapter + normal wall adapter
- Why both? A normal wall adapter is easier to carry around if you need a quick charge and are going to class, cafe, or even the airport. On the other hand, a power strip adapter is going to be extremely useful at the end of the day when all your technology is in need of a good night’s charge and you need multiple outlets at the same time. Mine even had two usb ports built in, which was super useful for charging my phone! Instead of fighting or searching for more plugs in your room/ house and being potentially unable to charge your necessary technology, this is a great way to prevent a minor problem from turning into a major one.
- These may or may not be obvious things to take (especially depending on the weather in your host country), but make sure you have them for comfort and sun protection! You’d be surprised how many people forget one or the other.
- Luggage weigher
- When you’re abroad, you’re definitely going to want to get some souvenirs or manage to find things to take back with you that may make your suitcase too heavy. Having this with you is a great way to avoid any potential drama before going to the airport and double-checking the weight of your bags.
- Eye cover + earplugs
- If you’re a light sleeper like I am, this is a must. They’re really inexpensive items that can save you a lot of sleep and crankiness! Unless you’re such a deep sleeper that light and sound absolutely does not phase you, I’d recommend having these things on hand as backup, especially if you’re living with roommates and are unsure how your living conditions will be like. Some nights may be incredibly noisy, while some rooms have a lot of sunlight that stream through the windows.
- Travel waist pouch (AKA under-your-shirt fanny pack)
- Depending on which country you’re going to and what kind of activities you’ll be doing, this is a great way to keep your valuables safe from theft while you’re out. Since they go under your shirt, you’ll be less of a target for pickpocketers and robbers.
- Travel pillow
- This may or may not be a given, but many people in my group who had not brought travel pillows with them ended up buying ones that were more expensive and not as comfortable. You’ll likely be stuck on long flights or bus rides, and this will make you much more comfortable. I’d recommend this pillow–it’s not as compact as others, but wow was it comfy.
- Reusable water bottle
- Not only are they better for the environment, but they’re better for traveling because a good, reusable bottle won’t leak in your bag, will stay clean, and will save you money.
- Good, supportive shoes/sandals
- You’ll be doing a lot of walking, and though your birkenstocks may normally treat you well, you’ll really want to make sure you have shoes that will support you for upwards of 10 miles and spare your feet/legs unnecessary pain. Teva and Clark sandals are reputable for comfort–just try to bring or buy sandals that have ankle straps since they tend to be more comfortable and secure when walking long distances!
- A jacket or sweater
- If you’re studying abroad in the winter or fall, this item is a no-brainer. But if you’re studying abroad in the summer in hot weather, this may not be as intuitive. Though everything is dependent on your host country, you may visit other cities or areas that get colder at night, or have random rainy days in the middle of summer. Do your research! I definitely cherished my Berkeley sweater when I was out walking in Granada at 4am or was stuck on a 5 hour bus ride that was blasting AC.
- Nutritious snacks..and peanut butter
- Since it may be hard to shop for a few days after you arrive to your host country, having nutritious, familiar snacks that you enjoy with you will be really useful. Your housing accommodation may not have food or snacks easily available, or the stores may not carry nutritious snacks that you like. Also, if you like peanut butter, be warned–many countries outside America do not carry peanut butter in stores since it’s a very “American” product–so bring some with you if you want!
Lessons Learned & General Tips
- Avoid jetlag by abiding to your normal schedule according to your host country’s time. For example, if you’re on a 5 hour flight and it’s 10am in your host country, try to stay awake or avoid sleeping for too long on the plane. Once you get to your host country, try to stay awake during day hours and go to sleep at a reasonable time in the evening.
- Manage your expectations, be ready to adapt, and be flexible. We all imagine and wonder how a certain experience or place will be like before we get there, but it’s important to manage (or ideally, get rid of) your expectations so that you’re not disappointed or unpleasantly surprised. It’ll also make you happier! Being able to adapt and be flexible when plans don’t turn out the way you imagined or something goes wrong is also a skill that you will inevitably need to practice while abroad. Keeping a positive mindset and practicing gratitude especially when things do not go as expected will also transform your time abroad in the best way possible.
- Don’t be afraid to slow down. Depending on your timeframe, you and others may instinctively be eager to start seeing everything to save as much time possible, but it’s okay to take it easy too. It’s definitely fine to have a busy day, run around, and make an effort to explore your country, but make sure you take the time to rest and listen to your body on and in between adventures.
- Have nutritious snacks & water with you whenever possible. Especially on long days or outings (or even in class), you can prevent yourself from getting “hangry,” dizzy, sick, or lethargic by having food and water with you. I often made peanut butter and nutella sandwiches because they were easy to make, easy to eat, and gave me a boost of energy when I wasn’t able to order food at a restaurant. Since bread, peanut butter, and nutella didn’t spoil easily (and I didn’t have access to a fridge/microwave in my hostel), these ingredients were also really convenient to store in my room.
- If you have a smartphone, learn how to use offline maps. I briefly talked about them in another blog post, but using offline maps through google maps allows you to navigate without any wifi or phone service. This is the primary way I got around in Spain, especially when traveling to new cities. Here’s a link that explains how to do this.
- Spend some time solo. Though this is very natural and often necessary for some people, it may not occur to you while you’re abroad if you’re constantly around friends or classmates. My best friend gave me this advice and it was invaluable. I’ve found that some of my most memorable days in Spain were the ones I spent exploring on my own or sitting in the park relaxing, writing, reflecting, and people watching. Spending time alone also allowed me to slow down and really appreciate and absorb the beauty around me.
- Don’t be shy, meet and talk to new people. Try to get to know some locals–they often have the best advice for places to go and how to get around, but more importantly, it really personalizes your study abroad experience and gives it more meaning. With that said, don’t be afraid to ask for help if you’re ever lost or confused!
- Be safe and cognizant of your surroundings– whether you’re going out with friends, withdrawing from an ATM, or simply walking around. Different areas will pose different risks and threats, but have a healthy level of skepticism so you can stay safe. Be sure to also research the emergency number in your host country (the equivalent of 911 in America) and know how to contact authorities in case of an emergency.
With all of these suggestions in mind, I wish you all safe, smooth, meaningful, and unforgettable experiences as you abroad! Happy travels!