The summer after freshman year, wide-eyed and ready to explore the world, I decided to travel to Madrid, Spain, for a six-week study abroad program. Like most schools, Yale hosted a pre-departure orientation for us, but at that point my experience was still a month and a half away and I was too overwhelmed with work to soak up any new information (though in truth, much of the more country-specific and important tips that I learned came from experience). That being said, come late May I took off from Miami International Airport without care or stress, but also without a lot of items that I should have packed and advice that I really could have used. While it is nice — in fact, advisable to some degree — to travel without inhibition, your spontaneous weekend trip to Paris will be a lot less fun when the bank shuts down your debit card because of “unusual spending.”
My time abroad was a blast, despite my lack of preparedness, but I know that it could have gone smoother had I heeded some of the advice I’m about to offer.
- – Call your bank before you leave and let it know you are traveling out of the country. Also let it know if you travel out of your host country, even if just for a weekend. While you’re at it, see if it has a sister bank in the country you’re traveling to. This is a great way to avoid fees at the ATM.
- –On that note, when you do take out money, realize that the out-of-country bank that you’re withdrawing from, as well as your bank in the states, will both be charging you withdrawal fees. To avoid incurring many of these, you might consider withdrawing large sums at the beginning of each week and leaving what you don’t carry on you tucked away in your luggage.
- – Have some of the local currency when you arrive at your destination. You may need to take a cab to get to your homestay, apartment, etc.
- – Traveling is expensive. Try to plan a budget, but be realistic and remember that you are there to experience and explore, and all of that fun can cost a bit of money.
- – Be aware of some of the customs before you arrive. When I was in Spain, I was really thrown when our first program lunch began at 3 p.m., as I still eat on elementary-school time.
- – Know whether it is customary to tip or not.
- –If you’re going to a country where the language isn’t your native tongue, review how to say simple phrases that you might need at restaurants, like “tap water.” This one is key, particularly if you’re traveling in Europe, as tap is not the standard.
- – Try to look at local menus before you go and look at pictures of dishes you aren’t sure of to help you the first few times you go out to eat.
- – Buy items like metro or bus cards and phone cards before you arrive at your host country. Monthly metro cards can be much less expensive when ordered by mail or online as opposed to in-station.
- – Figure out how you are going to handle the phone before you leave. Does your phone work abroad? How much will it cost per minute? Will you be using just Skype or phone cards? Some programs will make you purchase a cellphone for emergency purposes, so be ready for that.
- – Bring an adapter, and make sure it can handle your appliances (R.I.P. flat iron).
- – Make sure you don’t forget practical items like sneakers, sweaters (even warm places can be cool in the mornings!) and a duffle bag. The duffle bag is especially important if you plan on traveling on the weekends and would rather leave the wardrobe on wheels that you came with at home.
- – Your first week or so abroad can be scary, and sometimes lonely. Try occupying yourself with a blog (even if it’s just for yourself) or taking photographs.
- – If you’re in a relationship, try starting a shared blog for the summer. It can be easier than setting times for Skype, and can be something neat to look back on.
- – Keep in touch with family and friends. You will feel overwhelmed when you get back if you’ve been completely out of touch for six or eight weeks.
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