So, you have made it to your designated country to study abroad! Likely you are already thinking of where you want to travel throughout your time in Europe. If you’re anything like me and the rest of the students coming from America, you not only want to explore every bit of your home city, you’ll want to travel to all of the vastly historical and exciting cities throughout Europe. As someone who has traveled independently throughout the states, I had no idea what I was in for on my first trip to a foreign country. I have narrowed down a few points so that you won’t have to make the same mistakes as I did. Although if you do, there’s no need to regret! The best way to gain real-life experience abroad is learning about what you don’t know, and putting what you do know to practice. Here are some tips I’ve curated along my first trip outside of the United Kingdom.
A friend of mine I met at Arcadia decided to visit Bergamo, Italy. Although this city is known to be a somewhat touristy designation, it is best to always assume wherever you’re traveling that people won’t know English as a second language. This is key when you’re ordering at a café or restaurant, and of course, when retrieving transportation. For safety reasons, if you find yourself looking for direction, always carry yourself confidently and be aware of your surroundings. You want to avoid looking vulnerable in a foreign country where you have the potential to be misled.
This tip can apply to travel in the states as well, but when you’re booking your flight and your stay, double-check exactly where everything is located in distance to each other. When I booked my travels, as many do, I found the cheapest flight for that weekend on Skyscanner and opted for that. What came up first was a flight to Milan. However, it wasn’t a flight directly to Milan, it was a flight into the city of Bergamo, Italy, about a 30-minute drive from Milan itself. This ended up costing me three times the price of the flight when getting transportation from where I was staying and the airport itself. I recommend when booking a hotel, hostel, Airbnb, always ensure it is either within walking distance or accessible to public transit. As we’re used to in the states, a ten-minute trip from point A to B is less than $10 in Uber fare, which is pretty reasonable. However, Uber is the equivalent cost of a taxi in most places throughout Europe, and the cost of transportation is about €1 per minute, plus a base rate depending on your point of travel, which is about five times as much as you’d pay in the states for an Uber or a cab. Therefore, I recommend sorting all of this out in advance to avoid stress or getting stuck unnecessary prices on your trip.
When we’re traveling it can be easy to spend money impulsively and get caught up in shopping and expensive meals. Most of us are on a student budget that needs to last us the next several months abroad, so it’s always best to keep track and be conscious of our spending. What we’ll remember ten years from now are the experiences, not the items we bought. Another thing I learned is if you’re using an American bank account or if your bank charges international fees, it’s always best to convert your money by taking out a set amount right away, though not too much, in case it gets lost or stolen. Just enough for each day is ideal.
With different cultures, comes different customs. In America, customs such as harassment and ‘catcalling’ on the streets is moderate, depending on the location. But in most places in London, it is less so. However, in Bergamo, this was again more common. It is wise to be not too trusting of your surroundings and careful of who you ask for help. If you’re approached, don’t make too much eye contact, walk away if possible, and don’t be afraid to say ‘no.’ Listen to your intuition, but don’t hold back from everything. If you’re taking safety precautions and you’re alert, don’t be afraid to get to know your surroundings.
Even if it’s just for a weekend! If you think about it, your favorite places to eat and spend your time are most likely not the tourist spots of your city. Likely, it’s the off the beaten path sort of places that have the most authenticity, and even better– cheaper prices! Search places in advance om Reddit, Yelp, or online forums for the best places. If it’s not in your native language, Google on desktop has an option to change the reviews and descriptions to English so you can do your research in advance. Don’t be afraid to learn a bit of the language, put it to practice, and meet the locals. Clinging to comfortable tourist cities might feel safer, but the best way to explore a foreign place is to be a part of it, with precaution of course. Shop local groceries, try local cafés, and immerse yourself in their walk of life for the best experience.
Lastly, don’t be afraid of when things don’t go as planned, that part is inevitable, but most importantly, it’s memorable and the best way to learn. Often, my favorite aspects of my trip took place on the unplanned detours. Take safety precautions, always research, try new things wisely on a whim, and explore the city outside of the clubs and museums. Most importantly, have a wonderful time abroad!