Grace Lower | Nov 21, 2018
When faced with a major decision, I always like to poll my friends for advice. No matter the decision, it’s comforting to hear someone else weigh in on the options I’m puzzling over.
When I first decided that I wanted to study abroad, I was overwhelmed by possibilities. Where would I go? What program would I choose? Would I stay in a dorm or live with a host family? As I considered my options, I knew that my semester abroad would hold incredible opportunities. The only downside? None of my friends had participated in a long-term study abroad trip. I was on my own with this one.
Like any good millennial, I took to the internet. I read blog after blog, and I poured over Wikipedia pages and advice forums alike. I did what I could to make the most informed decisions, and then left for Spain a year later.
So, here’s my travel advice for you: you can never be too prepared, but you can never be fully prepared, either.
While I’m glad I spent all that time on Google, I had to learn some things the hard way--like why you shouldn’t wear a backpack on a metro, or what not to wear on a walking tour (hint: go for comfort over style, even if you’re in Paris). Those bits of wisdom tend to come from experience, not research—though I would have loved to know them beforehand.
Since returning from Spain, I now know quite a few people who have traveled for extended periods. And luckily for me, these friends and acquaintances were more than willing to share what they learned while they were abroad. My hope is that, between their advice and mine, you’ll feel better prepared for your own travels, no matter where your journey takes you.
Host Country: China
Best Travel Advice: Public bathrooms are never pleasant, but when you’re abroad, there’s a good chance that you’ll find an astonishingly icky one. To make the best of an unpleasant experience, you’ll want to come prepared. Carry some hand sanitizer and extra toilet paper in your travel bag—there’s a good chance they’ll come in handy down the road.
Host Country: Morocco
Best Travel Advice: Travel can be lonely, but chewing gum and mints are great icebreakers if you need to make friends on a crowded train. Also, keep fresh socks handy if you’re planning on doing any long-haul travel. Changing out of stinky socks into clean ones is very refreshing! Finally, be sure to write down any addresses and phone numbers you’ll need ahead of time, in case your phone dies or gets stolen.
Host Country: Switzerland
Best Travel Advice: Always keep some snacks handy—there’s nothing better for morale than having a small bite to eat. Onigiri is surprisingly good travel food, but fruit snacks, nuts, and jerky are great options while you’re on the go.
Host Country: Spain
Best Travel Advice: I would say don’t put too much pressure on yourself to have a perfect study abroad experience. It's like college; everyone tells you that it’s the most amazing experience, so if you don't feel that way at the end, you might feel like it was a failure. Even if you don't enjoy parts of it, you can still have some really valuable take-aways.
I think one thing you can get out of studying abroad is learning to be self- reliant. I would recommend traveling alone because you learn to be comfortable with yourself, and it's really cool to feel so liberated. Nothing will make you feel more confident than tackling a new city successfully!
Lastly, it's important to take care of yourself. If you're feeling overwhelmed or you need time alone, then take it. Try not to take any frustrations or homesickness out on the people around you who just want to help.
Host Country: Madagascar
Best Travel Advice: Seriously, learn the language of wherever it is you’re going—or at least familiarize yourself with it! And if you don’t have a strong command of the language, make sure you find a trusted guide to help you stay safe. While I had a great time abroad, that Malagasy language barrier made things pretty challenging.
Host Country: Germany
Best Travel Advice: Don’t be afraid to set boundaries while you travel. When I first came to Germany, I didn’t know anyone nor did I know the social standards, so I tried to be as easy-going and open-minded as I could. But because of that, there were times when I felt uncomfortable or out of place, and I didn’t speak up. Looking back, I should have put more trust in my intuition and my values from the beginning.
Host Country: The Philippines
Best Travel Advice: No matter how bizarre something seems, be super mindful of its cultural context. I visited the black market in the Philippines, where you could actually buy curses and hexes to cast on other people. My travel companions and I initially laughed about it, but we quickly learned that folk magic is a part of the broader Filipino culture. Even if you don’t fully understand something, be respectful and stay curious.
Host Country: Russia
Best travel Advice: Dare to be uncomfortable. Try new foods, meet new people, and explore new places. Learning about other cultures through experience is one of the best things you can do for yourself and those around you.
Grace Lower is a recent college graduate with a love for writing and an incurable case of wanderlust. When she's not exploring new places, Grace enjoys teaching English as a Second Language, making terrible puns, and running incredibly long distances at incredibly slow speeds.