If you’re traveling abroad for the first time like I did, it’s easy to get lost in the idea of traveling without actually making any concrete plans. Here are a few tips and tricks that I learned about traveling, transportation, and just making your way in this big, wide world.
For when you live and breathe on WiFi…
Download the app MAPS.ME. This app single-handedly saved my life while trying to navigate through cities abroad without data. You can save important locations (your housing, attractions, bus stops, etc.) and find routes back later via walking or public transportation. You just have to remember to download the city’s map before your trip!
A view of Alicante, Spain on MAPS.ME - I saved all of my important locations while I was still navigating the city, like the bus stop and the health clinic.
Download languages to use offline with Google Translate. Even when you’re exploring a new city without WiFi, you can translate simple phrases (a very handy tool for train stations, airports, and restaurants).
For when your wallet is shedding a few tears…
Apply for a credit card or open a bank account that does not have foreign transaction fees before you leave. Many U.S. banks will charge you every time you withdraw money from a foreign ATM (either a flat rate or a percentage). I used the Aspiration account and Capital One student credit card while I was abroad, and both worked well.
Follow the envelope rule. Decide how much you want to spend on a weekend trip and put that amount in an envelope/wallet in cash. Spend the cash and save your cards for emergencies.
For when you’ve had the middle seat too many times…
- Take a train. I used www.loco2.com to book my train ride from Alicante to Barcelona. This website is awesome because you can pay in USD and avoid those pesky foreign transaction fees.
|"Alexa, play 'Barcelona' by Ed Sheeran."|
At least be #readyforit. Airfare around Europe is cheaper than the U.S., but you need to check the airline’s bag policy. Ryanair recently changed their policy, and a normal school backpack may be too big for a carry-on. It may be worth it to cough up the extra 8€ to avoid confrontation at the airport.
For when you have to do the “sit-down” to zip up your luggage…
Stick to the basics. If you don’t wear it at home, you probably won’t wear it while you’re abroad. You’d be surprised by how many items you think you’ll wear versus how many you actually do.
|Never underestimate the power of a good jean jacket.|
Pack items in your checked bag that you’ll use throughout your trip. Q-Tips, shampoo, conditioner, floss, snacks, etc. will all take up space in your bag. You’ll have more room for all of the inevitable souvenirs you’ll bring home after your program ends.
Whether your stay in Europe is for four weeks or four months, I hope these tips help you navigate Europe smoothly. When in doubt, the CEA Staff and Alumni are a treasure chest of travel knowledge. We love talking about our experiences abroad and would be more than willing to help you find your way.
Cate Lewellyn is the Fall 2018 Alumni Ambassador in Alicante, Spain, and is currently studying at Illinois State University.