If you’re going abroad for the first time, as was my experience studying abroad in Seville with CEA last year, you will have many questions. Where will I travel? Who will I go with? How will I navigate countries where I’ve never been and don’t speak the language? It can all be a bit overwhelming, but as I quickly found out, the best way to go on a trip is to just do it.
Traveling alone isn’t a bad thing (it’s actually awesome)
When you begin your study abroad program with CEA, one of the most exciting things that happens is making travel plans with all of your new friends. When you go abroad, it's like the world is your oyster and you can’t wait to see and do everything. However, with such a big oyster, it might be hard to get everyone to agree on one destination or even a list of things to do in a particular place. Pretty early on, I wondered if it would just be easier to book a trip myself. So, I booked a flight. When you travel alone, you get to do whatever YOU want. It was a relief to be able to check off my to-do list and not waste time on things that I might not be as interested in as my friends. And, when you get home, you get to share all you did with your friends and see the cool things they did on their weekend! I quickly realized that traveling alone wasn’t nearly as scary as I had thought. The trips I took alone were some of the best of my whole time abroad. And, you can use the self-timer on your phone so you don’t have to miss out on the good Instagram pics like the one above.
Your phone is the key to every city you visit
Through my travels, I found a few resources that made visiting new cities EXPONENTIALLY easier. There are several free apps for your phone that tell you how to get from place to place. They also show you how much fares are, and how long different types of transit will take. My favorites are Citymapper and Rome2Rio, but not every app has every city, so it might be helpful to have a few on your phone just to cover all your bases.
In this same vein, one of my best tips for people traveling (especially in Europe where practically every country speaks a different language) is to download the Google Translate app. Within the app, you can download the language of the place you’re going so you can access the language offline. As a foreigner, I felt bad expecting everyone to speak my language, and always made sure I was prepared for a situation in which someone didn’t. It’s true that Europe is very accessible to English-speakers these days, but some places you go won’t be. I found that people are generally very nice and helpful. Whether you’ve gotten turned around in a subway station or just can’t figure out how to read a menu, don’t be afraid to ask for help. There will always be someone willing to help you figure it out.
Your backpack is your friend
Once I began packing for my first weekend trip abroad to visit my friend, I knew that I had made a mistake. I had brought a small suitcase with wheels, but came to realize that every airline has different carry-on size restrictions (some of which are quite small) and that you don’t always need a full-on suitcase for just a night or two. Also, it can sometimes be a pain to wheel your bag around trying to get to and from the Airbnb. If I could study abroad again, the one thing I would change is that I would bring a backpack that could function as a weekend bag. Not only is a backpack the perfect size, but it’s also the most comfortable and convenient way to carry your luggage. Don’t make the mistake I made of lugging a handbag the size of a sack of potatoes all through France. Backpacks are the way to go.
The message here is that with all the resources available today and the advice of student travelers past, exploring the world around you has never been easier. Although traveling abroad for the first time can be a bit daunting, especially if you’re alone, you can do it! You just have to take that first leap, and if you’re like me, you’ll find that you’ll never want to stop.
Katherine McClain is a CEA Alumni Ambassador who studied abroad in Seville, Spain, during the Spring 2019 semester. She is currently a student at the University of Alabama.
Katherine McClain is the Spring 2019 Alumni Ambassador in Seville, Spain, and is currently studying at University of Alabama.