I thought I had done very thorough research before I left for Barcelona this past January. I took off on my journey accompanied by safety rules from my elders, packing tips from my program and travel advice from a few ex study-abroaders. I held onto this information like a safety blanket, figuring I’d have no troubles traveling throughout this semester now that I had a few hostel suggestions and a durable backpack. Now, I realize traveling is a process of trial and error; there are certain things you just have to learn on your own. Regardless, there are a few nuggets of wisdom I would like to impart on future travelers and abroad students alike. So here they are: three things I wish I knew before I went abroad.
1. Someone once told me that I should pack light, because I’ll be able to find whatever I need once I land. I wish I remembered who that person was, because I want to return to them, slap them in the face and tell them off for how wrong they were. I’m sure there are some locations where this is true. However, the ghostly paleness of my skin indicates that no, Spain has not yet jumped on the Jergens Self Tanner bandwagon. If there are certain items you love (Stride gum, how I miss you), make sure you pack enough of them with you to last the entire semester. This is especially true of food items, because you don’t want your family spending $70 to ship a package, only to have it returned by customs…
2. Never underestimate the importance of the perfect travel bag. Anyone who’s ever flown a budget airline knows what a pain baggage restrictions can be. How Ryanair came up with the crazy dimensions of 55x40x20 cm (what’s the conversion rate, again?), I could not tell you. And the amount of foreigners I’ve seen scream, “NOOO!” at the check-in gate is enough for me to emphasize: find a convenient travel bag and guard it with your life.
3. Know your travel preferences and choose your companions wisely. Sure it sounds easy to hop on a flight with the first friends you meet in your program, but you may run into some serious issues if you and your companions have different goals. If you plan to party until the metro re-opens, you’re probably not going to want to be woken up a couple hours later for that free walking tour. If you’re into art museums, you won’t want a friend tugging at your arm at all times like a little kid asking if you’re done yet. And if you’re traveling with a friend on a serious budget, be sure you’re okay with sleeping in a hostel next to a man who carries hitchhiking signs and smells like a trash can.
Kristen Jenkins is a junior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . Notes from Abroad: Travel Tips appears on Thursdays.