by Meredith Wilshere
Photography Courtesy of Marissa Wu
Studying abroad is the ultimate college experience. There is rarely another time in your life when you have the opportunity to just drop everything and explore an opposite corner of the world. This chance to explore a new country and learn about a new culture is unparalleled. Some planning, however, is required before you go. The Study Abroad office will help you with official matters, but it is up to you to plan out your downtime, think about which other places are on your travel bucket list, and decide on a budget.
One of the best ways to optimize your study abroad experience is to travel on the weekends. At first, finding the right people to travel with might seem hard, especially if you study abroad in a country where you don’t know many people. However, all you need is a group you can travel well with—from takeoff to landing. Sometimes the best combination is a mix of personalities; for example, someone who plans, someone who is punctual and someone who understands the language and culture.
Once you have formed your travel group, sit down together and create a list of all the countries you want to visit. You can then cross-reference your lists and prioritize which places are the most feasible. It is not impossible to check them all off your list, but it is important to ensure that each person is able to go to their top choice destination.
Make sure to agree on a budget with your travel companions when you are planning. Use services like Hopper to track flight prices, and Expedia for endless lists of the best deals. These will help you weigh your options. Warning: the repeated search for a particular flight will cause the price to increase. To avoid this, use different devices when revisiting options. If you are traveling abroad in Europe, low-cost airlines like WOWAir and Ryanair can help keep costs down and make fast flying more affordable. Also, try your best to pack everything into a carry-on bag to avoid paying fees for checked luggage. As tempted as you are to bring four pairs of shoes on your 48-hour trip, you will almost always end up using less than you pack.
It might also help to stick to a petty cash budget in the country of your program, too. If you are careful about what you spend during the week, you will quickly save more money for your weekends. Start by saving on the simple things. Try to cook for yourself if you can—most dorm-style buildings come with kitchen facilities. It might take some time to learn which grocery stores sell which items for what price abroad, but always keep your eye out for deals. At some internships, there are hot drink machines, fruit bowls and snacks to share, and certain student buildings even offer complimentary coffee to get you started in the mornings. Limiting where you spend your petty cash can allow you to allocate more funds to experiences, like flights and hospitality in other cities.
The most effective way to optimize your study abroad experience is to plan out your priorities. You can easily do this by creating a budget and understanding who you are going to travel with and to where. Having some direction will make your transition to a new country much less stressful, so you can focus purely on making the most of your experience.