Studying abroad may seem as easy as hopping on a flight, but it requires research and preparation both before and during your adventure. Being well-prepared will help make your experience living in a new culture unforgettable.
We’ve all heard serious travel woes — pickpocketing, missing a connection, taking the train in the wrong direction, losing a passport, having a cultural blunder, using the wrong word, and more. Moments of chaos cannot be completely avoided while studying abroad, but a little preparation can go a long way in helping you ride the waves of the unexpected — because the unexpected will come, and most likely, it will come at an extremely inconvenient time.
Here are a few safety and packing tips to think about before you go — a dive into the logistics of preparing to study abroad:
Make a list (and check it twice). Taking time to draft a packing list will make the process smooth and quick. A packing list also helps prevent you from leaving important items behind! You can use your list when preparing to travel back home from abroad as a way to check that you have all your belongings (and maybe a bit more!).
Leave room in your suitcase. Remember that most places you will be traveling to will have shops where you can find all your basic goods. Don’t panic when you realize you have forgotten something (as this will happen), because chances are good that a store nearby has just what you need (though maybe not in the brands that you’re used to).
Leave half of what you want to pack behind. I’m not kidding. Seriously, set out all the things you want to pack from your list and then try (at least attempt) to cut out half of what you want to bring. You’ll thank me later when your suitcase isn’t overweight and you’re able to bring home souvenirs. A good trick is to pack your belongings in a smaller suitcase, and once everything is finalized, upgrade to a bigger piece of luggage — you’ll automatically have more space. Why start your journey holding your breath to see if your suitcase is less than 50 pounds? Most of the time while you are abroad, you won’t even remember what items you left behind.
Always be aware of your surroundings. New environments can be overstimulating, but quickly you will begin to recognize what locals consider normal. Whether you’re studying abroad in a big city or rural town, when things feel off or out of place, trust your gut! You could save yourself from being caught up in an altercation, protest, act of violence, or worse. Also, I’ll add that the buddy system will never go out of style and usually leads to even greater adventures, more diverse learning, and increased safety. When you can travel as a pair or in a small group, you’ll have more eyes on your surroundings and more protection with a companion or two.
Keep your personal items close. Passport, phone, wallet, etc. are all items you really don’t want to be without while abroad. Whether that means keeping a hand in your pocket to protect personal items while walking, having two layers of zipper security in your purse, rocking your backpack as a kangaroo pouch in busy cities, or regularly checking to make sure your personal items are right where you left them, find a routine that works best for you. Nobody wants to jump through the hoops of replacing their important items while abroad.
Download maps. Almost every city has some type of map system or app that you can download offline so you won’t need WiFi while exploring. Having maps at your disposal can help you if (read: when) you get lost, while you’re traveling in a taxi, or trying to find somewhere new to eat. While you’re at it, go ahead and download a translator tool so that if you desperately need to talk to a local or ask for help, language is not an insurmountable obstacle.
Putting in a little work before you go can save you from major and minor stresses while abroad. At the end of the day, you can never be perfectly prepared for what you will encounter when studying in a different country, but these safety and packing tips are one place to start. A part of the adventure of international study is growing in and adjusting to a new culture and way of life. Stay vigilant, but be flexible. Adventure is out there, so expect to be surprised.