Traveling abroad has certainly been one of the best experiences of my life. I have made some great friends, have hopefully excelled in my class and have immersed myself in the cultures of many cities. During my time in Europe (but mainly London), I have learned many do’s and don’ts that I wish I had known prior to beginning my journey. Below is a compiled list of what I have learned that will hopefully prepare you all for your next adventures abroad. Cheers!
Know Before You Go:
DO: Know the correct time and day that your flight departs from America. Remember that there is a time change because the day that you arrive in Europe will be different than the time you leave the states. Shopping around in Petco for your dog’s food and realizing your flight leaves in three hours might make things a little more hectic than they have to be.
DON’T: Over pack. There is no need to pack 79 pounds of clothing for 5 weeks. Pack light and save yourself from paying $90 at the airport for having an overweight bag. I promise, you will wear the same clothes over and over again and no one will judge you because they are doing the same exact thing. Check the weather for about a week before you leave so that you can pack according.
Do: Buy a pay-as-you-go phone. You can buy a Lycamobile mobile phone for £35 ($55). Do not waste $130 on a phone plan in the States. It is not worth it. Pay-as-you-go phones gets the job done and are convenient to travel with. But if you are dying to use your cell phone while away, make sure it is unlocked and just buy a SIM card when you arrive. The SIM card is about £16 and will give you unlimited data and calling.
DON’T: Waste all of your money the first six days that you arrive. Your parents will want to hear how your trip is going- not that you need more money because you spent it all on food and leisure activity. A credit card will work best here, especially given the promise to earn it all back once back home.
DO: Notify your bank that you will be out of the country. If you don’t notify them, the bank will register your purchases as fraudulent or possibly decline your card. Once it is mistaken as fraud, you will not have access to money for at least 24 hours and trust me, that’s not fun.
DON’T: Assume that Europe is cheaper than America. Know the money conversion. $1 is equivalent to £.64 or €.89. Pounds and euros will kill your budget. Your spending money while away adds up very quickly, so be aware of the exchange rate.
What to Wear
DO: Have an umbrella. The weather in Europe, and especially London, is very unpredictable. There could be sunny blue skies one minute and pouring rain the next. Pack accordingly so you will not have to be on a bus tour desperately wearing a poncho because you didn’t think to bring a rain jacket or umbrella.
DON’T: Dress like it is summer time in New York. Europe is nowhere near as warm as New York. The high in June is only about 70 degrees. Pack plenty of jeans and light coats and leave the jean shorts and tank tops at home.
Local Travel in London
DO: Learn the transportation system. The underground and buses are great for getting you where you need to go. Definitely purchase an Oyster card- it will be your lifesaver. And when you are feeling adventurous, rent a bike and go for a stroll in Hyde Park or ride to the London Eye (just don’t ride the bike down Oxford Street).
DON’T: Take a Black Cab. You will pay about £49 to drive 15 minutes down the road. The cab drivers train for about three years just to become a taxi driver in London- so they want to get their money’s worth.
DON’T: Jaywalk. Jaywalking in London is not popular like it is in New York. Black cab drivers will run you over and buses will show no mercy. Remember traffic drives on the opposite side of the street so look BOTH ways before crossing the street.
Distant Travel in Europe
DO: Travel outside of London as much as possible. Airfare is cheap (as low as £15) and you can stay in a cheap hostel. Go to Airbnb for really good deals. Ireland and Amsterdam are two great places to go to. Barcelona is also said to be a great place for young travelers.
DON’T: Rush through airport security on Monday morning because you are so excited to return to class in three hours. Take time to gather your belongings- having to run back to find your cell phone in the security bins will really get your heart racing.
Sightseeing in London
Do: Visit the typical tourist attractions. Stop by and say “Hello” to Big Ben and then make your way to The Tower of London for a tour given by a Yeoman Guard. You can also walk over to The Tower Bridge and end the day riding the London Eye. They are all really neat places to visit and if nothing else, you can get some really great photos.
DO: Take a trip to Platform 9 and ¾ . Harry Potter lovers are everywhere in London and no matter what, you will end up somewhere where Harry Potter was filmed. Even if you are not his biggest fan (as I am), go to Platform 9 and ¾ . You will have to wait on line for about 20 minutes, but once you get to the trolley, you will get weirdly excited the photo.
DO: Spend the £18 to climb the 528 steps to the top of Saint Paul’s Cathedral. It is well worth the money, since you get to see one of the most gorgeous views of London as well as get a workout. It is a win-win.
DON’T: Waste your time going to Madame Tussauds. It is not worth the money just to wait in line for hours to see creepy wax figures of people you wish were real.
DON’T: Forget to use your student ID card for a whopping student discount.
Wine and Dine
DO: Try Thai Food. Go to a hidden gem restaurant Churchill Arms in Kensington for some of the best Thai food you will find in London.
DO: Eat Fish and Chips. You cannot come to London without the city’s trademark food. Stop by Westminster Arms restaurant right around the corner from Big Ben for some of the best fish and chips you’ll find during your stay.
DO: Have a Cadbury Milk Chocolate Bar. With about 35 different types of bars to choose from, there is no way to resist them. Enjoy them all, but be prepared for the inevitable weight gain.
DON’T: Choose to dine in at chain stores such as Pret, Costa or Café Nero. Choose take away instead. You will have not have to pay the extra money this way. Or you could be sneaky, and just sit down anyways. It works like a charm every time.
Last -Minute Tips
DO: See as much as possible. You will be exhausted by the end, but every second will be worth it. Europe is huge and there is no way you will be able to see absolutely everything in a limited time. Make a bucket list when you start your journey of all the places you wish to see and make sure to check online for the best places to go.
DON’T: Be afraid to try new things. It is not everyday that you get to travel abroad. If your group goes to a restaurant that has falafels and you think you are going to hate it, try it anyway. You will probably still hate it, but at least you can say you gave it a shot.