Getting ready to study abroad for the first time is exciting, but you might have a question or three: What should I pack and how much of it? Do I need a credit card? And why on Earth do my flight times have different lengths? To make sure you can focus on all the fun parts of the preparations – like happy dancing and telling everyone about your upcoming time abroad – we collected some questions that we know a lot of students have before they start their adventure. Then, we asked our study abroad experts for all the answers and put together this handy little study abroad Q&A. Enjoy part 1 and learn all about how to prepare for the big trip:
1. I’ve never traveled alone – do you have any tips?
Traveling alone for the first time can be a little intimidating, but here are a few tricks: Get to the airport early so you’ll have enough time to get through security and to your gate without rushing. We think it always helps to organize the airport transfer ahead of time – that way, you won’t have to worry about how to get to your host family or residence after your (long) flight. If you book a transfer service, someone will be at the airport waiting for you, right after you go through immigration and pick up your suitcase. They will have a sign with your name so it should be fairly easy to spot them – and they will not leave without you. (In case you can’t find them right away, you can check your travel documents for their phone number.)
2. Should I get in touch with my homestay family beforehand?
Yes! After all, you will be a temporary part of their family, so they’re probably just as curious about you as you are about them. You can send them an email, introduce yourself, ask them a question or two, and tell them how excited you are about studying abroad. Don’t bombard them with emails or calls, but saying hi is always a good idea.
3. What do I have to pack?
This depends on where you are going and for how long – make sure you google the average temperatures during your stay. You will be able to do laundry at your destination, so don’t overpack. Plus, there will probably be some shopping, so make sure you account for that (and leave some space in your suitcase). Once you know about the weather, pack clothes that can be layered. Make sure you have a pair of sneakers, as there will probably be activities and excursions that are best enjoyed in comfortable shoes that let you move around. Don’t forget chargers and adapters! In case you forget something: Unless it’s your favorite sweater, you can buy pretty much everything at the destination. (Even new favorite sweaters.) Toiletries can be purchased at the destination as well, so we recommend travel-size shampoo or soap for the first few days. And yes, it’s totally ok to pack a little something that reminds you of home, even if it’s in the shape of a stuffed animal.
4. What type of luggage should I bring?
Suitcases with wheels are easy to lug around. If you know that you’ll travel a lot at your destination, a big backpack might be a good idea. Don’t forget to check with the airline about the weight and size limitations for both your check-in and carry-on luggage. We recommend that you put everything you can’t live without, valuables things (laptop, camera, charger), and a change of clothes (in case the luggage somehow doesn’t make it at the same time as you) in your carry-on luggage. If you plan on going on weekend trips (and we hope you do), make sure you have a smaller bag that you can use.
5. Which are the most gay-friendly destinations?
Some of the most gay-friendly destinations to study abroad are San Francisco, Barcelona, Malta, London, and Paris.
6. Should I bring a present to my host family or roommates?
Everyone loves presents and host families or roommates are no exception. A little souvenir from your home country or town is a great icebreaker and shows them that you’re an awesome person.
7. How should I prepare for my trip?
Besides packing, buying a present for your homestay family or roommates, and getting to the airport on time, you should definitely start getting to know your school and connect with fellow students. You should also take any recommended online language tests to help find the perfect level for you. We don’t want to toot our own horn, but our blog has some pretty cool articles about all of our destinations, so that could be another entertaining way to prepare. If you want to take it even further, google your destination and get excited for all the things you’ll be able to do there.
8. Why do my flight times differ?
We don’t want to go into too much detail but it has to do with the Earth being a sphere, aerodynamics, and time zones (which all turn into jet lag and jet stream). So, if you fly from Vienna to London, one way will be slightly shorter than the other because one way has to fight headwinds (compared to tail winds). Then, there are the time zones: If you leave Vienna at 1 p.m. and your flight to London is 2 hours long, you will not arrive at 3 p.m. but at 2 p.m. – since London is in a different time zone (one hour behind Vienna), you technically departed at noon London-time, and you arrive two hours later. When you leave at 1 p.m. for your flight back, your two-hour flight to Vienna will arrive at 4 p.m. Vienna-time because you have to add the additional time zone. Long story short: It’s perfectly OK that your flights have different durations.
9. Do I need a credit card?
Yes, we recommend that you get a credit card, especially if you go to the United States. If you or your parents are worried about spending too much money, talk to your bank about putting a limit on the card. Another way to make sure the spending doesn’t get out of control can be to use a prepaid credit card: You or your parents simply load a certain amount of money on the card, and that’s all you can spend (until the card is recharged). It’s best to talk to your bank about how to handle the expenses abroad.
10. When do I need to be at the airport?
Flights are not like trains, so you can’t just show up five minutes before. Your arrival time depends on where you’re flying to, and it’s best to check with the airline. As a general rule: For intercontinental flights, you usually need to be there about two hours before your flight leaves; if you fly over an ocean or to another continent, about two to three hours before is recommended. It’s better to be there too early to get all of your luggage checked, make it through security, and arrive at your gate with a smile (and not all out of breath and sweaty).
11. How much money should I bring?
This depends on where you are going, how long you’re staying, and how much into shopping you are. We recommend to only bring cash for the first week and then use a credit card or a travel cash card.Sometimes, you can also buy vouchers for activities or events before you depart – that way, you’re ready for fun with fellow students without worrying about money too much.
12. Do I need a special insurance for the study abroad trip?
We recommend that you get a travel insurance that also includes liability and legal. You can either get your own, private insurance, or check with your study abroad expert if they provide insurance for your trip.
13. What should I do when I realize that my ID is expired?
If your ID or your passport are expired, you need to get a new one as soon as possible. If you have to apply for a visa, make sure you check the expiration date on your passport, as this will influence if a visa will be issued. (Plus, the visa will be tied to your passport, so if you get a new passport, your visa will not match anymore.) Note that a lot of countries need your passport to be valid until a few months after your return flight.
14. Can I bring my pet with me?
Unless it’s a service animal, you will not be able to bring your pet. We would love to teach your pet another language as well – and OMG, imagine all those cool #EFmoment pictures! – but it would just be too much of a hassle with accommodations and customs.
Have more questions? Check out our follow-up article.