This past summer I had the opportunity to study abroad at Oxford University in England. It was the experience of a lifetime, but it was also my first time traveling internationally and without my family. There are definitely some things I wish I knew in advance. Read along for some ideas to make your amazing trip even better!
1) Emergency Essentials (in your personal item)
FIRST and MOST IMPORTANTLY I am putting emergency essentials at the top of the list because it would’ve saved me a lot of hassle. For most international flights, you get a personal item (backpack or purse), a carry-on (small luggage that sits above your head), and additional bags at an additional price placed underneath you. I filled my personal item with books to read on the flight, my neck pillow, etc., but my checked bag was lost along the way! For the first five days in England, all I had were books and a neck pillow- not even a change of clothes! Luckily I was in quarantine during this time, but it would’ve been nice to have my essentials.
Long story short, here is what I wished I had packed in my personal item if I could’ve prepared better:
- Two comfy changes of clothes (works as daytime and pjs)
- Toiletries: toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo (travel-sized!), hairbrush, medication
- Chargers (phone, computer, Apple Watch)
2) Luggage Weight
I struggled to pack lightly on the flight over but it really is worth it to save room for the way home. For my six week trip, I had one large checked suitcase that was about 45 pounds on the way over. (My airline’s limit was 50 lbs.) On the way home, many souvenirs and shopping trips later, I had to buy a carry-on and my checked bag was overweight. One of my friends had a luggage weight I could borrow, which I used multiple times as I reconfigured my bag to be under 70 pounds. If I remember correctly the pricing went: under 50 lbs. was a base charge, 50-70lbs. was an additional £100 ($140), and over 70lbs. was an additional £200 ($280).
You can buy a luggage weight on Amazon for cheap and it’s small. The moral of the story is to pack lightly because you’ll have stuff to travel home with what you didn’t account for.
3) Anti-Theft Backpack
Something else I wish I would’ve brought was an anti-theft backpack for our weekend trips. A few people I traveled with had them and they were convenient for busy locations like the subway or trains. Basically, there are pockets hidden on the backside of the backpack that aren’t easily accessible to swipe open and steal things. We kept our wallets and tickets back there to eliminate the stress of pickpocketers as we traveled around.
4) Portable Charger
Portable chargers can come in handy for a lot of situations, but they were extra helpful on the long days when we were out and about. This is something I had at home, but forgot to pack for the trip. You never want to be in a foreign country without access to a phone in case of emergency (or to take unlimited pictures for your memories), so this is a must!
5) sheets/shower shoes
Even though I was staying in comfortable dorm-style housing, I still wish I had brought a pair of sheets and shower shoes for our weekends away. The biggest trip I went on (since we had to stay in the UK because of COVID-19) was to Edinburgh, Scotland. The hostel we stayed in was fine, but not glamorous by any means. It would’ve been nice to have my own sheets that I knew were clean and flip-flops for the shower. These items are relatively lightweight, so it couldn’t hurt to pack them just in case.
There are a ton of tips I could write about COVID-19 and how traveling during a pandemic changed our trip, but the biggest mishap that COVID-19 caused was actually still on U.S. soil. To travel internationally, we needed proof of a negative COVID test. The general rule is 3 days prior but technically it’s 72 hours. I showed up at the airport with a test 78 hours old (a Tuesday morning test for a Friday afternoon flight) which caused major last-minute stress. Avoid that if at all possible! However, that was in July so check the latest rules and updates regarding COVID-19 safety before you fly!
These tips are things I found helpful, but don’t stress. There will be things you forget and learn along the way. No matter what, your experience abroad will be phenomenal. Prepare as much as you can, but also be ready to adjust your plans on the fly. It’s all part of the experience, and you will be just fine!