As everyone began shuffling back to campus in an excited flurry, I was left feeling a little out of place. This Fall, I’m spending my final semester of undergrad abroad in the United Kingdom! I’ve had almost a full month interim between summer and the start of my program, which has given me plenty of time to do what I do best — think. I’ve been waxing nostalgic about the past three years at UF, and feeling a little left out watching all my friends return to campus and tackle senior year. For me, senior year is a three-month frenzy of traveling and exploration ending in a short walk across the O-Dome stage… which is amazing, but for an over-thinker like myself, also terrifying.
I’m constantly asked if I’m exploding with excitement to study abroad, and the truth is I’m nowhere near processing the news yet. It hasn’t hit my brain. I’m certain that after a few weeks in the UK I’ll suddenly look up, realize where I am and promptly freak out. But for now I think, plan, organize and pack.
Focusing my energy on constructive preparation makes everything seem a bit less scary and more within my realm of control — even if that’s not true. This is how I soothe my savage inner control-freak beast. This semester, my last with Her Campus UFL and UF in general, my blog will focus on my travels, mishaps and discoveries around Europe. That’s a little open-ended — I know — but you can be guaranteed a least a few scenic pictures, a lot of talk about food (Indian food, anyone?) and my insane — and sometimes inane — inner ramblings that you all know and love.
By the time this post hits HC, I’ll have been in the small English town of Leicester for about four days, but as of this very moment, I’m getting all of my belongings together for the three-month duration of my stay. Organization and preparation are keeping me sane throughout this process, so I’d like to share with you a few packing and organizational tips I’ve picked up through research and experience.
1. Lists, lists, LISTS!Making a list for everything and anything is the only way I’ve kept myself on track. I keep notepads by my bed, desk, in my bathroom and in my car just in case I think of something important. I’ve made packing lists (one for my suitcase, another for my carry-on, another for my backpack), task lists (things that need to be completed before I leave, such as getting foreign currency, alerting my bank about the travel) and lists of important documents to bring (tip: Get a file-folder with dividers!). All these lists scattered around the house may seem a little crazy, but with a thousand things running through my brain, it helps to be able to jot it down, and it’s incredibly satisfying to cross things off!
2. Practice packing! Yes, seriously…This may seem like a waste of time. Why should you pack everything ahead of time just to have to unpack those items to use before you leave? I’ve discovered that it’s very difficult to conceptualize just how much stuff you want to bring until it’s bulging out of your suitcase. Set aside time a week or two before you leave to find the best and most space-saving way to pack everything you need — and expel what you don’t. This is also a great time to see how much your suitcase will weigh. Depending on your airline, this is important info to avoid getting stuck with extra fees at the airport!
3. Be ruthless.No, I promise, you really don’t need four pairs of boots or 12 pairs of tights. After you’ve practiced packing, make sure there is room left in your suitcase. You do not want to travel with jam-packed luggage. While abroad, you’re going to want to bring home souvenirs and gifts, and you’ll need a place to put them. You don’t have to rough it with one pair of shoes and a backpack, but be conservative with your packing. For three months, bring three weeks worth of clothes (21 outfits, which is easy if you bring lots of dresses!), and you’ll only have to wear each outfit four times. Sounds pretty average, right? But don’t bring tons of unnecessary accessories, purses or similar pairs of shoes. Don’t bring anything you could more easily buy in your host country like food or drinks. It’s time to leave America at home, ladies!
4. Don’t forget about the unglamorous preparation.Your passport isn’t the only thing you’ll need to enter your host country. Make sure you’re in communication with your host university and be up to date with any entrance paperwork you may need to clear customs. Many countries require bank statements, university acceptance letters and proof of housing to let you in, so don’t be unprepared. Make sure your bank and credit card companies know about your travel, and be knowledgeable about foreign transaction fees and exchange rates if you’re planning to use your card abroad. Several credit card companies don’t charge these fees, so perhaps you should look into a new card for your time abroad. Even if you plan to use a card, you shouldn’t be without some petty cash — as not every vendor will take cards — so go to a bank in the States to exchange your money before you go. Find out if your cell phone plan allows for overseas calls, texting or data usage, and download one or several texting apps to communicate with people in your host and home country.
5. Be safe and have fun!Make sure you follow basic rules of safety, just as you would in the U.S. Travel with a friend and be careful at night. Keep any cash you have in a safe place (like your shoe or bra) when you’re away from your host country. Invest in an anti-theft purse. Don’t leave any of your belongings unattended. Use map and translation apps to help you. Take pictures. Don’t let it pass you by too quickly.
That’s all for this week, everyone. I’ll try my best to follow my own advice and provide an honest, thoughtful account of my time abroad. If you’re studying abroad this semester or next semester, or if it’s just a thought in your mind — preparedness is key, but there’s always room for a little spontaneity.