Studying Abroad: How to Prepare for London

Congratulations, you’re going to London! Now that you’ve been accepted to the study abroad program or college trip of your dreams though, what comes next? Come along as I figure it out myself with only two months until I head to the UK.

Passport

Start by double checking the expiration date on your passport if you already have one. If it is expired you may be able to renew it by mail, but make sure you leave plenty of time between to get it back. If this is your first time obtaining a passport, make sure you start the application process early to ensure that you have time to collect all of the documentation you will need. There is also an expedited passport application if you find yourself running out of time. To travel abroad to the United Kingdom, a US citizen needs a passport book not just a passport card. Passport cards are cheaper and sufficient for traveling to locations such as Mexico or Canada, but they will not allow you to travel to the UK. Ask your study abroad program or college trip coordinator if they offer any assistance in navigating the process or check out this article by Time Magazine and this infographic from the US government to learn more.

Flights

Depending on your program, you may not need to book a flight yourself but if you do, don’t lose heart when you see the prices! Try to book your flight at an opportune time. It is suggested that you book an international flight at least a few months in advance. As a student going on a study abroad or college trip, you may not have flexible travel dates but if you do, check out this article by USA Today for the best times to fly in 2020. By shopping on Cyber Monday, I was able to purchase a roundtrip ticket on Norwegian airlines from Orlando to London for under $500.

Packing

A great place to start when considering what to bring on your trip is to look at the average weather conditions in London for the months you will be visiting. You can usually find this information through a simple Google search. Next, consider what you will be doing on your study abroad trip. Is it mostly networking and touring offices? Will you be taking classes? This will also help you decide what would be useful to bring and what should stay behind. Packing in a carry-on means less to haul from the airport to the hotel and ensures that your luggage won’t be lost. To learn how to pack light in a carry-on, check out this amazing, comprehensive video. I have personally lived out of a carry-on for 6 weeks but if you have a lot of bulky coats and professional clothes to bring, a checked bag may make more sense. Either way, try to pack so that you have items that you can mix and match. After clothes, don’t forget to pack cosmetics, toiletries and last-minute things. Here’s my personal list of random stuff to not forget:

  • Adapters for plugs (this is extremely important)
  • An umbrella (or multiple umbrellas if you, like me, tend to lose them)
  • Lip balm
  • Wet wipes
  • Tissues
  • Hair ties/Rubber bands/Scrunchies
  • Stain stick/Stain remover
  • Headphones
  • Gas X, Pepto-Bismol, fiber supplements (traveling can be hard on your stomach, be proactive!)
  • Gum (do your ears pop on flights too?)
  • A travel journal
  • Passports/Paperwork/etc.
  • One nice outfit (even if you think you won’t need it or wear it!)
  • A book for the plane

If you are looking for a more comprehensive list of what to pack download this packing list.

Money

The currency of the United Kingdom is GBP, or Great British Pounds. It is best to have at least enough money in pounds to get through your first day in London without needing an ATM, so plan to exchange some money in the US at your local bank before you travel. It is also important to contact your bank before you leave the US to learn about any fees associated with spending overseas or exchanging money. If your bank charges high fees, consider opening a new account with another bank. Here are some questions to ask your bank to ensure that you don’t spend more than planned while abroad. Notifying your bank of your travel plans is important to ensure that they do not flag your card activity as suspicious.

Phone Stuff

Depending on how much you plan to use your phone, you have a couple of options when it comes to preparing your phone for London:

  • Add a global package to your existing phone plan
  • Utilize wi-fi
  • Switch your SIM card

Each option has pros and cons. To learn more check out this article by Wired Magazine. It’s also never a bad idea to download WhatsApp so that you can chat with friends and family without using minutes.

Finally in London!

To state the obvious, there is so much to do in London! One approach to making the most out of the time you have in London is to make a list of places you would like to see or activities you would like to do and then rank them. This will allow you to quickly see what you would be willing to miss out on and what you absolutely can’t leave London without seeing or doing. Remember that just because it is on the “Top 10 Things to See in London” doesn’t mean you have to see it. This is your trip and your experience. Don’t put anything on your list just because you feel like you have to. For example, below is my personal, prioritized list.

  1. Tate Modern
  2. British Museum
  3. London Eye (bring on the anxiety and fear!)
  4. Fish and Chips
  5. A True English Pub
  6. Hyde Park
  7. Actually, like everywhere mentioned in Taylor Swift’s London Boy song
  8. Banksy Street Art
  9. A tea shop
  10. A red double decker bus

If you are not sure what you want to see, you can approach it whimsically by scanning Google Earth, watching movies set in London, watching old Rick Steves’ Europe episodes (which although sometimes outdated are actually very helpful) or listening to music by British artists. There are also guidebooks (this is the one I’m using) and travel blogs with lots of information.

Keeping the Trip Affordable

With hundreds of dollars already spent on flights and passport fees, making the rest of the trip affordable may be a priority. An old school Michelin guide can actually have some great suggestions for cheap eats. In addition, many museums and sights are free. It also never hurts to ask if there is a student discount. Buying an Oyster card and using the bus and tube versus cabs is another way to save.

How to Deal with Nervousness

It is absolutely okay to be nervous! A few ways to ease nervousness include:

  • Reaching out and getting to know people who will be going on the trip with you before you leave
  • Planning out the logistics so you are confident that you know what you are doing and where you are going
  • Talking to older students who have participated in a study abroad program or college trip similar to yours

Or, if all of that only stresses you out more, then just take a deep breath and remember that you are feeling “chuffed to bits” to be going to London!