Traveling is exciting but the preparation for your trip can be stressful. The more you know before, the better! It's best to be prepared beforehand but you should also be open to the idea that things my not go your way. Here are some tips that you should know before you go!
Flights: Obviously, this is a major component for traveling but can also be very expensive. If you're in the process of booking a flight, make sure that you turn off your cookies because the website will be able to alter prices if you use different sites. In addition to that, they say the best time to book a flight is on Tuesday at 3PM EST. Don't book flights on the weekends! These are the days that flights are the most expensive. Great comparison websites are kayak.com and priceline.com!
Accommodations: You can either stay in hotels and hostels when you're abroad but AirBnB is becoming more popular among travelers nowadays. You can find hotels online using many different websites like tripadvisor.com, hotel.com, or kayak.com again. Usually, if I'm traveling with my family, my parents book Hilton hotels where we have points. For hostels, I used hostelworld.com and then obviously I used airbnb.com for Bed and Breakfasts. With hostels, you can book anything from a mix dorm for 10 people to a single. I suggest reading every hostel listing carefully and also looking to see where they are located. That hostel that only costs 20 Euros a night!? Awesome, too bad it's 40 minutes away from the city center by bus. You need to be really careful with this because cheap doesn't always mean close. Now, AirBnB is becoming more popular and I 100% prefer it. Not only do you have a reasonably priced place to stay but you also have someone who can help you navigate your way around town. I have used AirBnBs in Mallorca and Miami and wish I knew about that sooner when I was abroad. In the apartments I stayed in, you are usually given your own room while you have access to the kitchen and other apartment enmities. Also, the hosts that I stayed with were very welcoming and gave great tips for the city! When I was in Miami visiting family, they were too busy to drive my friend and I to the beach so my hosts offered to because it was on the way to her job. I think AirBnB is a great place to stay and you get to see reviews on each listing as well.
Money: While abroad, it is very expensive to withdraw money from a cash machine. When I was abroad, I had made an account with a bank that actually had a branch in Sevilla, Spain so it was easy to withdraw without paying any additional charges. However, this bank didn't have a branch in every country. Therefore, if you are studying abroad or traveling abroad make sure to locate branches in case of an emergency or anything. Depending where you are abroad, cash or cards may or may not be accepted so it is important to research what is mostly accepted in most locations. When I was in Evora, Portugal, most places accepted cash only while Madrid accepted cards. Therefore, pick and choose carefully when you use cash vs your card. Another thing to look out for is baking hours that can be different to what you are used to at home. For example, in Spain, they have siestas where places close from 2PM-5PM. If it is possible, use cash as much as you can and especially in restaurants while using cards in museums or major sights and tourist attractions.
Books: Some great books to use abroad are Frommer's, Lonely Planet, or Let's Go. Another great thing to carry is a dictionary in order to look up common phrases.
Converters and/or adapters: You should bring converters or adapters before you leave but they are cheaper abroad so I would say bring one to your destination but then buy as many as you need when you're abroad.
Clothing: Don't bring your $100 blouse abroad. Just don't do it because I promise you, your clothes will get ruined abroad. Obviously, you'll want to dress nice abroad and definitely do but don't bring anything expensive. Before you pack, you should see what the weather will be like. From this, you can pack accordingly but if you do forget something, you can always buy it abroad.
Packing: Before traveling abroad, I was an overpacked but now I definitely pack light. I traveled for 10 days once with only my north face backpack and my Longchamp purse. I had 2 pairs of jeans, a pair of leggings, 2 tank tops, a sweater, 2 cardigans, and a leather jacket. I was able to switch up the outfits but I was also comfortable with the fact that I would only wear these 3 outfits for 10 days. I'm telling you now please be used to wearing clothes again. I would be miserable if I packed a new outfit for each day. I highly recommend that you pack as little as you can! It's easier to navigate your luggage and you'll have more room for anything you're bringing home. Use a luggage that has 4 wheels or a travelers backpack. If you're going to multiple places, it will be easier to bring everything around and cheap airlines will only allow a certain size for traveling.
Safety: You're traveling to another country and don't know anyone. Random people keep coming up to you asking if you want to go on a tour of the city or if you have spare change. It can be scary going abroad because you don't speak the language. Many people can tell if you're a tourist and will target you but like always you should always be vigilant when you're abroad and be aware of your surroundings always. A big concern is pick pocketing. Stay alert of your bag at all times. Someone stole the contents of my friends bag one night by slicing the bottom of her bag. The item they wanted the most was her iPhone because they are expensive in other countries vs the United States. Therefore, don't go around waving it around or keeping it in your back pocket because that it will be taken. I'm not saying that you won't find nice locals abroad cause you will but you really just need to be safe.
If you're studying abroad, here are some additional tips!
School: If you're going abroad with your school then most likely the classes and curriculum with be based off your University. If you're going with a third party program, such as ISA, CIEE, or CEA, then the classes are with students from different Universities. Make sure you don't fall behind in work and keep up because nothing looks worse on a transcript then an F in your Wine Tasting class. Classes abroad are usually less demanding because schooling is different abroad but that doesn't mean you can slack off. Obviously have fun abroad but sometimes you'll have to skip going out on Tuesday nights to the bars to finish a project. You may have FOMO but you are abroad for school mainly so remember to keep up!
Cell Phones: Depending on your program, they'll either give you one or refer you to a company that will rent you one. Another alternative is bringing a cheap phone with a SIM card. When I was abroad, my program provided me with a cell phone. Helpful apps abroad are WhatsApp and Viber. Data is extremely expensive elsewhere so you will be talking through WiFi mostly. If you are renting a phone, make sure you stay on top of your phone bill.
Student Visa: The most annoying thing to obtain is a student visa. Therefore, you need to get it early! Many programs give assistance with obtaining a visa but it is still a lot of paperwork that you should obtain as soon as you get it and mail it in. Do not wait until the last minute!