Studying abroad soon? We bet you’ve got a million questions like where to travel, how to get there, what to pack, and so much more. We’ve got answers all over the blog, but don’t just take it from us–why not let current study abroad students tell you everything you need to know? Below, meet JUNEVE, WHITAKER, VONNI, JULIA, and GIANNA, who have offered up their advice to help you plan the best semester abroad ever.
Did you overpack/underpack? Did you wish you packed something or wish you didn’t bring something?
JULIA: I overpacked for sure! This was my first time coming to Europe, so I was not sure what to bring and what not to bring, so I brought way too many things. I wish that I would have brought an empty bag here because I have bought so many things!
VONNI: YES. There are things I wish I would have thought of. IF YOU ARE AN AVID HAIRDRYER/STRAIGHTENER user, bring a converter with strong enough voltage to handle your item. I might have ruined my straightener and I could have avoided it! Also, if you want to bring decorations/pictures for your wall, do that in the States. It is harder to find stores like Target or CVS where you can print your pics/find dorm decor (at least in Italy).
GIANNA: I overpacked way too much. I also did not bring nearly enough winter clothes. If I could go back and change anything it would be the amount I brought and pack some more sweaters!
WHITAKER: I always found a way to pack the wrong things. Whether I overpacked or under packed it was usually the wrong stuff.
Haven’t we all felt like WHITAKER while traveling at one point or another? Packing can be SO stressful! So we took all of these tips and the blue crew’s travel experience and created the Ultimate Packing Checklist. Deep-dive into all the most asked questions like what toiletries to bring or leave behind (including hair styling devices!), what electronics are necessary, and every travel essential you might not even consider. Read on so you can be calm and prepared packing for your semester abroad.
Where did you travel this semester with bus2alps and on your own? What was your favorite trip?
WHITAKER: I traveled to a lot of places with and without Bus2Alps and overall I enjoyed the trips I did with bus2alps more than the trips I planned on my own. I went to Bologna, Amalfi, Croatia, Oktoberfest, Switzerland, Prague, and Morocco.
VONNI: Oh my goodness, definitely Interlaken, Switzerland. I can’t recommend that piece of heaven enough. The mountains make you feel so alive. On all of my trips, I have felt fulfilled come Sunday. I knew this to be true of Switzerland when we were on the bus, watching the mountains disappear.
JUNEVE: This semester I traveled to Cinque Terre, Bologna, Amalfi, Munich, San Gimignano, Berlin, Amsterdam, Paris, Barcelona, Belgium, and Interlaken with bus2alps. On my own, I traveled to Greece, Croatia, Milan, Rome, Verona, Lake Garda, Pisa, Monte Carlo, and Monaco. It is so hard to pick a favorite trip, but if I had to pick one I would say Amsterdam, Amalfi, and Interlaken were my favorites.
World traveler status achieved. There’s something about study abroad energy where every weekend feels like an adventure waiting to happen. Back home people Netflix and chill, but abroad we’re calculating the amount of time it takes to get from class to the airport on a Thursday. It’s never too early to start dreaming about your Spring 2020 Bucketlist. Do any of these destinations make it on your list?
What are your best travel tips for incoming students?
JUNEVE: Whether you travel every weekend or go on two trips, immerse yourself in the places you’re in.
WHITAKER: The biggest piece of advice to give an incoming student would be PLAN YOUR TRIPS AHEAD OF TIME. It saves a lot of time and a bunch of stress and can even save you money. 1000% book Oktoberfest. It’ll be a weekend you tell your kids about. (blue crew here: in the Spring, try Springfest instead)!
GIANA: I follow @bus2alps_travel and many bus2alps travel guides for travel inspiration and helpful tips, they are constantly posting stories about trip discounts and events that are happening in Florence–and on a larger scale around Europe! It has made a huge difference in the way I plan and navigate my weekend trips.
VONNI: I recommend learning the system for public transportation. What I have really enjoyed about bus2alps is that they provide all transportation for you, which is SO nice. In Paris, my gal pal and I went on our own, and we saved so much euro by figuring out the metro system. I know other friends who used taxis and spent much more throughout the weekend. Do some research before and it will pay off in the long run!
How was using your credit card abroad/taking out money? Do you have any tips for future students?
JUNEVE: Try to get a travel-specific card because you build up some points to pay off all the damage you did during the semester. Before I came abroad I opened a Bank of America travel credit card and a debit card. One of the reasons I chose Bank of America was because they have a ton of sister banks in Florence and the other countries I knew I’d be traveling to, so the foreign transaction fees and conversion rates were minimal.
VONNI: DO NOT GO TO THE CURRENCY EXCHANGE. They will screw you over, financially and mentally. I went there once and lost more euro than I care to remember.
JULIA: My card was not an international card so I would have international fees every time that I used it. My advice would be to get a credit card that is international and doesn’t charge the extra fees! Also, when getting money out of the ATM, use the ATM’s at the bank and take large sums of money so that you will be charged less!
GIANA: Although paying with a card is widely accepted in Florence, for smaller purchases there is definitely a preference for cash. I recommend to always carry some cash for more trivial purchases–whether it be a coffee or panino–because more often than not purchases under 5 euro, cashiers will ask for cash.
YES to all of these! Figuring out the right card to bring abroad and how to use foreign currency can seem like a foreign language. Thankfully we have you covered with an in-depth article on how to use banks, cards, ATMs, and currency abroad. Make your life easier and read this before you go abroad! #thingsiwishiwouldhaveknown
What was the hardest thing about studying abroad?
VONNI: Italy is definitely different from the States, and it takes some getting used to at first. Just know that it is important to believe in yourself and give yourself hugs. Don’t rush yourself if you need time to feel at home. Your feelings are valid, and in order to be your best self, you need to feel your best.
JULIA: One of the things that I struggled with was the efficiency of life here. At home, everything is fast-paced and here everything is slower and relaxed. Another thing that was hard was learning to live without ice cubes, dryers, AC and other things that I am used to in my daily life.
GIANA: I’ll admit even I struggled with the culture shock and pure exhaustion that came with the first few days of being in a new city. My best advice is to drink lots of water, rest, and talk to family! Whenever I felt anxious I made sure to do something that was familiar to me…it sounds weird but something as simple as grocery shopping or exercising can drastically change how settled you feel!
Loving the honesty! It’s so important to talk about the hard stuff too. Studying abroad can be life-changing and magical, but it is still real life. Everyone goes through challenges and fears, but those feelings will pass, and if you let them, they will shape you into a more adaptable and independent person. There is pressure when studying abroad to feel like you’re immediately having the time of your life or that your host city should feel like home right away. Don’t let these preconceived ideas get you down! Everyone goes through an adjustment period and it’s completely normal. Remember why you chose to study abroad, and follow that passion to see new places, make new friends, and step out of your comfort zone.
What trip do you wish you could have gone on?
JUNEVE: I WISH I was able to go to Prague, Ireland, and Budapest. Big regret…. but I honestly didn’t have enough time to get to it due to all the other trips I was on.
VONNI: I definitely wish I could have gone to Greece! If you have a fall break, I would recommend going on the Greece Island Hopping trip with bus2alps. It can be fairly spendy to get there/get around, so going with them is extremely beneficial.
GIANNA: I have heard amazing things about Morocco, Turkey, Ireland, and Greece. Those are definitely places I want to visit in the future!
The thing about living abroad is the world becomes so much smaller and infinitely larger at the same time. There never seems to be enough time to see all the places you want to see, but doesn’t that make it even better? Our bucket lists never stop growing and there is always a new place that sparks our wanderlust. I guess the only logical solution is to keep traveling.
What will you miss the most?
VONNI: I suppose what I will miss the most is the ability to see so much—the world is really at your fingertips. I was already an independent gal prior to this trip, but you gain a greater sense of the word when abroad. It is wonderful. I will miss the cobblestones, the people, and the feeling of wanderlust. There is so much beauty in the unknown.
JUNEVE: Aside from the beautiful countries I was so fortunate to travel to I will miss the people I met in those places. I am such a firm believer in the people you meet make your trip, not always the place you’re in. From the people I have met who live in Florence, to a few of the bus2alps guides that we became very close with, to the people we met on all the trips, I will miss that the most. I am forever grateful bus2alps brought me to some of the most amazing people I’ve been lucky enough to meet and become friends with.
JULIA: Besides the amazing food, I will miss the local people. I had the opportunity to volunteer at a school (highly recommended) outside of Florence. The local Italians that I met were some of the nicest and welcoming people that I have met! I encourage you to try to speak Italian to the locals, they appreciate it!
What’s the biggest piece of advice you have for students coming abroad?
JUNEVE: My biggest piece of advice is to enjoy every single minute of this experience. This experience flies by before you know it and you’re sitting on the bus for the last time like I am reflecting about this entire trip wondering where the time has gone. Have an open mind through the entire journey. If you’re closed off and just stick with the people you know, you’re missing out on so many opportunities to meet people you never thought you’d get close with. I have no idea how I only have three weeks left and I wish I could stay forever. Do things you never thought you would because your time is so limited. No matter what, everyone has a different experience, but most of all just make it unique to yourself, and cherish every single moment because this time flies by…….
VONNI: If I have one piece of advice, it is this: If you have yourself, everything will be okay. Read that again. I think that oftentimes we feel as if we need to be with people to enjoy something. Like we can’t do anything by ourselves. However, I argue that I have had some of my best times abroad with Me, Myself and I. There is something truly amazing about loving yourself and the person you have become. Take a walk by yourself. Take yourself out to dinner. Write in a journal. Finding out more about yourself and the world around you is so crucial to our construction and growth.
GIANA: My biggest advice to incoming study-abroad students is to push your boundaries. Whether it be getting dinner with a new group of friends, or studying at a different library take a leap and try something different. My best memories are the ones that I was scared to pursue at first…By stepping outside my comfort zone, I am now much more willing to take risks and try new things. Your time abroad is too short to not make every moment count! (I wish someone told me that earlier!!)
All of the feels. Studying abroad is such a uniting experience. Thank you JUNEVE, WHITAKER, VONNI, JULIA, and GIANNA for giving us a peek into your unique experiences and including amazing tips for future study abroad students.