How to Make the Most of your Year Abroad

Pack Light

Although it’s tempting to bring all your creature comforts, try and pack as little as possible when initially moving. You will collect lots of souvenirs and fun things throughout the year! Keep in mind the cost of checking bags with airlines as you will inevitably be returning with more than what you left with. Additionally, take time to consider just how often you will use each item. You don’t want to waste space bringing that DSLR camera you only really use once a year. This suggestion is not only for the initial move, but also your weekend excursions, as you will hopefully only need a backpack. Many discount airlines only allow one small carry-on and wheels on cobblestone is a hard no. I only brought one large suitcase and my backpack.

Live like the Locals

The most exciting challenge of living abroad is getting out of your comfort zone and doing things differently. In the Netherlands, I had to get used to shopping for groceries multiple times a week and only buying what I could carry back by bike. This was the opposite of my bi-weekly grocery run to Costco where I filled my little car’s trunk to the brim. Living in Utrecht taught me the value of consuming in moderation. Buy only what you need because you don’t have room for impulse purchases. That being said, you’d be amazed what Dutchies can fit on a bike, from cat scratching posts to mattresses!

Living in a different country forced me to re-evaluate my habits and what I thought was normal. Is there a more efficient way of doing things? Am I maximizing my time, money, and happiness? It can be challenging at first but I guarantee you’ll look back at your exchange feeling accomplished.

Make friends with people other than fellow exchange students. You chose your country for a reason! Get to know its people and the intangible qualities of the culture. Bonus, they’ll know what’s going on around town and can help you with mundane tasks like finding a bank and cellphone plan or navigating the transit system. A great way to meet local people is by joining a student association or club on campus.

Travel like a local. This tip applies more to excursions. Skip the uber and opt for subway, bus, bike or walk! You’ll see more of your surroundings while saving some money. Many cities have a 24-hour pass or multi-ride tickets so do your research ahead of time. Read more of my travel specific tips here

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a metro train in Stockholm

Plan Your Trips

Planning ahead will enable you to save money on transportation, accommodation, and activities; as well as book spots for things that sell out early. I planned 2 weeks to 2 months ahead of time. If taking trains, you can get deep discounts by booking ahead (two or more months).

I chose my destination based on whatever flight deals were offered at the time of booking, as that is the most fluctuating cost. I used buses for short distances and flights for long distances. Rarely have I used trains outside the Netherlands.

Here are some great sites to get your trip planning started:

***Side note: hostels shown on Hostelworld are often cheaper on the hostels site and book directly through them thereby avoiding the service fee.

Document It

Although it’s cliché to say, your time away really will go by in the blink of an eye. Make sure you have something to remember the experience by. Document it by journaling (bullet journals are great for the lazy ones among us), blogging, vlogging… whatever you want. It can be a lot of work to keep up a blog or editing videos but you’ll have a great keepsake and something you can look back at years from now. Plus, your friends and family can keep up with all your adventures! I personally keep a little bullet journal of all the things I do during my trips as well as (attempt to) write this blog.

What should you record? Everyday life! What is your routine? Compare and contrast your city and country to your exchange city both culturally and literally. Anything that sticks out to you is valuable. Don’t worry about making the language perfect or the video professionally edited. Remember no one else has to see what you create, this record is first and foremost for yourself.

One last thing. While documenting your experience is great, don’t forget to be in the moment! Experience your travels as they happen and take time to look up from your camera to see the view right in front of your nose.

I will update this article with anymore useful information I think of. If you have a suggestion, leave a comment or shoot me an email!

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