So you’re headed on exchange, eh? That’s so exciting, Im so happy for you!
You’re about to experience the most amazing few months!
Going on exchange was one of the best decisions I made while at university.
Here are my tips, learned from experience on how to have a truly amazing exchange!
1. Make a list of everywhere you want to go, in priority order
Yes, I realize you want to see EVERY CITY and attraction in the area, but that’s not always possible. So prioritize and travel accordingly.
2. Plan your trips ahead! I mean REALLY plan
You might feel silly while in your home country looking at hotels and attractions in, say, Europe when you havnt even left yet, but believe me, you will be one very busy person while at school on exchange, and you’ll be happy you planned out what you wanted to do before you left.
Look up the best hotels or hostels in the city you want to go, make a short list of the ones you’d like to stay at. The same goes for sites and attractions.
Once you have that all sorted out, you’ll find working out the small details just before your trip a lot easier, (like working out how to get from the airport to the hotel to the restaurant you’re dying to try).
I went to London the first time without really planning before I left because it was such a spur of the moment adventure. After the trip, I found some things online I was upset I missed, so I had to make another trip to London a different weekend. Not the worst thing in the world to visit London twice, but I might have been able to use that precious time in another city if I had done research the first time.
3. Write out on paper all the important details you may need
Your smartphone likely won't work in all the countries you’re about to visit, and, depending on where you travel, Wifi may be limited. We are used to free Wifi everywhere here in North America, but that’s not the case in many other countries.
Anything you would normally pull your phone out for, write it down.
(If you’re from somewhere else in the world coming to North America, you can probably skip this point. We have free Wifi nearly everywhere in urban areas.)
For example write down:
- Train/flight times & numbers
- Hotel booking confirmation number
- Hotel name and address
- Transit (train/bus lines) or walking directions from the airport to hotel to the attraction you want to see, etc.
4. Scan and email a copy of your passport to yourself!
I cannot express to you enough how much you will thank yourself for doing this if you’re ever in the situation where you loose your passport while abroad. Even if you never loose it, the peace of mind is worth the 5 minutes it takes to do it.
5. If you’re not already a ‘yes’ person, become one
- You normally don’t like the theatre, but someone asks you to go to a show. The correct answer is ‘yes!’
- You hate scary movies, but a friend asks you to go on a ghost tour of a city.
The correct answer is ‘yes!’
- You generally dislike beer, but you’re in Dublin and one of the most popular attractions is the Guinness factory.
The correct answer is ‘yes, Ill try that!’
You get the point. Your exchange wont be an adventure unless you make it one, and I promise you never have to drink a Guinness again outside of Dublin.
6. Make friends with the local students
You’re going to said country because you have an interest in it above all other countries, yes? Making other international friends is easy, there are always loads of international student events to attend, but don’t forget about the students native to that country.
You’ll only really get to know the place you’re visiting if you get to know the people who have lived there all their lives and try to see things the way they do.
Its also a good idea if you ever want to go back to your exchange location.
I hope to think that when I eventually go back to England, I have a few friends there who would take me in for a weekend and show off their city or town to me, if I haven't visited there yet!
7. There’s student specials everywhere, find them
You can find student prices for many services and products, but especially rail cards! Seeing as you’re in a foreign country and are not likely to have a drivers license that is valid there, transit is your new best friend, and will be a consistent expense.
8. Pick something you REALLY want to do or see, and spend on it
This is limited to those things you’ve been thinking about for ages. If you ‘Go Big Or Go Home’ on everything, I can promise you’ll head back to your home country dead broke and you’ll spend ages paying it off.
When a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity comes up however, go for it, and don’t feel guilty.
My splurge was a ski trip to the French Alps, because, as a Canadian, how many times am I going to do that when I have the option of great hills here that will cost me a lot less to get to? Not often/probably never is the answer you’re looking for.
For all those other trips you're about to make, I suggest doing so as inexpensively as possible. What's a major cost you can cut? Swap out hotel stays with hostel stays. If you're one of those fencer-sitters in terms of staying in a hostel, you must read this.
9. Get an iPhone when you get home
You have friends all around the world now?
Not sure about where you live, but in Canada paying for international texts is pricey.
iMessage however doesn’t charge you anything for texting anyone in any place in the world, and it seems everyone has an iPhone these days.
So when you head home collect all your new friend's numbers and pop them into your iPhone contact list. You can keep in contact with them for free over iMessage.
If you have any more tips to give, leave them in the comments.
Hope you have very safe & happy travels!