How to make the most of your study abroad trip

Studying abroad is one of the most life-changing and rewarding experiences of a student’s college career. Learning to fend for yourself in an entirely foreign country can help facilitate personal growth, broaden your worldview and strengthen valuable life skills. But before you board the plane, here’s a travel checklist to ensure a smooth experience:

Speak with a study abroad advisor to make sure you have completed all the necessary paperwork. Your passport must be valid throughout your semester abroad, and at least six months after (some countries require one year). Apply for a student visa if necessary. It may take a few days for the visa office to process your application, so do this well in advance! Rush processing fees can really add up. Don’t forget to check the State Department’s website for any other documentation required to enter the country.

Make sure to exchange currency

Contact your bank to check if it has the currency you’ll need abroad. If you’re thinking of taking weekend trips to other countries, check which currencies they accept. As a general rule, it’s always better to have more money in case of emergencies. Bring U.S. dollars if your bank doesn’t have enough currency to last throughout your trip; most airports have kiosks to exchange currency.

Authorize your credit card

Let your bank know that you’ll be making purchases abroad to prevent getting locked out of your credit card. Check which credit cards are accepted in the country. Some credit cards may have foreign transaction fees, so it’s usually better to pay in cash; or, you can apply for a travel rewards credit card if you’re a frequent globetrotter. If you plan to visit night markets or local stores, many vendors may only accept cash.

Ensure you’re covered

Explore the various international data plans that your cell provider offers. Some charge by day, some are monthly plans, and some have a rate per megabyte. Or, you can purchase a SIM card if your phone is unlocked. Even if you don’t think you’ll need to access your phone off-campus, you can download maps offline from Google Maps, which can be a lifesaver in an unfamiliar place. You’ll also be able to call your trip contact or emergency services. If you only want international calling services, a cheap and user-friendly option is Skype credit.

Make a bucket list

This is your chance to explore an entirely new country, learn about its culture and find your favorite places. Make a list of all the must-sees and take the scenic routes if you have time; you can even make a personalized Google Map of all the places you want to visit. For a more authentic experience, ask a local for their favorite hidden gems. You never know what you might discover.

Pack light

The fewer bags you pack, the easier your life will be. Only pack the essentials, because you’ll definitely leave with more than you came with. Make sure you have enough prescription medication, contact lenses and other necessities you won’t be able to obtain abroad. You’ll be able to buy toiletries, stationery and snacks once you’re there.

Ask a friend

Learn from an expert, and ask a student who has completed the same study abroad program for advice on what to wear or what to bring. They’ll know all the tips and tricks specific to your program. Or, ask a friend who lives in that country for advice on how to get around and what sights to see.