I spent the last 4 and a half months studying abroad in Madrid, Spain, having the absolute time of my life. I travelled the country, met some amazing people and saw countless, breathtaking sceneries. Before coming though, I was optimistic, excited and honestly, clueless and naive. I did not know what to expect or what challenges were coming my way and there were definitely things I wish I’d known ahead of time. Luckily for you, I’ve learned lessons the hard way so you don’t have to! Here are important things to know before you jump on the plane this summer:
1. Know the Food.
I don’t know about you, but I’m a foodie. I love food and trying new styles and flavors. However, I made the grave mistake of ignorantly thinking that Spanish food consisted of tacos, enchiladas, guacamole, etc. Note to all who were unaware like me: Tacos are from Mexico. Spain is in Europe. Therefore, Spanish food is completely different. And I quickly learned that I don’t like said food. The flavors were very bland in my opinion, portion sizes were depressingly small, and meals were served late in the day (siesta is sooo real). Therefore, I’d recommend researching ahead of time what the traditional flavors, portion sizes and preparation style of your destination’s food are (bacon barely graced skillets in Spain before being served in all its limp, pale glory). This is especially important if you are a picky eater or have dietary restrictions. Nothing beats a good time like an empty stomach and incessant hangriness.
2. Check for converter needs.
Whether you’re staying in a swanky hotel or modest Airbnb, it’s rarely ever a good impression to christen spaces with a nice electricity blow out. Research the outlet configuration of your destination if you plan on using any kind of electric devices, as there are different type of electrical wall outlets over the globe. Most commonly needed are adapter plugs, used for cell phones, laptops, digital cameras, etc. National outdoor retail co-op REI provides a helpful guide. The chart below lists suitable adapter plug models for the most common travel destinations:
Adapter Plug Quick Guide
If you’re traveling with certain devices, such as older hair dryers and irons, you may also need a voltage converter or transformer. REI provides a complete list of both outlets and voltage by countries here.
3. Know your transportation options.
The last thing you want to be is completely lost in a foreign country. To save yourself the stress, do your research before you even leave. Familiarize yourself with your destination’s transportation services. Is there a train or bus system? Or do you have to drive or walk everywhere? If there is public transportation, research the train system, for example. Educate yourself on the different routes, nearest stops, ticket or pass prices, station hours, etc. And if you do get lost, don’t panic. Google Maps will be your new best friend.
4. Talk to your phone company.
Speaking of Google Maps, make sure you’ll have the cellular network connection to even use it. Check with your cell phone provider to see what international plan is offered, if any. How much are call and texting fees? What’sApp is great to use while traveling, as it uses your phone’s data, saving you from having to pay for SMS. Facebook Messenger also gives you the same advantage, with both messaging and video calling through data.
5. Get your money right.
Budgeting is incredibly important while abroad. Being broke oversees can really kill the fun. Plan ahead by envisioning how much you plan to spend. Whether you’re staying for a few days or a few months, a detailed budget plan, accounting for food, travel, shopping, etc will save you both time and money. A very important factor in the budgeting process is to check your country’s conversion rates. Is the dollar stronger or weaker there? Does your bank charge international ATM fees? Exchange for some foreign money while in America, so you have some cash on you before you arrive. You never know if you’ll need a few pounds or pesos before you even make it to the hotel (think a taxi to said hotel, unexpected emergencies etc).
6. Seek out authentic souvenirs.
Although it can be comforting to spot a familiar American store (H&M was pretty popular in Madrid), try to avoid such chain stores and explore authentic places to shop, such as local flea markets. You’ll find much more unique, authentic keepsakes and can also bargain for the best deal.
7. Embrace your tourist status.
No matter how hard you try, natives will know you’re a tourist. You’ll stick out somehow at some point, whether it’s your attire, mannerisms or accent. So embrace it! You’re not there to pretend to be one of the natives, you’re there to experience their country and immerse yourself in its culture. Laughing at your terrible foreign language skills, for example, is endearing to natives and they’ll appreciate the effort. So enjoy your time, be willing to experience and learn new things, and appreciate every moment of your journey.
MADE by India McMiller