- Pinterest your plans
Utilize your resources: this includes strangers’ experiences. There are tons of travel guides on the internet, yet I enjoy looking through Pinterest posts. There are typically many 2-3 days itinerary already available online. I take it a step farther by comparing and contrasting them. There are going to be a few places or activities that will appear in all of them. I list these as must-sees simply because if more than a few people recommend going, it is most likely worth it.
Sometimes the posts will include pictures so not only do you know where you will be exploring but you can visualize it too. It not only helps with planning but increases the excitement! Especially for studying abroad, typically you will only have the weekend to go on excursions. This means you have to make the most of your time. Therefore, you should go to the best places to ensure that you get the best experience.
- Use Google Map as your virtual treasure map
Travel time is precious. Getting lost could cost you more time that you can afford. Because of this, I would recommend you plan your trip based on distance. The perfect route is the key to unlocking the treasure chest of great adventuring. My approach is to type in all the locations that I want to go to as locations in Google Map then I will rearrange the order to figure out the best path. In the end, it will actually look like a treasure map. I like to keep a screenshot of the map just in case I do not have signal, or I just need to take a quick peek.
- Set up and test your VPN in America.
Personally, I know that I cannot live without social media (Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram are my life. I am constantly switching between this apps), so I made sure I downloaded a working VPN before leaving the country. My university provided a VPN, so I did not have to purchase one. I would recommend just googling your university name and VPN because some people at the study abroad office may not even know about this option (one of my friends called in and she was told to purchase one).
Other people in my study abroad program did not set up their VPN until arriving in China, so they were having the hardest time. It may also because the Chinese government has been super strict recently about VPN usage. Therefore, just save yourself the trouble and check to make sure everything is good before leaving America.
- Pack minimalistic.
I am not saying bring nothing, but keep in mind that most cities are pretty urbanized and modernized. Especially big cities like Shanghai (where I am studying abroad) and Beijing will have everything you may need or might have forgotten. I only packed a carry-on suitcase for my two-month trip. Some mini tips I have for packing is to use packing cubes. These things keep your clothing separated and organized while keeping everything compact. Along with that, roll your clothes to maximize the space.
Wrinkles might be an issue, but people are going to understand that you are living out of a suitcase. Secondly, I brought travel-sized toiletries. This might not be enough to last me the trip, but I can always buy more when I am in the city. A reason why I like just having a carry on is that my luggage won’t get lost. This happened to one of the students in the program, and it is just a big headache, for the student, his roommate, and the directors.
- Simultaneous spring cleaning.
Packing is a great reason to go through your closet and do a deep clean. I use big trips as motivation to clean my closet. I pack for the location, but I also keep in mind clothes that are older or more worn. This way, I pack items that I would not mind tossing at the end of the trip. This also makes room for souvenirs or other items you are most likely going to accumulate throughout your time abroad.
This does not mean you should not pack a few nice outfits for those picture perfect vacation spots. Just strategically, you are going to buy new clothes or small items, and if your suitcase is already stuffed it may be hard to find room for your new items. This way you are getting rid of the old to make room for the new in a very efficient manner. For this trip, I think I am going to throw away almost half my stuff. This also gives me an excuse to do more shopping when I get back.
- Bonus Tip – perfect flight timing
I listed this as a bonus tip because sometimes it is out of your control. However, I would recommend that if you are to travel abroad to take a flight that will land in the morning. This will reduce your likelihood of suffering through jet lag. Think about it. You will most likely sleep on the plane, even if it is just for a few hours. Nevertheless, your body will think that you just had a bad night’s sleep, and somehow function as it normally would.
Typically, the first day after a long flight is fairly chill (unless you’re me and explored all of Macau right after you got off a 15-hour flight). This means your body will be exhausted at the end of the day, almost guaranteeing that you’ll have a good night’s sleep. There are external factors that could ruin this tip. For instance, if something prevents you from sleeping on the flight (flight anxiety, crying baby, kicking child), then you may not benefit from this tip. Still, I thought I would include it as a simple suggestion that I will definitely continue to use.
(Jet lag will affect everyone differently. Personally, I think I do not suffer from super bad jet lag or even feel a bit of its effect. However, this does not mean this is the same for you. It will take time for your body to adjust to the time change. Your whole system will have to get used to a new sleep and eating schedule. Transitions take time, so do not expect your body to function perfectly for the first few days or even week. Give yourself time to physiologically adjust and recover the natural rhythm of things.)