Europe is the most popular study abroad destination for American students—and with good reason. A compact continent, Europe makes it easy for students to experience five, 10 or even 20 countries and cultures over the course of a single semester. There’s something for everyone, from the foodie to the history buff to the social butterfly to the classically-trained artist.
Better still: Europe’s transportation infrastructure makes it a breeze for students to explore independently or with friends. And of course, Europe is also famous for its cultural and geographical diversity—from the Moorish Alcázar of Seville to the Bavarian Alps to the Acropolis of Athens to the canals of Venice, Amsterdam and Copenhagen.
No matter what sites you’re visiting, we’d like to share some things we wish we’d known before studying abroad in Europe, including items we should’ve packed.
Get Ready for Lots of Cobblestone Streets and Stairs
Most European cities were built before the rise of automobiles or handicap-accessible features. Cobblestones are all over Europe’s streets, which make both comfortable closed-toed shoes and a backpack non-negotiable. Get the TLS Expandable Wheeled Carry-On, with both back straps and wheels, and thank us later. You just avoided some tragic situations that involve navigating London’s tube during rush hour or Prague’s bumpy streets during a downpour.
Take the Tour
Independently exploring a city sometimes requires knowing the lay of the land. Learn from a local by taking a free walking tour (ask your hostel or check out SANEMANs—while they’re free, tipping is highly encouraged) or download Spotted by Locals. Spotted by Locals is an offline app with guides to 65+ cities, boasting insider-only favorites—no tourist traps!
Embrace Being Très Chic
It’s hard to resist doing as the Europeans do—after all, their fashion and food are world-famous. Black is in, and Hawaiian-patterned shirts are out. But it’s hard to feel fabulous after a 14-hour bus ride from Berlin to Amsterdam. Pack some Carrie’s travel goods in your Total Toiletry Kit—a few refreshing spritzes and you’ll feel good as new. While your clothes can go in the TLS Convertible, pack your valuables and toiletries in a bag that’s kept on your body at all times—we suggest this très chic quilted tote
The Euro isn’t Everywhere
A common misconception is that the Euro reigns all over Europe. It does not. While most people are aware of British Pounds, it’s also important to realize that most of Eastern Europe function on independent currencies. Use Crowns in the Czech Republic, Forints in Hungary, Kuna in Croatia and Rubles in Russia. Either convert your Euros (cross-checking the XE Currency app) or for a similar cost, you can simply withdraw that currency from a local ATM, using the Allpoint ATM Finder.
Expert Tip: make sure you keep your bank informed with an up-to-date list of countries you’re visiting to avoid having your funds put on hold by an overly cautious account manager.
Europe’s beauty doesn’t come without its risks. We’d be remiss not to mention the heightened terrorist threats both Stateside and in Europe. While this shouldn’t stop you from exploring, it never hurts to be prepared. If you carry a U.S. passport, enroll for free in the STEP Program (step.state.gov). This helps you stay in-the-loop regarding current affairs—by letting the government know your whereabouts, they can help you out in the event of an emergency.
To let your loved ones know where you are when a situation turns sketchy, press your Revolar wearable. This device feels like an interpretation of Life Alert. Press it once to let your friends and family know you’ve arrived safely somewhere, two times to let contacts know you’re uneasy, and three times to ask for assistance. When you send an alert, your location is automatically shared with your Revolar contacts.
If anything bad ever happens—though we highly doubt it—there’s only one app you need to have: My Panda. My Panda is a safety barometer and lifeline! It alerts users of threats in their vicinity and directs them to safety as soon as possible.
Bring a Map
While Maps.me and Google Maps can handle 90% of offline navigation, it still pays to be prepared for those times when your journey goes underground or off the grid. Download Maplets, a specialized map database with guides to metros, National Park trails, bike routes and more.
But wait, what if you’re meeting up with friends? Or what if you need to send an SOS text when you get stranded in the Irish wilderness? Stick a GoTenna into your mobile for some next-gen offline functionality. No matter where you are in the world, this little stick will let you send texts and GPS locations, as well as access detailed maps when you don’t have service, data or WiFi.
Now you’re ready for the best semester of your life. Will you come back starting every sentence with, “Well in Europe, we do it like this…” Most likely. Will your friends roll their eyes? Probably. Will it be worth it? Definitely.