Friday, May 27, 2011

The Advice Series: Before You Leave

I got a comment yesterday from Diana asking me if I might do a sort of advice blog for people who are or are considering studying abroad in England. I've decided to do it in a few parts.

While every experience is of course different, here are some tips that will be helpful for anyone thinking of studying abroad here :) First, packing and pre-travel tips:


-Make sure you get all of your paperwork done as soon as you possibly can. I was lucky to go through my school, which did a bit of the work for me, but even so, I was constantly checking up on them, making sure they got every document I sent in. Even if you’re a person who doesn’t like to bother people with questions (like I am), now is the time to get over that fear and ask. It’s better to bother someone now then to find yourself unable to go to England because you forgot to fill out a form.

-If you need a visa (which you will if you’re studying for any extended period of time), get on that right away. All visas take time to acquire, and problems can occur even if you apply for it way ahead of time, so save yourself a ton of stress and get it as soon as possible. After you've gotten your visa, make sure it's the one you need. Being told off by border control is only amusing when you know you have the right visa (which is another reason to know you have the right one: you can stand up for yourself.)

-Passport, of course. This also takes time, so (I’m already repeating myself) take care of it now. Also, vanity tip: if you’re eighteen or older, that will be your picture for ten years. Look nice (I did not follow this rule. I regret it every time I look at my passport :p)

-Collect any paperwork that proves you’re allowed to stay in England. For me, it was my acceptance letter from my university. They may not ask to see it, but bring it with you anyway.

-Print out your plane tickets in any way you can.

-Put all of this paperwork into a folder only for these papers. I used a bright-colored plastic one that Velcro-d shut so that the papers couldn’t slide out. If it’s a bright color, it will be easy to locate amongst your things.

-If you’re going to be using an Oyster Card (which is the easiest pass to use for buses, overground, and underground transportation) check out the options and order your card early so you can have it BEFORE you leave. It’s annoying and expensive to buy a day pass when you could just be using an Oyster Card.


-Pack only travel-size shampoo/body wash etc. This serves two purposes: you won’t have to worry about bigger containers breaking and leaking all over your things and you’ll have a little less weight in your bag. You’ll be able to buy regular-sized bottles when you get to England.

-As I read before I started planning for this trip, pack what you need, then take half of it out. I didn’t pack nearly as many clothes as I usually do to go to school, but it was still more than I needed. I brought things that I haven’t worn yet, or worn once. Some of these things are items I’d still recommend you bring just in case, like a pair of dress clothes/a nice dress. While it is one extra piece of clothing, it’s cheaper than having to buy a new dress for one event. But you really don’t need five t-shirts if you usually wear blouses. Try to pack things that can be put together into a few different outfits. If all else fails, remember that they do have washers and stores in England ;)

-Shoes take up a lot of room. As a shoe fanatic, I am sad to say this, but you don’t need that many pairs. I brought about eight pairs of shoes, and there are three that I wore just once or twice. One of those pairs was my Wellies, but even so, I would recommend that you bring a pair of those. Other good shoes to have would be sneakers, good walking shoes, and non-Wellie type boots, as well as a pair of nice shoes.

-Something to consider is that while you may get a certain number of allowed bags on the way there, you might not get the same allowance on the way back. This is happening to me- I was permitted two bags for “free” (included in my ticket) when I came to England, but on the way back, I’m only allowed to bring one. Obviously, this isn’t happening, but I do have to pay extra. It will be hard to pack everything into one bag, but if you can do it, I bow down to you.

-In addition to packing things that can make up a few outfits, pack light layers. The temperature can change very quickly here, and layers are also a good idea when you’re here in the winter months. December-February is extremely cold, and I often wore knee socks and/or tights under my jeans because it was so cold.

-Don’t pack heavy blankets or sheets- they take up room, weigh enough to make a difference, and you can get them for really cheap when you arrive in England.

-Pack stuff to decorate your room with. If you’re living in a place for awhile, you don’t want to have plain white walls; even a few pictures can do the trick.

-Put at least two changes of clothes in your carry-on in case your luggage gets lost. It will give you some peace of mind even if you’re not scared of losing your luggage.

-Put something on your luggage to distinguish it. My new suitcase may be unique in its ugly rust color (sorry, Mom :p), but my other one looked like a lot of cases that are around. Tie a pretty ribbon on it or something else that will help you spot it.

-You can use space bags, but as I’m discovering, you may not be able to find a vacuum (or, as they call it here, a hoover) to use when you’re packing to go home.

-Don’t pack things like hair straighteners and curling irons. If you’re going to be here for awhile, it makes more sense to buy a cheap one when you get here. The fact is that it’s a really bad idea to plug your hair-doing appliances into adaptors; they’re too small to handle it and you’ll just end up with a broken appliance.

-Sign up for Skype. It’s free, and it’s basically the same as a phone call (except you can see the person, which is like a bonus.) It’s a really awesome way to stay in touch with people.

-In my opinion, it’s cheaper to get a cell phone there and pay as you go, but see if your company has an overseas plan.

-If you’re living in a flat or a place where you’ll have to do your own cooking, don’t bring over pots and pans. Instead, use a service like All Unied- besides having a ton of cheap-ish options, they’ll deliver right to your door. They also have packages that include pillows and blankets, and you can buy the packages or just rent them.

-Remember that you WILL accumulate stuff, even if you’re just here for a short time. As hard as it might seem, try to leave a little room in your cases for this inevitable happening. Shipping things back can be expensive.

-Be aware the English cash notes are larger than American notes and may not fit in your wallet. Also, that if you’re American, you’ll have a lot more coins than you’re used to.

Next time, arrival and things to do!


Aziza said...

That was great...and very useful! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

NOTE FOR PACKING: even if you can pack well, and get everything you might want into one suitcase, double check the weight.
Check your airline for weight and suitcase size restrictions... if your bag is too heavy,or too large, you will be charged extra.

sometimes if you need to bring an extra bag, and go on the airlines website, you can arrange to pay for the extra bag at a reduced rate.

AND remember, you will be completely in charge of moving your own suitcases around. SO make sure they are manageable for you in size and weight.

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