Ironically, one of the best parts about living in London is how easy it is to get out of London. There are so many ways to get across the United Kingdom and Europe from London. Compared to the United States, where it takes four or five hours to drive across some states, it is surprisingly quick and easy to explore other cities and countries across the pond. I have tried to take advantage of these opportunities as often as possible. I have visited Cambridge, Edinburgh, Paris, and I plan to visit Vienna this coming weekend. These trips have been some of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had during this semester. However, I’ve also learned a lot about UK and European excursions, including some things I’ve done wrong and learned from. Here are some mistakes I made so you don’t have to.
First is the most obvious—pack light. I thought I had been packing light. I never packed more than the things I would need for clothes, getting ready in the morning, and day-to-day things. Still, on my long weekend in Paris I ended up with a duffle bag so heavy I had a bruise on my collarbone from carrying it through the train station. For my next trip, I have to stick to a backpack that can fit under my plane seat, so I’ve picked out a couple of ways to lighten the load. First, packing thin clothes. Even in cold weather, the coat I’m wearing on the plane should be enough to keep me warm—I shouldn’t need my bulkiest sweaters. Second, buying the travel-size versions of all of my shower and skin-care products. It’s a couple extra dollars, but it makes a world of difference when it comes to space. I’m also picking out the few pieces of makeup I wear every day, rather than packing my whole makeup bag.
In the packing vein, I’ve also realized that dressing comfortably is far more important than dressing up. I loved my visit to Edinburgh, but it was probably the most uphill walking I’ve ever done in my life. The boots I brought were comfortable enough, but sneakers really would have been the way to go. There’s an impulse to pack cute clothes for weekend trips and live out main-character moments to post on social media, but that impulse seems far less important when your feet are aching and the jacket you brought is too light for the cold weather. Besides, the people on Instagram are usually more impressed by where you went than what you’re wearing.
My two other tips are small, but important. First, adapters! On my trip to Paris, I completely forgot that my U.S. to UK plug adapter wouldn’t work in European countries. Luckily, I was traveling with someone who had prepared better, so I wasn’t totally without a phone for the trip. I’ve already ordered my U.S. to EU adapter on Amazon (one-day shipping on Prime for anyone else who forgot until the last minute). Second, a tip for finding things to do on these destination trips. I started out looking on Google, but those suggestions were also pricier and more touristy than what I was looking for. If you’re on TikTok, I’ve found that it’s a fantastic place to find realistic recommendations for things to do. Most travel posts are coming from young people taking two- or three-day trips to these places, so they often have budget-friendly weekend recommendations. TikTok recommendations are also very unique—people will post spontaneously about a pub or bookstore they loved, a view from a hike, or other places that they didn’t even know about until they found it in person.
I still have a lot to learn about European and UK travel, and every country is different. Still, these first few forays into trips abroad have been incredible and highly educational, and I would absolutely recommend venturing off a bit during your semester abroad.
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Hello! My name is Emma Hughes, and I'm a junior studying Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Iowa. I'm visiting London to study public relations and explore the arts and theatre communities in the UK. I love theatre, creative writing, game nights, and movies. This fall, I hope to have lots of new and exciting experiences in London, and that sharing them with you helps you get the most out of your time abroad!