When you wait as long as I did to study abroad, a part of you feels like every moment of your experience needs to be perfect. Maximized. Anything but wasted.
Arriving on the ground in London almost two weeks ago reminded me of everything I had done to get here. All of the hours I spent researching study abroad programs. The endless questions I’d asked every university tour guide. The pennies I scraped together to ensure I could support myself in a foreign country.
But during my first week in London, I began accumulating the one thing I didn't want: a lot of wasted time.
I’d taken too many naps. Spent too much time shopping for items I should have packed in my already nearly 50-pound suitcase. Talking on the phone with friends and family. I had waited over a decade for the chance to study in Europe. Why was I resting instead of getting out? Sightseeing? Socializing?
The truth is, I didn't waste time during my first week — I just spent time. Traveling for nearly a day, the preparation that came before, and settling into a seven-week home in an unfamiliar place was exhausting. If I took naps, I needed them. If I forgot something, that's okay. If I talked to friends and family, I needed those comforting words.
I learned that just because I was in Europe didn't mean I no longer needed the same balance I had at home. I still needed rest, balanced meals, and communication with the people I love.
So instead of viewing my first week as a sum of wasted time, I viewed it as the time I needed to ensure I was making the most of the rest of my experience. I wanted to avoid spending the next six weeks playing catch-up and not getting to do the things that were truly important to me.
I also learned this harsh lesson: I would not be able to do everything I've ever wanted to do in Europe in one summer. Yes, sometimes Instagram photos are deceiving, but realizing I would have to pick and choose forced me to sit down and formulate a plan, planning out days for rest and purposely leaving some weekends free. And here's something else I learned — day trips are your friend!
If you're a planner like me and want to create a balance of your own, here's a list of my plans in and around London. But remember — don't be afraid to take a rest. There's no such thing as wasted time during this experience. We're always learning!
Now let's get exploring.
Shakespeare’s Globe | Prices vary
Yes, at home, I’m an English major — and although I can’t claim to be the biggest Shakespeare reader (I have Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet and The Tempest under my belt) — I couldn’t leave without seeing the playwright's historic Elizabethan playhouse. Plays run weekdays and weekends, offering afternoon and evening showtimes. Prices vary depending on seated or standing room attendance.
St. Paul’s Cathedral | £0 – £20.50
As a superfan of beautifully designed architecture, St. Paul’s quickly got a place on my to-do list. All guests are welcome to worship the Cathedral free of charge at daily services, but sightseeing tickets are also available for self-guided day tours Monday-Saturday. For a more comprehensive view of everything St. Paul’s has to offer, I recommend buying a ticket. Student discounts available with valid I.D.!
Windsor Castle, Stonehenge & Bath | £95 – £142
As much as I love architecture, I may love history a tad bit more. So when I found this guided day trip that travels to Windsor Castle, prehistoric Stonehenge and the Roman Baths, I was in. The 11-hour tour departs from Victoria Coach Station in London and includes round-trip transportation with varied ticket options for entrance to the Castle, Stonehenge and the Baths.
Paris Day Trip with Professional Guide | £319 – £359
I don’t think I’m unique in saying I’ve always wanted to have my own picture taken in front of the Eiffel Tower. But even from London, visiting Paris can be a tight budget squeeze between Eurostar train tickets and overnight stay fare. Thankfully, tour groups such as Premium Tours offer Paris day-trip options (something we could never dream of in the U.S.!). Tours are offered in English and some packages include a 3-course Eiffel Tower lunch option. Admission to the Louvre Museum is separate, but tickets purchased online in advance are only €17 (about $18.55).
More Blogs From This Author
Hi! I'm a third-year student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, studying journalism and creative writing. I consider myself a storyteller. My favorite book is "Jane Eyre," and my favorite song is "Getaway Car" by Taylor Swift!