Whether studying abroad or volunteering in another country, there are so many things to know before you go! Here are some questions I would ask myself for when I live abroad again!
I lived in Argentina for 18 months and just got back from a study abroad in Ecuador. Even though they are both in South America, each experience was very different! I had to pack two very different suitcases!
What will the weather be like?
When I lived in South America for the first time, I expected it to be extremely hot and packed lots of light, breezy clothes. After about a month, the cold season kicked in! I was totally unprepared! No one told me it was going to be that cold! Luckily, I someone had a spare coat that I used the entire time. Don’t expect that you will live somewhere where you can just buy all the essentials if you forget them!
When in doubt, pack a coat, hat, and gloves, and bring clothes that you can layer easily. Also, bring a rain jacket and an umbrella.
Do I need to pack my own bathroom supplies?
Do they sell tampons, pads, or toilet paper where you’re going? Do they sell your brand of shampoo? Do they have sunscreen and bug spray?
These are all important questions to ask:
Will they have my medications?
A lot of medications have different names and different doses in other countries. I would talk to my doctor before leaving and make sure I know how to get it in the new country, or better yet–take enough for the entire trip!
Also, think about medications you don’t normally use: motion sickness medicine, cold medicine (it’s very common to get a cold when living with new people in close quarters), Pepto-Bismol (new foods can sometimes tear you up inside), pain medication (Tylenol or ibuprofen), etc.
Will my debit card work, or do I need to bring cash?
In my experience, the areas I stayed did not accept cards and every transaction had to be done with cash. Make sure your bank knows that you will be traveling so they do not freeze your account. I would bring two debit or credit cards, just in case one doesn’t work. And I would bring enough emergency cash that I could survive for a while without my cards. I’ve heard the best place to exchange money is at the airport because there are less fees than at other companies.
Will they have a washing machine? Or will I be doing my laundry by hand?
I have done more laundry by hand than I care to admit. Mostly in bathtubs or sinks. If you do end up having to do it by hand, make sure to bring a dry bag and a clothesline. You can always buy soap wherever you are (thankfully soap is universal), but you can use the dry bag by filling it with water and letting the clothes soak with soap, rinse them out, and leave them hanging out to dry.
What activities will I be doing?
If you’re going to the beach, you’ll need a towel, a bathing suit, and sandals. If you’re exploring the Amazon river, you might want water shoes. Ask ahead or plan ahead so you don’t miss out on some awesome adventures, just because you don’t have the right supplies.
What else should I bring?
You shouldn’t leave home without: a copy of your passport, hand sanitizer, a roll of toilet paper, and (let me say it again) Pepto-Bismol.
Other Important Questions:
What immunizations do I need?
Your first time around, you’ll probably need a slew of them! But check each time you might be more susceptible in a different area.
Will the water be clean?
Make sure you know if the water is safe to drink. A lot of times, you will need to bring a filter or filtered water bottle. In my case, we just bought sealed water bottles from a safe store. However, the water was pretty salty in some areas, so we were told to bring flavor packets. Just look into the water situation, so you are prepared with whatever you need!
Will there be WiFi?
You should figure out beforehand where you will have WiFi, if only to let your friends and family know when you will be in touch. It’s also important to download any important apps before you go! I downloaded a ton of episodes on Netflix for traveling! If you have Spotify Premium, it might also be worth it to download some music!
How will I communicate with friends and family?
It’s important to figure out your phone plan before you leave. If you’re not covered outside of your home country, you will want to put your phone on Airplane Mode for the entire trip! Some free apps for communicating with WiFi are Facebook Messenger, Skype, Groupme, and Whatsapp.
Do they speak another language?
If they do, download a foreign language dictionary on your phone. And if possible, try to stick close to someone that speaks the language too!
Should I leave my valuables at home?
Probably. I left my wedding ring at home and bought a fake one for the trip. I would see how safe the areas are going to be before bringing anything I didn’t want to lose. Fancy jewelry, expensive electronics, etc. sometimes make you a target for robbing.
Are the plug-ins the same? What about energy conversion?
It’s important to know if you will need some form of converter for your electrical appliances. I did not know that Argentina had differently shaped plug-ins! If you plan on bringing straighteners, alarm clocks, lamps, etc. it’s very important to know how it works in your new country.
What do I need to bring that I can’t live without?
For me, it was peanut butter. I eat so many PB&Js that I had to bring a couple jars just for me. For you, it might be chocolate or a specific kind of granola bar. Most big cities sell American brands, but it will likely be very expensive and often difficult to find. My advice: bring everything you can’t live without. If you’re going to be there long term, make sure you have someone send you more before you run out!
Take Lots of Pictures
Try the Food
Talk to the People
You’re Gonna Love It
What other questions do you have? Ask them below!
What a wonderful experience. Also lots of great advice.
Thanks for sharing.
Without having lived abroad myself it is so hard to truly remember how luxuriously we live in the US. This is a great blueprint for travel for first-timers!
That’s awesome you were able to travel to South America, TWICE! I haven’t been able to go anywhere out of the country before but I think it would be a super cool experience if I ever had the opportunity.