I can't believe I'm leaving the UK on Monday to start my year abroad in Leuven. It's crazy thinking I had my last lecture at Edinburgh Uni back in May - this summer has flown by! I'm relieved the academic year is starting again though, because of my resit exams it has been almost impossible to plan anything over August/September and I'm craving some routine in my life again.
I (think) I have everything organised and ready to go, so I thought I'd share some of my packing tips and ways to prepare for a year abroad. I'm really lucky to have friends all over the world currently on their year abroad, so I'm thankful to have received some of their advice as I'm one of the last in my year to leave.
Check what the baggage allowance is before you fly. Thankfully Ryanair allow for one cabin bag as well as a small handbag/rucksack to take on the flight, so I only have to check in my large suitcase. In the unlikely event of my case getting lost, I've packed all my essentials and fragile items in my cabin bag. If you know of how many cases you'll be checking in, pay for them as you book your flight and not afterwards. Airlines normally offer a hold baggage discount if you pay for your bags alongside your ticket.
Consider leaving some clothes until a later date. This applies if you have family visiting or are heading home for Christmas. If you're visiting home before winter begins, don't bother taking your winter jacket abroad until you head back. Also, if you have family/friends visiting you in the first couple of months, ask them to leave some room in their case to bring over things you didn't have enough room for initially.
Inform the bank and your mobile operator that you're going abroad. I can't think of anything worse than being abroad and having my home bank account blocked because of an increase of international transactions. Let your bank know of the duration you'll be overseas for and they'll put a travel flag on your account to prevent your account being blocked.
I have a 30 day rolling contract on my phone, which I've been advised to switch to pay-as-you-go for my time abroad. This means I can enter into another contract in Belgium and be able to return to my UK number after my time abroad. If you have a 12/24 month contract, this may be more difficult to get out of.
Consider a currency card. Some countries allow for a bank account to be opened before you arrive, but it's not all that easy elsewhere. Most banks will ask for you to have a permanent address in the country before a bank account can be opened. If you're like me and are staying in a hotel when you first arrive in your host country, consider using a currency card until you find accommodation. Caxton Fx offer free ATM withdrawals in Europe and it's super easy to load the card/monitor finances through the mobile app.
Print photocopies of important documents. This is crucial in the (unlikely) event your passport/ID is stolen on your trip.
Keep your passport and boarding card handy. I purchased a travel document holder from Ryman stationary. It has separate compartments for a passport, ticket and any insurance documents so everything is easy to find on the day of travelling.
Don't forget to order an EHIC card. This is your proof of medical insurance and entitles you to free or reduced health care in the EU.
Make Lists. I have a whole bunch of lists in a document folder - from the orientation week timetable to a list of things I need to do once I arrive in Leuven. It's also important to write down important contact details including the name and address of your exchange coordinator, the address of the nearest embassy and even the emergency service number (you'd be surprised at how many people don't know the emergency number for their host country).
Take relevant University materials from home. I will be studying both EU and Belgian law in Leuven, so I'm taking my EU statutes from an EU law course I studied in Scotland. If it has some relevance to a course you'll be taking abroad, take it with you! This also applies to any notebooks you're used to using in the UK as particular notebooks may be difficult to find in a place you're not familiar with and it may actually save you money buying them beforehand. I love Oxford notepads and picked up a Project Book to start off with in Leuven.
Document your year abroad. Starting a travel blog is a great way of updating your friends and family. If you're not a blogger or up for sharing your year abroad online, consider buying a notebook/diary to jot down any thoughts you have on your travels. I treated myself to a beautiful world journal I recently found in John Lewis. Writing a diary/blog may seem like a chore at first, but in years to come you'll have it there to reminisce on all your memories!
Consider buying a USB stick. If you're used to wireless printers in the UK, it may be worth investing in a USB stick to take abroad. Unless you purchase a printer abroad, you'll be relying on the University library printers, which may not be what you're used to using at home. To save the stress of working out how to print off an essay before a deadline, upload it onto a USB stick and plug it into one of the computers there, it'll save a whole lot of kerfuffle.
Print out photos before you leave. I have a few photo frames at home full of collages of my friends and family, so taking some photos away with me was a no brainer. I'm hoping to stick photos on my wall (if my landlord allows it) to make my room abroad feel more homely.
If you can buy it there, don't bother packing it. Clearly I'm using this phrase very lightly. I can't really bear to live somewhere for 10 months without a can of Batiste, a tube of Nivea cream and all my favourite British beauty products. Thankfully, I have enough room in my suitcase to pack non-essential beauty products, but if I was tight for space I would probably sacrifice my Aussie hair care range for shampoos and conditioners that can be picked up easily abroad. Instead of packing large shower gels, it's worth buying a bar of soap instead - it's a lot more compact and I've actually come to prefer a traditional bar of soap!
Don't forget travel adapters. It's an easy mistake to make and we've all gone abroad without thinking twice about packing adapters. I purchased a pack of three European adapters from Amazon.
Set up a means of contacting home. Creating a skype account for your parents is the best way for them to contact you whilst abroad. If your family/friends can't video chat, make a group chat on Whatsapp/Facebook messenger to update them on your travels.
Join the Facebook group for your course abroad. There is no comparison to meeting your classmates physically when you get there, but it can be helpful to speak to students on Facebook before you go. If a Facebook group for your host University doesn't exist, email your home University asking for contact details of other students that will be joining you abroad. I have a few contacts both abroad and from home that will be joining me in Leuven and it's refreshing chatting to them about any worries/thoughts I'm having about settling in abroad.
Request a buddy. Some Universities offer a buddying system where they team you up with a current/previous student who will offer you some guidance and answer any questions you may have when you arrive. They can assist you with any academic queries about your course or even advise on the best place to buy your groceries and do your washing!
If you have been on a year abroad - please let me know of your experiences and any tips you have in the comments!