Writer Katie Downing gives travel advice from how to deal with jet lag to packing for the weather. 

Studying abroad — or even simply traveling to another country — is an amazing experience. I studied abroad in London last summer and it was one of the best times I’ve ever had. Here are some of the things the experience taught me.

1. Use free time for adventures

Free time in between classes is the perfect opportunity to explore the area and experience touristy things like the London Eye or the Eiffel Tower.

Being in a different country can be overwhelming, and one’s first instinct will probably be to stay in their bubble. Fight this urge and check out the attractions in the city. The best times I had were during the spontaneous adventures I wasn’t expecting to go on until my friends asked me to join them. A group wanted to check out the Tower Bridge in London and I went with them and it ended up being a cool experience.

2. Keep pickpockets in mind

When one’s in a public area — especially metros and other transit areas — they should keep their belongings, like purses and wallets, close their body and maintain a firm grip to avoid being pickpocketed. One should pay attention to their surroundings.

The only time I almost got pickpocketed was in the Paris metro. It’s loud, crowded and overwhelming, and therefore a good spot for pickpockets. If I hadn’t kept my luggage close to me and paid enough attention to notice when someone was trying to grab my stuff, I would’ve lost my valuables. Keep a tight grip on your belongings and stay alert, especially in places with lots of people.

3. Restaurant etiquette

At many restaurants, one might be be asked if they want still water (which is free) or sparkling water (which is not) and often, restaurant goers aren’t expected to leave a tip.

Americans are used to water being simple at restaurants and not worrying about where it comes from. In Europe and other places, people have to specifically ask for still water if they don’t want to pay for it, and it most likely won’t have ice in it. It’s also not usually customary to leave a tip for servers since they make a higher wage than American servers, though it’s not necessarily frowned upon.

4. Be aware of jet lag

If someone’s able to sleep in after their flight, they should take advantage of the opportunity. Bringing a sleep mask and/or earbuds can help. Plane rides tend to be long. The ride will be exhausting, which won’t help your mood or first impression of the city you’re studying in.

If one has their first morning free, use it to rest and recuperate so that they'll be energized for the rest of the trip. Life will be easier if one's body is on the schedule of the new time zone as soon as possible. Eating will provide energy and help fight sleepiness. 

5. Packing for the weather

Pack clothes for various kinds of weather and temperatures since they can change. Also, check the weather of the destination ahead of time if possible.

The weather at one’s study abroad destination will most likely be different from the weather in the U.S. at the same time of year. When I studied abroad in London, it was much cooler. The weather can also vary over a short period of time. Be aware of the weather and pack accordingly. Use an app or website to try and check the weather at one’s study abroad destination ahead of time so you know what to pack.

Contact Katie Downing at For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.