Tips for Travelling on Your Own (Spoiler- You Get To Be Selfish!)

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In 2015 my sister and I took off to live in London…much to my mother’s horror we went with the decisive notion ‘Oh, I’m not sure when I’m coming back to Sydney’

Needless to say it only took a few months for that idea to change. However, I’d decided that my time in London could not be complete until I’d spent time exploring the continent. I decided to take one month off to travel around Europe. Though I still paid rent for my gorgeous (but tiny) flat in Central London and still needed to eat and drink (at least more than the lattes I made at work) so I couldn’t afford to go on a organized tour group or book everything through a travel agent, which meant that I needed to plan everything from flights and accommodation, to metro tickets and guide books myself. Needless to say it was a terrifying prospect for a 21 year old. It can be stressful and draining- so much so that it can make you think, “is it worth it?” However, planning my solo trip around Europe was one of the best things I ever did for myself.

 By planning your travels alone, you gain a confidence in your ability to handle yourself, it makes you smart with your money and, most importantly, it allows you to get the most out of your trip. You get to experience cities the way you’ll enjoy the most- you won’t simply be ticking off famous places you’ve seen.

 So once you’ve decided to travel, what are the next steps? No doubt you have a general idea of where you’d like to- America, Europe, Africa and, believe it or not, that’s all you need to get started! Here are some tips to help you when all you have is an idea, your laptop and your wallet.

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  1. Figure out what you want to achieve from this tripThis may seem obvious i.e. you want to see the world but actually figuring out why you’re doing this is an important aspect of your planning. For example, on my first solo trip to Amsterdam I’d never stayed in a hostel before. So I researched some of the best reviewed hostels in the center of the city. I knew that I wanted to try hostels and made that a main priority. Think about not just what you want to see, but what are you goals for the trip
  1. Do a quick googleNow a stress the word ‘quick’, not because I don’t think research is important but because it’s so easy to get bogged down with information that before you know it you have 5 windows open and about 30 tabs relating to everything and anything about the place you’re travelling to. Instead, just get an idea of what there is to do there. Are there a lot of hotels, motels, hostels, AirBnBs? Whatever your accommodation of choice is, see if there are options and do a little price comparing. How do you get there? Does it have to be by plane?
  1. Make a budgetA daunting prospect, even at the best of times, but necessary and responsible, particularly if money is tight. Think about how much you’re willing to spend on your trip, what you’d be willing to sacrifice in order to make it work. Remember, you still need to come back home, so you can’t have it crumble while you’re away!
  1. Book only the essentialsI’d recommend booking your accommodation beforehand, simply for sake of ease but also for safety. You may be so absorbed in this fascinating new city you’re exploring that it’s 7pm and you’re not sure where to hit the hay that night. If there’s a particular museum or attraction you want to see, research and see if there’s a long wait time for tickets. No one wants to wait 50 minutes for a ticket when you’re on vacation- that and you’ll have no one to bitch about it to.

 That’s it! Short and sweet tips to get you on your way for your first solo trip! It’s essential to remain safe and vigilant when you’re by yourself, make friends where you can and enjoy yourself. You’ll learn something about when it’s just you and the whole city 🙂

Studying Overseas- The Hardest Part is the Application Form!

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Applying for a university exchange

The idea of studying abroad is an exciting prospect for almost any university student. Whether it’s to experience the college lifestyle, learning a different language, travelling abroad or simply trying something new. However, the initial organization and administration involved in preparing for studying abroad is what turns off the majority of students- it certainly was daunting for me.

Nonetheless, exchange is a life-changing and rewarding experience. It helps you to become independent and organized, but better than that, you get to experience a new lifestyle and make friends that you’ll keep once your exchange is sadly over.

The best advice I received when applying for exchange, was that the preparation for exchange is inevitably the most difficult but is also an incredibly beneficial part of the whole experience. Employers know how complicated and difficult university exchanges can be, so if they see that you have studied abroad, they automatically know that you’re organized, independent and have fantastic time-management skills- all from simply having “UNIVERSITY EXCHANGE” on your CV!

Clearly exchanges have many pros but that doesn’t make it any less stressful. So here’s some useful tips to help you get started.

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  1. Find out how your university can help

 

Some universities specialize in exchanges, others don’t. Therefore, you have to gage how much help your uni will be in helping you plan your exchange. The best way to do this is visit their university exchange page on their website. If they have lots of ‘partner’ universities then you can assume that they have a lot of experience with students studying abroad. If not, all that means is that you’ll have to do a little more work yourself but that doesn’t make exchange any less possible!

The next thing is to is to look at FAQ on the page, that will help you realize that every single person who wants to do exchange has absolutely no idea how to get started so their questions are incredibly helpful.

After you’ve decided that exchange is definitely for you book an appointment with your academic advisor. This is a crucial thing because they’ll be able to tell you whether doing exchange will impact your degree negatively. Maybe there are certain units you need to take at your uni, maybe you can’t do exchange in the last semester before you graduate…all these kinds of questions will be answered in a 5 minute appointment!

 

  1. Visit and research the university you’re interested in

 

So you want to study abroad and know that you can with your degree. What next? Deciding what university of course! For me, this was the fun part, you actually get to ask the question, “Where in the world am I going to live for 6 months???”

It’s a lot easier going through a partner university because it means that they’ve had students from your uni before and are more likely to accept you. It also means that you’ll have the help of your university. So if you’re lucky enough to find a partner university that is somewhere you want to go and looks like a fun place then go ahead and apply through your university. Typically, universities have a GPA minimum in order to accept a student’s application form, so have a look at what it is and see if you’re able to apply!

So you’re university doesn’t do university exchanges or there’s no campus you’re interested in studying at…damn it! But don’t worry! All this means is that you’ll need to find a university you are interested in going to and applying through them directly. Go to their website and look at the ‘exchange student’ link and see what the process is. It’s important to consult with your university first and see whether you’re able to defer your degree for 6 months or so in order to study abroad. Some universities have strict ‘no studying elsewhere while you’re enrolled with us’ but all you need to do is talk to an academic advisor and see what your options are.

  1. Make a strict time table

 

Perhaps the most stressful but also most satisfying part- making a timetable! You knew this was coming, let’s be honest.

Organization is key to applying for exchange. It’s important to know when application forms are due, when study plans need to be put forward, when you need to attend compulsory pre-departure sessions and how much time it takes to apply for a visa. In a list like that is sounds stressful but all you need to do is set some time aside to make a timetable. Break it up into different sections. For example, when planning my exchange I broke my timetable up into 4 different categories:

  • Applying for exchange and accepting my offer
  • Things to do before leaving Australia
  • Arriving in London
  • Returning to Australia

These categories helped me make a timetable of what was due and when. It stopped me freaking out because I could work through it step by step. So make a timetable that’s going to be most helpful for you and the best way you’re going to get things done. There’s no set formula, do what works for you because, after all, you’re the one who’s going to have to get it done.

  1. Figure out why you want to do this

 

Believe it or not, you’re nearly done! The rest of the work is actually pretty fun.

By now you’ve chosen a university and are on your way to having your offer accepted. So what next? Now you get to choose your subjects! I’m going to get existential for a second and ask you the question, why do you want to do this? Is it for your degree? Is it for the experience? Is it to get out and try something new? It can be any reason really, but it’s important that you have a think about it.

Why is it so important? This part is important because it will help you choose your subjects. This is important because it will impact your time oversees. Maybe you want to take it easy while you’re overseas and will only choose electives. Some universities have a pretty relaxed grading system for exchange students, for example, my uni had a pass or fail grade system for exchange students. This was to help students relax while they’re away and simply enjoy the experience- it was pretty sweet! Just make sure you double check with your university though.

However, maybe you’ve applied for exchange because it’s going to help advance your degree. I have a lot of friends who went to very specific universities that specialized in economics and business studies, therefore, the subjects they picked were tailored to their degree. When my brother went to Argentina for exchange, it was his overseas placement as part of his medical degree, so his subjects were restricted. Since he was with other students in the same situation he got to know heaps of like-minded people and had the best time.

So there’s no one option that’s better. It’s just important to figure out what you want to get out of studying abroad.

 

  1. Plan your budget

 

The time has come to be an adult…you need to make a budget. In a perfect world, we’d fly first-class to our destination, stay in a mansion near campus and fly to a different country every weekend. Hey, if you’ve got the money (I kind of hate you) but go for it! If not, then you’ll need to make a plan of how much money you have and what you need to spend. It’s time to dip into that savings account you’ve had since your first job at 16 and drain it…trust me, it’s worth it!

Think about how much flights, accommodation and visas cost- that’s the first thing. After that, you can think about what travelling you want to do while you’re away and how much you can afford to do. It’s boring but also kind of exciting because it will finally hit you that you’re going.

Remember, many universities offer scholarships to students who are planning on studying overseas. This can be fantastic because usually it’s enough to cover your flights over there and sometimes even more. There are also benefits and loans that the government provides for university students studying abroad. Typically it will simply be added on to your student debt that you’ll pay for, once you start earning over a certain amount. If that’s something your comfortable with, then definitely look into it!

 

  1. Book your flights!

 

If you manage to get through those 5 steps above than I think you need a reward. A cocktail? Yes! But also, something more substantial too…booking your flights! Well done for surviving it all, now you get to look forward to packing your bags and heading off to be a globe trotter!

It’s a scary thing do any exchange, but the experiences you gain are 1000x better than any worry you might have!

Love,
Vanessa