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How to Prepare

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Travel Issues

Research and preparation will make your travels much smoother. This page contains links to travel resources to help you research your travel plans as well as suggestions and tips for the traveler.

Travel Guides

Travel and Tourism Resources

Travel Documents

Student Cards

Getting There

Your Luggage

Packing Hints

Phoning Home


Travel Guides

Visit a good bookstore, go to the "Travel" section and find the best guidebook they have on the place to which you will be going. BUY IT and READ IT. Your campus bookstore has an excellent selection of books from which to choose. Some of the most well respected and often used budget guides include:

These guides can provide you with information regarding the most economical way to travel about your host country and its surrounding areas. They can be purchased at most bookstores. The more you research and find out various travel options before you leave, the more effectively you can use your time abroad.

Travel and Tourism Resources

You can conduct much of your research on-line. Some very useful web sites include:

On-line Student Networks

You may wish to consider joining an on-line student network that can connect you to like-minded students, local friends, and overseas friends. Start your own travel pages, post photos, and share your experiences with others!

Travel Documents


A passport is a proof of identification and citizenship. It is required to enter and return from every country. Your passport is issued by the country of which you are a citizen. Your passport must be valid for at least the duration of your stay abroad, though it is recommended that it be valid for at least 6 months beyond your anticipated return date. All students should apply for a passport as soon as they hear of their acceptance by their sponsoring program. Passports may take several months to obtain. When you receive your passport, sign it immediately. Then make two copies of the pages with your name, signature, other information and photo. Leave one copy with a responsible contact person at home. Take the other copy with you, but keep it separate from your passport. If you are a US Citizen, instructions on how to obtain a passport can be found on the following sites:

Non-US citizens should contact the embassy or consulate of the country of which you are a citizen to apply for a passport. The Electronic Embassy web site contains listings of foreign embassies in the US.

Stateless Persons (those who are non-USA citizens who are permanent residents of the United States and are no longer eligible to receive a passport from their original country of citizenship) should contact the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for the appropriate travel document(s).

Note for USA permanent residents: Being out of the USA for more than one year may jeopardize your permanent resident status. Contact the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) regarding this, and to determine whether or not you need a US Re-entry Permit.


A visa is a stamp placed in your passport by a foreign government permitting you to enter that country for a certain period and purpose. Visa requirements vary from country to country according to the length of your stay and purpose of visit. Requirements also vary according to citizenship. Instructions on obtaining a visa(s) should be provided by your sponsoring program. Read the pre-departure material from your sponsoring program carefully. If no information is provided regarding the need for a visa(s) call your sponsoring program office and ask if a visa(s) is needed. If necessary, contact the consulate(s) or embassy(ies) of all of the country(ies) you intend to visit for visa requirements and instructions. The Electronic Embassy web site contains listings of foreign embassies in the US. Remember to copy the pages in your passport with your visa(s) once you have obtained them.


Although your sponsoring program should inform you if any other documents are needed, it is your responsibility to find out what documentation your program or host country (ies) require. This information is available by contacting your program sponsor and/or the nearest consulate/embassy for your host country. Remember, if you are not a USA citizen requirements may vary.


If you have a form or document that must be notarized, it means that it requires your (or your parent's) signature in the presence of a Notary Public (PDF).

Student Cards

Three of the most important cards you can carry include:

ISIC: International Student Identity Card. The ISIC card not only provides you with international recognition of your full-time student status (your regular student ID may not work abroad), it also gives you access to discounts on train tickets, rail passes, accomodations, cultural experiences, and more! In addition, the ISIC is now a MasterCard © prepaid card. There is no credit check to activate, no minimum balance required, and you will feel secure knowing that your money is not linked to a bank account if lost or stolen. Additional benefits include lower currency exchange rates and access to more than 1 million ATM's worldwide.

IYHF: International Youth Hostel Federation Card. If you plan to do any traveling (particularly in Europe) as part of your program, you may wish to invest in an IYHF card, which entitles you to stay at very affordable youth hostels throughout the world.

International Drivers Permit. If you are planning to travel by car while abroad, you should get an IDL. In the USA, these can be obtained through the American Automobile Association (AAA). Be aware that companies normally rent out cars only to persons over the age of 21 and in most cases, the renter must have held a full driver's license for 12 months before the rental. You might also want to take a look at the ASIRT: Association for Safe International Road Travel web site.

Getting There

Purchasing your transportation to your program site can be both challenging and confusing. You have several options to consider when trying to find the most economical transportation to your program. First, check with your program. Some programs may offer an optional group flight at a very affordable cost. If you decide to fly to your program on your own, be sure to contact your program for advice on what do upon arrival in your host country and how to reach the program site. When flying "solo", you can consider several options when shopping around for your airline ticket.

Students have a number of good options available. Remember, cheap fares come at a price, so research your options well. The following organizations specialize in student travel:

  • STA Travel. STA offers a special Airfare Deposit Program for UC students studying abroad.  You can lock in your ticket price as early as you need with a non-refundable deposit of $49.  Then at any point up to 7 days before departure you pay the remaining balance. Contact STA for details: 1-800-781-4040 and identify yourself as a University of California student.
  • compiles a list of student airfare web sites, including some of the below.
  • Student Universe
  • Travel Cuts

There are also travel agencies that specialize in economical travel, regardless of whether you are a student or not. A few such agencies are:

Your Luggage

We could give you all sorts of advice on LUGGAGE. Know what your airline will require. Standard luggage procedure, which meets most airline regulations, is to take one large bag that is checked and one roomy carry-on bag. PLAN ON 35 POUNDS OF TOTAL WEIGHT (including carry-ons) WHEN YOU LEAVE! This may sound difficult, but it is very important. It is best to assume that your luggage is going to receive brutal treatment in the course of your travels and prepare accordingly. The quality of your luggage is important. Make sure all seams, handles, hinges, wheels and zippers are in excellent condition. Carry any fragile items with you on the airplane.

Bottom line. We strongly recommend AN INTERNAL FRAME BACKPACK although the choice of your luggage is, of course, ultimately up to you. If you purchase or borrow a backpack, be sure that its size is proportional to your body size. Comfort is also important. Many packs come with flaps that zip over the harness, which reduces the chances of the straps being broken, torn, or lost when going through routine baggage handling. Some of the packs have a small removable backpack on the front, which is handy for overnight trips. Some excellent purveyors of high quality backpacks and traveling gear include: L. L. Bean and R.E.I. (Recreational Equipment, Inc.)


We strongly recommend that all students have their baggage insured. Simple insurance plans are available at banks and through travel agencies. Some credit cards give additional baggage insurance if your airline tickets are bought on their card. Considering cameras, clothing and incidentals, your baggage is worth more than what most airlines and other forms of transportation will cover, if it is lost. Plan to be covered from your date of departure until the date you return home. Check to see if your luggage is covered by your family's homeowner's insurance. There are some inexpensive ways to protect your luggage:

  • First and foremost, remember to label your bags on the outside and on the inside!!!
  • Padlocks are an inexpensive investment that may protect your belongings. If nothing else, they will keep your luggage closed. They will also ease the minds of protective security agents at the airport.
  • Always lock your luggage before checking in.
  • Whenever leaving a hotel room or hostel for any reason, always keep your luggage locked and the room in reasonably neat order so that, if you are a victim of a burglary or other unauthorized entry, you will immediately be aware of it.

Packing Hints

Packing is an important aspect of your planning. You will be traveling thousands of miles, and packing lightly and efficiently is very important because you will have to carry your luggage when you are jet lagged and tired, you may have to cope with crowded commuter trains, you'll certainly buy things, and you need to have room to take them home; if you are going abroad in the spring you'll have to pack the winter clothes you wore on your outward journey when you return; if you are faced with too much to take back, your choice will be between giving or throwing things away, or using the mail, which is costly and inconvenient.

There's more than one method to the madness of packing, including: ROLL Method: Put items that can be worn together on top of one another and roll them up. You can see you clothing at a glance. LAYER Method: Discourages wrinkling. Bulkier than the Roll method. PROBABILITY OF USE Method: If it's going to be chilly, pack a sweater on top, etc. Liquids should be carried in plastic containers with rubber seal caps. Use plastic bags to separate wet/dry, dirty/clean clothes. It's also a good idea to keep a checklist of what you have packed.

If you are bringing any electronic devices (hairdryer, camera or cell phone charger, etc.), be sure to find out what electrical system is in use in the country(ies) in which you plan to travel, and whether or not you will need a converter and adapter. The World Electric Guide will help you determine what you will need by country or region.

Whether you are traveling with a group or by yourself, you must be able to personally carry all of your luggage by yourself. Remember, no one has every complained about taking too little luggage. Part of the beauty of this experience is realizing just how few things you really need in order to get by!


Your program may include a list of appropriate clothing in their material. Read it and follow it. Some of the best additional wardrobe hints we can give include:

  • You do not need much clothing, but make sure that what you take is new and/or sturdy. Otherwise it might fall apart with hard use. Washers and dryers in many other parts of the world are brutal to clothing, compared with those we have in the USA. Washing will probably wear out your clothes faster than wearing them will.
  • Choose your clothing fabric with care. Take clothing that is wrinkle resistant. Rayon, though very fashionable right now, is a terrible fabric for traveling abroad. Natural fabrics "breathe" better and are both the coolest and warmest types of fabrics. Stick with cotton or cotton/polyester combinations and with fabrics that are easy to wash and dry. You'll probably be doing more hand washing than you realize. Many other countries have washing machines that are "mini" in comparison with American models.
  • Take less and wash your clothes more often. Definitely leave behind anything that needs special care or dry cleaning, since this is often not available or very expensive.
  • Don't worry about making "fashion statements". Many cultures dress far more simply than we do. You may also find that people in your host country repeat clothing much more than Americans. You may seem more "weird" if you change every day. Honest!
  • Closet space will probably not be as generous as what you are used to, so even if you can get it there, you won't necessarily have a place to put it!
  • Get used to layering clothing. This is the most efficient way to pack and wear - not to mention the best way to stay warm!
  • Stick with simple and classic styles of clothing. These are easier to "dress up" or "dress down" when necessary. Also, loose clothing will be more comfortable and warmer/cooler than tight clothing.
  • Carefully consider colors. Stay with neutrals that easily mix and match for variety. Dark colors show less dirt than light and repetitive wearings are less obvious. Dark clothes can also double for all occasions. Loud, bright colors and "busy" prints get old very fast. Black is often the color of choice.
  • Especially if you are going to a developing or non-western country, make sure that your choice of clothing is modest as well as practical. In some cultures, it is not appropriate to wear shorts, short skirts (above the knees) or sleeveless blouses/shirts -- and bras are a "must" for women. It would also be wise to be aware of the "neatness" factor of your host culture.
  • When in doubt, leave it out! However, if you are very tall, very small, and/or large, you may have a hard time purchasing what you need.


There are a number of good sites with packing lists and advice. Some of these include:

Are you packed? Now - before you go -- take your bags and run around the block with them! Pretend you are running to catch the last train from Istanbul and you have nowhere to stay for the night if you don't make that train. When you get back to your house, we guarantee you'll want to unpack and re-pack, leaving lots of unnecessary items behind!

Phoning Home

During the time that you are abroad, it will be more difficult for your family and friends to contact you than at any other time in your life. Your friends and members of your family need to understand this and you must make some very specific arrangements to stay in contact with the people you have left behind. Use the Country Calling Codes web site so you and your loved ones will know how to call each other while abroad.

When it comes to staying in contact, our advice is:

  • Make arrangements with the people at home to install and have a working answering machine turned on 24 hours a day at the number which you will call. Time zones really play havoc with schedules and it is important that you know that you can leave a message at any time.
  • Apply for a phone card before you leave the USA and use it upon arrival in your host country. The AT&T Calling Card is the most widely accepted and applications are available on their web site. This site also links to some good international calling tips. It can be a challenge to use an unfamiliar telephone system and sometimes the AT&T card can be the simplest solution. This is not an advertisement. It is just a fact. The AT&T Worldwide Traveler site contains further information on international calling, should you choose to use their services.
  • Phone home within three days [sooner if possible] of arriving at the program site, even though these are the most hectic and disorganized and exhausting days of the whole experience. Just do it!
  • When you make your first call, you will have to begin to master a new telephone system. You may need to use a pay phone which may use coins, tokens or phone cards which use a magnetic strip to deduct the cost of your call from the total amount purchased on the card. Phone cards, if used, are usually available in various denominations at newsstands and post offices.

Remember that you are in a different time zone now. Be aware of what time differences mean so that you don't call home in the middle of the night (unless it's an absolute emergency). Check out the World Time Server or Time and Date to find out the current time in any country in the world!

  • Make arrangements with your loved ones to maintain regular communications between you, and stick to those arrangements. Discuss this with those whom you are leaving behind and determine a "comfort level" that suits both parties. For some, this will be a brief weekly phone call, for others, it will be a post card every other month.
  • Establish a means whereby you can be reached quickly and directly in the event of an emergency. And, while you're at it, you should also set up a way in which you can reach your loved ones quickly in case of an emergency. These arrangements must be independent of offices at your home institution or program because these offices have limited hours of availability (business hours only). Emergencies tend to happen at times that are less convenient.


People give expression to their abroad experiences in many different ways: journals, letters/tapes home, art, music and photography. Of the various forms of expression, photography is one which needs to be done with particular sensitivity and care. If you plan to take pictures while you are abroad, keep the following things in mind:

  • Be sensitive to the feelings other's may have about photography and do not intrude where you are not welcome. Do not let your photography become offensive.
  • Look and listen. Do not merely see your experiences through the lens of a camera. Searching for the perfect shot can distract you from enjoying and learning from what is around you.
  • Remember that memories can be created by getting to know people as well as by photographing them.
  • For more tips, check out Photographing to Explore Handbook by Doug Reilly and Sharon Walsh, from the Center for Global Education at Hobart and William Smith College.


If you are buying a camera, be sure to do so early enough to become familiar with it before you leave. Talk to photographers and read magazines (e.g., Popular Photography, Modern Photography, etc.) to find information on making your camera purchases. Check the prices from dealers listed in the back of the magazines to find the best price.

If you have purchased a new camera for your trip, practice using it before you go and get to know your camera well. Once on site, take pictures right away. The everyday scenes soon become commonplace. That which is especially meaningful to you is most often missing from your photos.

Take enough film/memory cards and batteries/battery charger for your whole trip because purchasing electronic equipment is usually much more expensive abroad than in the USA. Don't underestimate how much you'll need. In this category, it is always better to have too much than too little.

Keep a list and write down what you take pictures of. We mean this. Otherwise, you'll return home to be faced with 20 sets of prints with monuments, cities, sunsets and new friends that you simply can't identify. A sure way to mess up Kodak moments is not to keep track of what they are! It's also a good idea to number your film canisters and your developing envelopes so that you can tell if something is not returned or is missing.

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