I’m feeling pretty nostalgic this month. Whilst college students are starting to hear back from international programs and accepting their offers to study abroad, I’m trying to relive my semester in London. Sure, going to school in the Midwest is great, but nothing beats walking along the River Thames or strolling through Borough Market on a Saturday morning. Nothing! Especially when you consider all the international shopping that'll meet you there.
For all those students who are about to go abroad, let me pass down the torch. I know you’re probably completely overwhelmed about what to pack for your semester overseas. But don’t worry; we’ve got you covered on that. If you’re anything like me, not only will you have to figure out how to live in Europe -- you will also have to adjust to the big city life. How will you deal with crowds? Will you get completely lost and look like an idiot on the tube? Oh -- and what will you wear?
I won't lie. You WILL look like a ridiculous tourist from time to time, but you’ll quickly adjust to the big city life. As for your style? Well, it might be time to ditch the sweatpants and tees. From where to shop while abroad to how to deal with budget-airline packing restrictions, here are eight tips to remember once your plane lands.
1. You’ll Still Find American Stores, But…
We’re living in a pretty globalized world, so all those rumors you heard about leaving your favorite stores behind aren’t entirely true. Most big European cities have a Forever 21, H&M, and Urban Outfitters to meet all of your American shopping needs. THANK YOU, fashion gods.
But, they’re not cheap. Since you’ll be using the GBP or Euro, expect to pay up to twice as much for a sweater you can buy at home. Cool. My advice? Stay away from stores you can visit at your local mall. After all, the whole point of studying abroad is to experience something new. American Apparel will be here when you return. Promise.
2. Primark Will Become Your New BFF
If you’re spending the semester in the U.K., Germany, Paris, or any other lucky European city that has been blessed with the gift that is Primark, get ready to spend a few Euros or pounds here instead.
What is this magical place, you may ask. Imagine Forever 21 and Target combined into a giant building with ridiculously cheap clothes, jewelry, and pretty much anything else imaginable (but in a far better range of sizes). My study abroad semester may be over, but I still wear the £4 leather skirt and £2 silk cami I bought at the Oxford Street Primark. EXPERIENCE THIS MAGIC.
3. Browse One (Or Ten) Designer Stores
Now — let’s move on to those stores you can't actually afford to shop in, shall we? Until I studied abroad, I never lived in a major city, so anything that was by a top-line designer was pretty hard to come by. Here’s a secret: anyone who’s anyone in the fashion world will have a store in a major European city!
So, treat ‘yo self! Go to the nicest department store and browse the Dolce & Gabbana dresses or new Chanel line before classes. Sure, being in a huge department store can be awkward and intimidating, but don’t let those icy glares (they’ll happen…) from the sales associates stop you.
4. Embrace The Markets
I’ll never understand why Americans don’t take full advantage of outdoor markets. Sure, plenty of cities have a Farmer’s Market, but in Europe, markets aren’t just for groceries.
From London’s punk-rock Camden Market to the Montreuil Flea Market in Paris, every city has its own unique outdoor shopping. Oh — and if that doesn’t sell you, markets are also known for their amazing street food. Because no one should pass up a Nutella crepe.
5. Packing For A Budget Airline? Good Luck
One of the best parts of studying abroad is how cheap and easy it is to spend the weekend in another country. The catch? Budget airlines have strict luggage restrictions, so get ready to cram all of your clothes into a tiny suitcase. Like really tiny. More like a tiny backpack, actually.
If you're not sure how to mix and match, learn. Learn fast. I somehow managed to squeeze a week’s worth of clothes, a pillow, and towel into a minuscule carry-on for a vacation in Italy. Tide-To-Go will become your best friend for this.
6. Up Your Style Game
You know how it’s completely socially acceptable to roll out of bed and head to go to class in an oversized tee and leggings at school? Yeah, not so much in a big city. These women know their stuff when it comes to fashion and will dress to the nines for any occasion. So you shouldn't plan on the norts look whilst abroad.
7. Your Shoes WILL Get Damaged
You're going to get to sightsee and explore lots of cool areas of Europe. It's great! But…it won’t be so wonderful on your feet. Many European cities (looking at you, Rome) are still covered in cobblestone sidewalks, so get ready to go through a few pairs of shoes. Will your ripped black ballet flats make seeing the Vatican worth it? Obviously.
8. Oh... And One Last Thing
If you’re studying abroad during the fall or spring semester, you’ll be lucky enough to have London, Paris, or Milan Fashion Week at your finger tips. GO. It may seem intimidating, but the people watching you'll be able to partake in is definitely worth it. Read all about my experience as an outsider at London Fashion Week here.