By Mary Rappa — April 28, 2015 —
During Spring 2015, I spent a semester studying abroad in Barcelona. It was amazing! If anyone is considering doing the same, don’t hesitate. It will be the best experience of your life! Guaranteed!
Like most people who are planning to be overseas for a semester, before leaving home I heard a lot from friends and family about fun activities in Europe, cool destinations to explore, and what to expect.
Nevertheless, there was definitely some important information that I DIDN’T know when I arrived. And looking back now, I wish that I had!
Before you study abroad (particularly in Barcelona), keep the following in mind.
1. Water isn’t free
Although the price of bottled water is cheap, it can add up over time. To save money, bring a Brita water bottle abroad with you. Not only will it help filter the terrible tap water in Spain, it will also save you money when eating at restaurants.
2. Book big weekends in advance
If you already know where you’re going in advance, book it now. If you’re scared no one else will book it with you, you can always find someone once you’re here. There’s nothing worse than booking a weekend like St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin the week before and paying triple the price for a 6am return flight on Sunday. Be smart – you are not the only study abroad student thinking of going there. P.S. – The flight is not the only item you have to book — but hostels/hotels as well!
3. Running in Barcelona isn’t as easy as you think
Running isn’t as popular here. In a busy, densely-populated city like Barcelona, finding somewhere to run on the streets is a challenge. Also, people stare at you funny when you run in the city. For women, especially, running isn’s as widespread in Spain as it is in the United States. Women don’t seem to typically work out as much, or wear tight under armor apparel. When you are here, invest in a gym membership. Although the fees are ridiculously high, if you pay for it yourself you will force yourself to go.
4. Force yourself to explore the city
Don’t travel every weekend. I traveled almost every weekend, and I now regret it. I was in Barcelona for 6 weekends total and still feel that isn’t enough. And when you are here, push yourself to explore. Don’t let your hangover cause you to sit around all day. You’ll never get to have an experience like this again, so make the best of it.
5. Bring your favorite hair products – and lots of them
The large retail store El Corte Ingles is where you can find most generic hair products, but not easily. They don’t have many of the products that you might be accustomed to back home. My biggest regret is thinking I would be able to get my favorite “leave-in conditioner” in Spain. Now I’ve gone months with extremely knotty hair. If a certain cosmetic product from home is important to you, BRING IT.
6. Bring your parka
Yes, it’s sunny in Spain. Barcelona summers are hot, and those who study abroad here in the fall have tons of photos taken at the beach or while cliff diving in Ibiza. Should you bring a coat? I can’t tell you the amount of people that tried to convince me to save room and not bring my heavy jacket. Trust me when I say, BRING IT. Every weekend I’ve traveled, I’ve worn it. I’ve worn it to the point where I will never be photographed in it again upon returning home. Even for the first couple months in Barcelona, I wore my parka. Wearing a light jacket in the middle of February will only point you out as a tourist. Even at the end of March, Spaniards are still wearing their heavy coats. If you really don’t have the space, you can buy one in Barcelona. Zara sells relatively cheap and cute parkas, but your best option is to bring your own and save the money.
7. Invest in a quality travel backpack
All the cheap airlines, such as Ryanair and Easyjet, have strict requirements for carry-ons. When you’re traveling every other weekend, you don’t need the stress of having to pay extra to check your bag. Invest in a good carry-on backpack. All my friends with rolling bags always seem to be hit-or-miss when it comes to passing the requirements. Avoid the over-the-shoulder bags, too. You are going to be doing a lot of walking with your bag, so the backpack is the way to go. I recommend the Osprey Porter – great backpack with lots of space
8. Prepare for little sleep
Everything is pushed back in Barcelona. Dinner is later, which means going out is also later. On normal school nights, you can stay out until 5am-7am. Its ridiculous how long people can stay out at the bars/clubs. Schedule your classes accordingly, knowing that you will go out on school nights. I have 9am classes everyday and there’s nothing worse than going to class with 2 hours of sleep. Naps will be your best friend.
9. Get a travel credit card
Taking out money from the ATM can become expensive if you are charged international fees every time. Talk to your local bank and find out what credit card can help you save money on fees abroad. I have Bank of America and I updated to a travels reward credit card so I incur no international fee when I make purchases. This way, I can carry around less cash with me and avoid the fear of being pick-pocketed for large amounts of money.
10. Airbnb is your best friend
Become familiar with airbnb, an online service that lets you rent out apartments or private rooms for the weekend. I’ve used airbnb three times now for my weekend trips in Rome, Paris and Dublin. All of them have been great experiences and a nice break from a hostel. You have access to a nice kitchen and a clean bathroom, things that may be hard to find in your average hostel. They are typically the same price if you book ahead of time. Make sure you read the reviews for each stay and contact your host.