The University of Iowa

Study abroad tips from Spain

May 7th, 2019

I fell head over heels for Valencia. Every day I come across new things that take my breath away here. Spend time in your city, please. Walk around after class, attend local events. You won’t regret it (quite the opposite actually).


Lots of socks

You can skip washes on your other clothes and make your wardrobe last weeks, but you clearly can’t do that with socks (ew), so bring PLENTY of pairs. I mean PLENTY. Seriously, like 20 pairs might not even be enough.

You don’t need a pair of shoes for every outfit

The fewer shoes you can get away with bringing, the better. They are awkward to pack, heavy, and take up way too much room. Opt for multi-use and COMFORTABLE shoes. I suggest workout tennis shoes, converse, sandals, and maybe one dressier pair (like black booties! They are lifesavers because they go with everything.)

Layers are key

Bring your cute summer tops, sure, but your layers are going to be 20 times more important. Bring jackets/coverups. It gets colder here than you think, especially in shade and at night. My jean jacket was hands-down the most important and used article of clothing I brought.

Spend the extra money for a good converter

Your electronics matter, seriously. I bought a cheap converter at first because I thought I was saving money, and that thing didn’t last. Plus, it fried my curling iron the first time I used it and turned my blow dryer into a monster. Pay a little extra for the surge protector and get one with multiple plugins or USBs. It will be worth it, I promise.

Get a SIM card here

It’s super easy and super cheap, plus your service is a lot more reliable. I paid 15 euros a month for 7GB of data with unlimited social network usage. Getting around a foreign country is hard enough already - you’re going to want your phone to help.

Download the travel apps

I recommend Mooveit, which is my favorite to help me navigate the bus, metro, taxi, and walking/riding bike routes. Google Maps is also decent for getting around and some cities have their own public transport apps. For Valencia, I found EMT (the bus app) extremely helpful because it shows when the buses ware arriving or if something is different, diverted, or not running that day. Skyscanner is also a great app (and website) to help find cheap flights!

Get a pocket wallet

While you shouldn’t be walking around with a wallet in your pocket (pickpocketing is an issue here), small wallet that can hold your cards (bus passes, ID, credit/debit) and cash are super helpful. I got one with a keychain on it too, for my apartment keys. It’s so nice because you can take it anywhere.

Travel bottles

Even if you bring your shampoo and such in the normal size bottles in your checked bag (like I did), still bring travel bottles. Odds are, you’ll go on a trip with just a carry-on or backpack and you’ll want them.


Bring a decent sized backpack that you can bring on trips. Ryanair is a super great airline that’s really cheap, but they only allow you a personal item (no, that’s NOT a carry-on, you have to pay extra for that. Literally you get one thing to stuff under the seat in front of you). I went on multiple trips with just my backpack and it worked great. If you’re only going for a weekend, you don’t need much so stuff that bag full and avoid paying extra!

Vacuum sealed luggage

I didn’t do this, but man do I wish I would have. A lot of the other students here did and they were able to fit way more in their bags. 



Make this YOUR study abroad

Studying abroad should really be something you do for yourself. If you don’t like the restaurant your friends want to go to, then you DON’T have to go there. It’s your money and you should get every cent worth out of it. Also, if you do study abroad with someone you know, don't forget to be independent. It’s good to make your own friends and not do everything together. 

Live, and maybe love, the local traditions. Bull-fighting is controversial, but it’s a huge part of Spanish culture. I didn’t particularly LOVE the show, but it was such a neat experience that I would have regretted NOT doing it. Now, I’ll never go a second time, but some things are a “once in a lifetime” thing.
Your trips should be selfish

This one is a big one that’s better for you to figure out before you plan your first trip. Pick the places you absolutely want to visit, what you want to do, and THEN ask around to see if people have the same interests. Not the other way around. You might end up going on every single trip with a different group of people (I did), but then you can look back and know that you spent your money on what YOU wanted to do. 

Try the dingy-shops you see out of the corner of your eye. The best stroopwafel I had was in a rando-shop in Amsterdam. Literally, they made it fresh in front of you and I was in Heaven. You don’t have to thoroughly search Google reviews before every meal, seriously.
Spend some weekends at “home”

Traveling on the weekends is fun, don’t get me wrong. But usually, there’s a lot to see and experience in your home city. For me, Valencia was full of surprises. Some of my favorite weekends were right here. Also, many cities will have organizations (usually ERASMUS based) for students to take day trips, hiking, and other activities close to home. This is a great way to see a lot of your country, for cheap, and guided. You’ll find things that you never would have thought to do (I had no clue there were natural hot springs an hour outside of Valencia).

Well, I guess I had heard of Fallas before I came here, but I was not prepared for the chaos that came with it. This was the best local weekend I had here. There was so much to do, and no, I didn’t sleep for 5 days. Its something a lot of people don’t ever get to experience, but Valencia OWNS this festival in every way.
Push yourself to do more

It might seem like you have endless time in your home city, but you don’t. It goes by faster than you know it. It’s easy to get used to staying in and watching Netflix on weeknights. Don’t, please, not every night. Go out, walk around, get dinner with your friends (or host dinner, if you want to save money). Go to language exchanges, sign up for dance or wind-surfing, see a movie, visit a museum, attend a street concert: literally anything. You get out of this experience what you put in. Sometimes I took a “me” night, but more often I reminded myself that “I can sleep when I’m dead” and tried new things. Those were some of the most noteworthy nights here and I’m so beyond happy I forced myself to get up.

Sure, windsurfing is not the handiest skill when you live in Iowa, but it sure is fun in Spain! Do the things you wouldn’t get to try at home and you’ll find that you might have a knack for it. I mean, I don’t want to brag or anything but I was a better surfer than the Californians so I represented the Hawks pretty good.
Know what you’re comfortable with

And then travel with people who have a similar perspective. Some of my favorite people I met here have completely different styles than me. I love them and I’ll be friends with them forever, but they weren’t the right people to travel with. I like hostels, doing budget activities, and took a pretty “on a whim” approach to my trips. Sure, I’d make a list of all my must-sees, but I never planned out when and where I was doing everything for the weekend. My best trips were with people who fit my style, and most of the time they weren’t my besties.

The best view of Amsterdam was not at the National Monument or at the world-renowned tulip gardens (although those were breathtaking). It was actually walking home one night, just stumbling on this beautiful street. This is why not everything should be planned, in my opinion. Then you might miss out on the best things.
Push the lines on your comfort zone

I know I just told you to stay within your zone, but now I’m going to be a hypocrite. Be open to straying from your normal. Try food that you normally crinkle your nose over. You’d be surprised (who knew I’d LOVE calamari and hate flan?). When you walk by a hole-in-the-wall café that catches your eye, go in. Learn how to make Mint Tea in Morocco. Ride a bike to class every day. Meet a local for a lunch date. Do Karaoke on Monday night. THE OPTIONS ARE ENDLESS. Do things you normally wouldn’t. At least try to, and I promise you’ll look back with no regrets. As the Spanish say, “VIVAMOS!”

For most of my life, I’ve been known as the pickiest eater ever. Although I’d die for mac n’ cheese or a burger right now, that was about all I ate up to 4 months ago. On this trip, I threw those habits in the trash and tried to try a little of everything. Oh man, was I rewarded. This octopus from Alicante was amazing and I feel bad for the “Unfortunate Souls” that will never try it.

Abby Willging is a neuroscience major and pre-med student at the University of Iowa. A native of Albany, Illinois, Abby is spending the semester in Spain on the USAC Valencia Program.

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