I have two weeks left before I leave for Nantes, France, for my exchange and I am currently feeling a mixture between stressed-out-insanity and pre-departure-excitement. There are lots of things to do before leaving on your exchange, and here is what I found to be things you should do weeks or months before leaving home:
-Figure out passport details (you need a passport that is still valid for at least 3 months after the date you plan on leaving Europe – aka returning home), visas, any other legal documents of the sort. Check with your local French general-consulate for what you need (for people leaving from Vancouver, it is found here)
-If you are planning to tour around Europe before/after your exchange, try these helpful websites:
- www.eurotrip.com – Easy trip planner that also links with Google maps so it can visually show you where you’re going, how long you plan on staying in each place, and have lots of people on the forums to leave you comments and tips. You can also book hostels directly through the website. I wouldn’t recommend buying the train tickets here though, there was a glitch in the system (and got their dates wrong for the days you’re traveling) when I was looking at it.
- www.skyscanner.net – for cheap flights within Europe (one European country to another)
- also check websites such as www.tripadvisor.com, www.lonelyplanet.com, www.letsgo.com, and lots others for inspiration on where to go, what to see, city guides, etc etc. You can also borrow any of the guidebooks in the library (Lonely Planet and Let’s Go series are more student (or budget)-oriented) and see their sample itineraries if you’re stuck.
-Flight booking: Europe is very expensive to travel from Canada. Originally I searched online for routes to Paris, France (and that came up to be a little under $2000 CAD), but since they were too expensive, I expanded my searches to other nearby big cities (try London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Brussels. Then all it takes is a train ride to France for about $100 CAD, depending on which city you’re going to). You should probably talk to a travel agent as well, if you’re planning on arriving in one city and leaving from another (or leaving form the same city; talk to them anyways!), which I am doing, and she saved me lots of money (my ticket came up to be a little less than one thousand CAD)
-Again if you’re planning on traveling around Europe, there are lots of discount inter-Europe flights out there. Try www.skyscanner.net (there are other websites out there too)
-Accommodation: hopefully your Student Exchange Officer has told you about this. Ask for the address so you know where you need to go when you get there.
-Banking: My friend went on exchange for a semester in London, and she told me the best bank to go with is HSBC – open a bank account in Canada here with HSBC, and ask about their services outside of Canada and how it would work if you plan on taking out money from Europe. I believe she said the fee was about $5 per month for multiple transactions internationally.
-Speaking of which, credit cards are also important – if you need an increase in your limit, call and ask for it (for emergencies and such). You can also call to let them know you’re traveling – my provider usually prefers that so they know it’s me using the card, and not stolen from me.
-Trip Planning: as mentioned above, www.eurotrip.com is an amazing tool that can help you plan your trip. Also grab a guidebook or two from your local library to read on where you should go (or google “Europe things to see”). I borrowed (and bought on www.amazon.ca, I find them cheaper online) Lonely Planet’s Western Europe guide book and Let’s Go France. If you prefer more pictures to your guidebooks, then maybe try the Eyewitness Guides or TimeOut guides, they seem to have more colorful pictures.
Also – what are you looking for in a trip? Do you want to see culture (museums, historic sites, the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, etc etc), beaches, city life (Paris, France), country life, or all of the above?
Hope that helps in preparing your trip! Browse online, get inspired, and cut out clippings and pictures of places you want to go.
Here are some things I’ve found online that I want to visit/do in France..
-of course the famous landmarks: Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Louvre, etc.
-try the to-die-for macaroons (not the typical coconut-bakes, here’s one example from Ladurée) ::EDIT:: I found out that they’re not called “Macaroons”, but are called “Macarons”, with one o. I guess it has nothing to do with the coconut-bakes that I thought it was.
-bike around the city
-sample some escargots and french bread
-maybe (if my budget allows) try a pastry class with the world renown Cordon Bleu (click on the Paris campus and then “Short Courses”, and you can view by date as well)
2 weeks to go and counting! I’m back into my excited phase.