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Ascent Blog

5 Things I Learned from Studying Abroad In London

Oct 08, 2021 | By: Ascent
Categories: For Students, For College Students
5 Things I Learned From Studying Abroad | Ascent Funding

This summer I did a short-term study abroad program in London, England. Like many students, before studying abroad I tried to prepare myself to make the absolute most of my trip. Here are 5 lessons I learned the hard way, so you don’t have to.


Lesson #1: Skip Out on the Souvenirs 

Key chains, mugs, t-shirts with the place you traveled to can all be bought online as soon as you come back. When in doubt, don’t overdo it on the commercialized material items. The items I’m glad I purchased were unique to the places I visited.

Handmade jewelry or some kind of artwork served as much better memory and more one-of-a-kind than 20 t-shirts and hats that said London. By avoiding these kinds of souvenirs I was able to avoid buyer’s remorse and save an extra $100 for an overweight suitcase, so it’s a win-win situation.


Lesson #2: Take Tours, But Choose Wisely

I found that taking a tour of overly touristy areas that I was already familiar with within the city was not worth my money or time. I could have explored those places on my own and a tour guide did not impact my experience.

When I went to Scotland, I took a tour of the countryside in the highlands and the Trosseux. That tour was extremely impactful because I didn’t have a car and there was no public transport to the countryside so I wouldn’t have been able to see those sights otherwise. Plus, I was unaware of a lot of history about this area so being able to hear about it from somebody who has been living there for years expanded my viewpoint and it didn’t feel like the information I could’ve just googled.


Lesson #3: Ask Around

Before I studied abroad, I asked my friends that had been to London before what they found exciting to do in the area and kept a running tab on my phone. When I heard the same suggestion twice, I put it higher on my priority list.

Additionally, when I would meet people out and about I would ask them what are the must-see places. You’d be surprised to hear some of my favorite places didn’t come up on the initial google search I did on “Best Places to See in London”, it ended up being the least expected that I was most happy I went to. By the near end of my trip, my friends and I relied on locals to recommend the best places to see.


Lesson #4: Always Have Multiple Forms of Payment

I have heard of a few places in America going “cashless” to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 but in London, it is a whole different ballpark. I would say an estimated 60% of the businesses I went to did not accept cash as a form of payment. Coming to Europe as a tourist, advice that I got often was to travel light, and be aware of pick-pockets. This in mind, combined with my regret of getting so many pounds in cash before I came just to find out that cash wasn’t accepted virtually anywhere, led me to the temporary conclusion to stop bringing cash with me altogether. 

So for about two days, I traveled cashless, until I entered a cash-only market and from then on in my trip, I decided to always have 25 pounds of cash and all my cards with me to prepare for either scenario and avoid any ATM fees. So while it is always a good idea to have a little on hand in case of an emergency, it is far more important to have an international credit card that doesn’t charge you and to keep Apple Pay set up in case you ever misplace your wallet or bag. For more helpful money tips while you’re abroad, check out “3 Tips to Pay For Your Study Abroad”.


Lesson #5: Utilize the Tube

Before studying in London, I didn’t have much experience using a subway station. On my few trips to New York, I was overwhelmed by it all and mostly walked or took an Uber. The Tube, London’s underground rail network,  is incredibly user-friendly and has a lot of different pass options depending on the amount that it gets used.

After a few days of taking a taxi, I decided to try my luck with the Tube and discovered that it was far more user-friendly than I was warned about. I found that it was most worth getting the 7 Day Travel Pass on the Oyster Card, for Zones 1 and 2. As a tourist, this covered almost all of the sights that I was visiting and was much more affordable than a taxi.


I hope you found these lessons helpful and can avoid making some of the mistakes that I made during my trip. But if somebody asked me what my most important lesson was from going abroad it would be to take the leap!

Going abroad was the most impactful trip of my life and I was able to discover so much about a new place, meet so many amazing people, and it motivated me to travel more in the future. There is so much to learn from traveling to a new place, so if you get the opportunity to go, don’t pass it up.

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