Traveling abroad can present a number of logistical challenges. This page provides information and tips about travel, including booking tickets to your study abroad destination, travel while abroad, a list of U.S. embassies, and information about cell phones, internet connections, hostels and Eurorail passes. Much of this information will be useful to students who are currently abroad, as well as those who are preparing to travel.
Travel & Communication
Travel To & From the US
If you have never flown overseas before, figuring out where to start can be tricky. Find information about booking flights to your study abroad destination and making sure you will have housing once you return to the U.S. Learn more.
Travel While Abroad
Many students travel while studying abroad. This section has useful information about the best modes of travel, where to stay, and how to keep yourself safe. Learn more.
Technology & Communication
Staying in touch with friends and loved ones back home is vital while studying abroad, but the methods of communication we take for granted in the U.S. can be complicated to access. This section contains information about internet access and cell phones. Learn more.
Register with Authorities
Students who register with the U.S. State Department when they arrive in the host country will be alerted if any large scale emergency occurs and/or if an evacuation is necessary. Embassies are also an important source of information. Learn more.
Travel To/From The U.S.
It is extremely important to make flight reservations in advance to guarantee a seat and get the best deal. There are several types of tickets that can be purchased for travel abroad, and the best two options are described below:
- Round-trip tickets are usually the least expensive, but the return date must be specified at the time of purchase and travel must be completed within one year. This can be a challenge for students who are not sure when their exams will be completed or who are considering post-study abroad travel. Most airlines charge a fee to change a return flight.
- Open-ended, round-trip tickets are the choice of most students studying abroad because they do not require a specified return date at the time of purchase. Because of this convenience, open-ended tickets are usually more expensive than regular round-trip tickets. Like round-trip tickets, open-ended tickets require travel to be completed within one year. Book the return flight as soon as possible to guarantee a seat.
Book a Flight
Students living in campus housing should carefully review the Housing Services website for study abroad and should submit all necessary documents on time, since on-campus housing is limited. Students studying abroad in the spring will be contacted about room draw. A deposit is required by February to participate in room draw. Students studying abroad in the fall should contact the Housing Assignments Coordinator at 412-268-2139 in December for their room assignment.
Off-Campus HousingStudents who live off-campus often coordinate with students going abroad during the opposite semester to arrange sublets. See the Off-Campus Housing webpage for more information.
Travel While Abroad
Many study abroad students travel within the host country and to neighboring countries during weekends and vacations. Be sure to find out if a visa is required to visit any nearby countries. Travel before or after the study abroad program is also possible, but check with the study abroad program provider first, as some countries have restrictions on this.
Popular Travel Resources
A good guidebook is essential for travel abroad. Some of the best student guide books are:
- Let’s Go: Written and published by students at Harvard University, Let's Go is directed toward budget and student travelers. They publish books on 21 countries, cities, and regions.
- Lonely Planet: Popular with student travelers, Lonely Planet guides provide detailed information on places to visit, history, and culture. Publishing over 100 guidebooks on over 100 countries and regions, they cover the globe the most extensively.
- Travel Document Systems offers visa, travel, and general information on almost every country.
Traveling in Europe
Since Europe is the most traditional study abroad destination, there are many resources available for travel between European countries. Discount airlines are rapidly becoming the most inexpensive way to travel in Europe. Often they fly into smaller airports, but the savings can be significant. The train is also a cheap and convenient way to travel Europe. Eurail passes are available to American tourists and may be tailored to fit a student’s specific travel plans. Passes are available for every country in Western Europe, as well as most Eastern European countries.
After living in a European country for more than 6 months, students are eligible to purchase an Interrail Pass or a One Country Pass. They are similar to Eurail passes; however, they may be more or less expensive depending on the current exchange rate. Detailed information on these two options may be obtained online at www.interrail.eu, and at major train stations in Europe.
Travel in Non-European Countries
Rail passes can also be purchased for many non-European countries. For more information on travel in Asia, Australia, Africa or South America, contact a travel agency or consult a guidebook.
Hostels are low-cost overnight accommodations where travelers can sleep and eat. Accommodations are dormitory style with separate bedrooms and bathrooms for men and women. Many hostels offer private and family accommodations as well. A self-service kitchen where meals can be prepared and common rooms for socializing create an atmosphere that encourages travelers to share experiences. Some hostels have mail pick-up service, laundry facilities, baggage and bicycle storage. Generally overnight fees range from $8-$25 per night depending on the location and season.
The Let’s Go and Lonely Planet guides provide information and recommendations on hostels. Hostel information can also be found at Hostelling International or hostels.com. Casamundo is another site that compares holiday houses, homes and apartments of every category and price range.
While traveling abroad, students must be particularly street savvy. Gender roles, attitudes toward the LGBTQIA+ community, people of color, traffic laws, and drinking laws may not be the same as in the United States. It is the student’s responsibility to be observant and cautious.
Tips for staying safe
- Find out the norms governing clothing and behavior. Many behaviors and cues will be different than in the United States. Body language is not universal, and behaviors may be interpreted differently. Be aware of sending mixed signals, such as smiling while saying “no”.
- Learn who can be trusted in that country. For example, police cannot be trusted everywhere.
- Remember that there is safety in numbers, so travel in small groups when possible.
- In any large city, a foreigner holding a huge map could invite trouble, so study the city map before arriving at the destination.
- Learn about local environmental hazards. There may be hazards in the host country with which U.S. students are unfamiliar. The host country may have dangerous natural phenomena, animals or plants. Students should research this information before going abroad and know how to appropriately handle such things if encountered.
- Know what documentation, if any, must be carried at all times. Do not carry more than needed, but always carry what is required. The study abroad program provider and a good guidebook can provide answers to these and other questions.
- Research the traffic laws and typical driving practices in the host country. Second to alcohol, traffic is the most common culprit of accidents while studying abroad. Driving laws vary dramatically, and it is not recommended that students drive while abroad. In many places, pedestrians do not necessarily have the right of way. Even if pedestrians do have the right of way, traffic laws might not be regularly obeyed. Use caution on busy city streets, and do not assume that any car, truck, bus, or scooter will stop to let a pedestrian cross. Do not forget to look in the opposite direction if studying in the U.K., Australia, India and parts of Africa! The Association for Safe International Road Travel provides helpful resources.
Tips from Study Abroad Alumni
- Research the weight limits on luggage for your airline. Be sure to leave room for items purchased abroad that must also be returned under the weight restrictions. If everything does not fit, consider shipping lightweight but bulky items such as sweaters. Keep in mind that mailing to the U.S. is usually much more expensive than mailing from the U.S.
- Theft is the most common crime reported among study abroad students. Think about ways to keep money safe such as keeping small amounts in various places. This is especially true on trains or long flights where a student may fall asleep.
- Consider investing in a sturdy backpack with a padlock. This is useful while traveling or if luggage is left unattended at a hostel.
- The voltage of electricity varies from country to country. Department stores, travel agencies, and office supply stores sell electricity converter kits. These converters work well, but are not designed for extended use. Students going abroad for a year should consider buying electronics abroad.
See the Study Abroad Handbook for a complete packing list and more helpful tips.
Technology & Communication
Communicating by Telephone
Some students may look into renting or purchasing an international mobile phone or decide to use a pre-paid SIM card, while others may be able to switch to an international plan with a U.S. carrier. Smart phones may allow you to video chat over Wi-Fi with FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Zoom, or Skype. Many students take advantage of the ability to message via their smartphones over Wi-Fi using apps such as WhatsApp, Viber, and more.
It is important to research available options and costs before you travel abroad. Returned study abroad students can often be a great resource for suggestions.
Communicating by Email
Most of the world is now connected to the internet and communication by email is possible in all but the most remote of locations.
Wi-Fi is another way to access the internet abroad. Many restaurants and cafés have wireless internet access within their shops - for paying customers only.
Register with Authorities
U.S. Embassies Abroad are excellent resources for study abroad students. They can provide a list of doctors or lawyers in the local area, tax forms, and information on travel advisories. Furthermore, the embassy is a safe haven in the case of a large scale emergency and may help U.S. students evacuate should that become necessary.
International Students should check-in with the embassy of their home country to determine what services are available in the host country.