What I Wish I Knew Before Going Abroad

Nothing could have prepared me for my experience in Florence, because I never expected to feel that much at home in a foreign country, not knowing a single person on my trip.

Was deciding to go one of the best decisions I’ve ever made? Undoubtedly yes – but that’s enough frosting on the cake.

Here are some things that I could have done differently, or wish I had known about before going on my trip.

Venice, Italy


Yes. I wish I had written things down more.

I am such a memory lover. I love reflecting on past experiences and remembering the little things that make me happy – like the names I gave the pigeons on the sides of the streets and the time I rode the carousel at midnight past curfew (oops).

While I do take a lot of pictures (and somehow ran out of storage on my phone, luckily at the very end of the semester), I wish I had written down stories more. One of my roommates took ten minutes every single night before bed to write down what she did that day.

If I could go back, I would take that time and dedication. I would do it over a billion times just to be able to remember the little things that made me fall in love with Florence.

You Will Not Have the Same Groceries Available

Some things I didn’t expect to be difficult to find in Florence were:

  1. frozen fruit (no more smoothies for me)
  2. salad dressings (oh, you don’t just dress your salad with olive oil and spices?)
  3. peanut butter (it’s available just not popular, so it’s scarce)
  4. baking soda and powder (how do they BAKE?? I did end up finding it eventually)
  5. sour cream (apparently not a nacho necessity there)
  6. packaged cheese, a Mexican variety (never mind with the nachos, it’s impossible)
  7. almond milk, soy milk, etc.
  8. chips and other snacks like Goldfish and Cheez-its (they do have Pringles)
  9. vanilla yogurt (I learned to like plain, even though they did have more expensive products like Activia’s mixed berry flavor)
  10. bagels (some Americanized coffee shops had them, but I didn’t see any in stores)
  11. alcoholic drinks like seltzers, lemonades, etc. (Breezers were my BEST find, though)

Other simple things like packaged snacks, cookies, and condiments were difficult to find too. They don’t have supermarkets over there, just smaller grocery stores and markets. I easily survived with making my own dinners with what I had, though.

The first thing I wanted when I came home? A good burrito.

Make Time of Every Single Weekend

Cinque Terre, Italy

The biggest lesson I learned: Anything can happen, so take advantage of the now.

While this should go without saying, you have to take every advantage that you can while it’s there. My semester was very limited in terms of traveling due to COVID, but as soon as restrictions lifted with just under 30 days left of my trip, I got to every spot on my bucket list.

Looking back, I would have started planning trips much sooner. You often get caught up in a other little plans, which is great, too! Definitely spend your time in Florence because it’s so worth it. It’s beautiful. Still, I wish I had better planned out the trips I wanted to do so I could pick the best weekends and make the most of my time.

My tip: Train tickets and cheap Air BNBs – and sometimes that high-speed, more expensive train ticket is worth it for a longer distance.

Solo Explore

The times I went out by myself for a few hours were the most freeing. This is when you’ll really start to find yourself at home in Florence, once you know the little corners and side streets.

While it may be fun to stick with your best friends all the time, try to get out by yourself as much as possible. Get a smoothie bowl from Shake Cafe and eat it by the riverside.

Packing & Clothing

Melrose Vintage Clothing Store, Florence, Italy

I have to say, I was very good about the amount of clothing I brought in my suitcase – I didn’t go overboard. But I did buy some things during the semester that made it difficult to pack back up. Everyone does some shopping while abroad, so either don’t bring a ton of clothing or recognize that you may need another small carry on. You can also mail a small (or big) box home with any extra clothes that don’t fit, but it can get expensive!

And please, please, don’t shop at the H&M when you have other new stores around you! (But yes, I was guilty of this)

…More Shopping

Gucci Outlet, Florence Mall

One of the coolest places: The Florence Luxury Mall.

This mall isn’t in the city center. It’s a 45 minute bus ride (which was about 12 Euros round trip) to one of the coolest places you’ll go for good shopping.

This isn’t the type of mall you’d see in the states. It’s a luxury outlet, one of the only places in the world you’ll find outlet-priced Gucci. Other luxury brands such as Prada, Ferragamo, Valentino, Armani and Yves Saint Laurent can be found here. Prices are marked down over 50% in some stores.

While it’s still extremely expensive, if you’re looking for a good gift or are saving up for something special, this is the place to go. I didn’t make it there until my last week when a friend brought me there, but it’s definitely something that would’ve been on my bucket list from the start… when I had more money to spend!


Food of Italy: Regional Cultures

Take all the cooking and culture classes you can. This should also go without saying, but don’t take something you can take at home (unless it’s an inflexible requirement).

Some of my friends took bread-making classes, chocolate classes, and wine-pairing courses. Why didn’t I take one of these??? Although a few of my classes did include cooking, just not a specific kind. You can switch out classes once, so if you have the chance to try something unique, go for it.

Time Difference Is Not Fun

Come on, Cat, that’s so obvious. It’s not until you’re living in it that you realize how inconvenient it can be.

My phone notifications were nonexistent until 3:00PM every day, when my friends back in New England were waking up at 9:00AM. And what about when you have an internship interview or Zoom meeting that’s at 1:00AM? Yes, this has happened.

There’s not much you can do about the time difference, but it’s something worth adding for recognition.

Don’t Say: Oh, We’ll Have to Come Back Some Time Soon!

There are still unchecked boxes on my to-do list because of this problem. If you’re walking by somewhere and it looks cool, just go in! When you put things off, they often get lost in the list and never happen.

Explore Beyond What’s Comfortable

Market in Sorrento, Italy

The city center of Florence is beautiful. It could keep me busy for weeks, and I’ll still stumble by street names I’ve never heard of and coffee shops I should have tried.

There are so many more beautiful things outside of Florence – and I don’t mean Venice, Rome, or Milan. I mean the little outskirts of Florence that are “off the beaten path.”

One day, I took a Bird (the best electric scooter) to the eastern end of Florence. It was about 5 miles. I saw the side of Florence that looked nothing like the architectural streets I was used to. To the north, there are more shops and the most exotic gardens you’ll find in the area. The view from the Garden of the Dragon is beautiful.

Just think of all the things I could have seen if I had started exploring sooner. There are no take-backs here though. It’s only a we’ll do that next time, thing.

See you soon, Florence.

Yours Truly,

Cat Taylor

Need more packing help? Check out A Suitcase Abroad: What to Bring.

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