Two years ago, I studied abroad in London and it was one of the BEST experiences EVER. Here's my tips for when it's your turn!
Do the cliche.
Say what you want, but I believe in being touristy. Especially in Europe. Now, I'm not saying pull out your fanny packs and Hawaiian shirts, but the top tourist attractions in London are actually some of the most amazing sights in the world. In London, I was determined to eat (gluten-free) fish and chips (PLEASE go to Oliver's for the BEST fish and chips EVER), ride the London Eye, see the many museums and stand in the Princess Diana Memorial (native Londoners hate that thing, I'm told...I love it). In Ireland, kiss the Blarney Stone, have a drink in a pub with real Irish music and drink an Irish coffee in Ireland. I went on a ghost tour, paid to see the Tower of London, and got many a dirty looks from the British as I attempted the legendary phone booth picture. In my opinion, it's worth it.
Go out on your own.
I know your mother wouldn't give you this advice, but to truly experience a new place, you must get comfortable with getting some alone time. I woke up almost every morning to grab a coffee and then head over to the park where I would read my Bible or just people watch and it is one of the greatest memories from my trip. I also took the time to ride the tube and venture to South Bank alone (at night...don't tell my mom). There was something about walking along the Thames at night, the lights of the city dancing on the water, that made me feel peaceful and incredibly content. Again, independence is awesome. If you don't believe me, read my friend Bianca's article HERE about the time she went to a car show on her own when she was in London, too!
Embrace the culture.
Being an American is great ('Merica). But when you're in a different country, you have to be open minded enough to realize...not every country is like (or worse than) yours. People are quieter in England. Just a fact of life. So if you and all your American classmates take over the tube and decide to loudly talk, yell, laugh, sing, fake talk in a British accent...it's just plain rude. You're a visitor in their city. Try to be respectful. To go along with that, you're in a different city that a rich culture. Things will not be like they are at home. The food is different (like this giant pear pancake from THE MOST AMAZING RESTAURANT EVER). The people are different. The etiquette is different. Even the language can be different. Don't go in with the close minded attitude that your culture, country and way of life are the only ways that are acceptable. So keep your volume down, say "please" and "thank you", stand on the right side of the escalator, try new foods without complaining....and DO NOT fake a British accent.
One of my biggest regrets about the trip, interestingly enough, was not spending more money. As far as souvenirs go, I thought about quantity, not quality. So yes, I brought home lots of mugs, magnets, tea (duh), etc. I really wish I would have invested in a few quality items, instead of bringing back a whole bunch of smaller, less useful, knick-knacky items. I would highly recommend saving every penny you can while you're still stateside, leading up to your trip, and then TREAT YO SELF.
I packed SO many things I didn't even touch once I got there. Granted, I packed for colder, rainy, typical-London weather...and it turned out to be in the 80's and 90's almost everyday. My greatest piece of advice is if you don't wear it at home, you won't wear it there. So pack things you are comfortable in, limit your amount of shoes, and when in doubt, leave it out.
Take care of yourself.
One of my most...uh...memorable moments of the trip was when Bianca and I went to go see "Macbeth" at Shakespeare's famous Globe Theater on the Thames. We had waited all month, got all dolled up and were literally touching the stage. But I didn't drink enough water, or eat enough, in the humid 80 degree weather all month and I passed out cold in the first 15 minutes...in front of an audience...during the show. Luckily, I had my best friend to literally carry me out of the theater and find a EMT to help me. But it was scary and if I had probably just stayed hydrated and eaten better and bigger meals...I probably would have see what happened to Macbeth at the end of the show.
I guess this goes along with #6, but make time to rest. I got up early almost every day but I also went to bed pretty early most nights. On our weekend in Ireland, we took a 12 hour trip to get there and we traveled through the night. We were literally EXHAUSTED the next day and by the end of our first night in Ireland, we literally did not have any energy to go out. We decided to go to bed at 7 pm, but I do not regret it at all. Yes, I might have missed some memorable experiences had I gone out that night but I am so glad I listened to my body. Don't be Superman. Listen to your body. Rest often. Push yourself when needed. I didn't listen to my own advice here near the end of the month and by the time I got back to America, I had strep throat, mono and was pretty much knocked out for a month after my trip. (Yes, I'm the friend that always gets hurt/sick/passes out. My life is interesting.)
Eat junk food.
That's right, people! YOU HEARD ME! You want a Coke? Go for it. How about a candy bar? Go right ahead. The candy, soda, junk food, etc. in Europe has less preservatives in it...so not only does it taste A LOT better, but it's also not as bad for you (it's still not healthy). I'm typically a bit of a health freak but the soda in Europe tastes better. I'm serious. Also, Europe has weird candy and all of it is great. So try to take care of yourself but also...get dessert. You won't regret it.
Stay connected to home.
Yes, you're seeing the world. But it's important to remember what is truly important. I left my family and boyfriend for a month and I absolutely do NOT regret taking time out of my trip to Facetime, text, write letters or talk on the phone a few times a week, if not daily, with them. Traveling is awesome but in the grand scheme of thing, it isn't what matters, or what is going to last. But the people you love will always be there. So take time to call them, update them, ask about their lives. It is NOT something you will regret.
Be friendly (but not too friendly)
It's super fun to meet people from all over the world, especially when you're in a new city. We made friends from around the country and around the world while we were there. But as great as it is to make friends and be cool and have contacts all over the place, have common sense. We had a few incidents where we found ourselves in conversation with someone and knew it was time to not be too friendly and politely leave, just to play it safe. As three young girls in a new city, we definitely knew that it was our best bet to have street smarts and stick to making friends with girls our age. We actually still keep in touch with some of the girls we met on our trip (Hi Aubrey, Katie, Tori, Carly and Emily!). So just be alert and keep in mind when you're in a bad situation or not.