The Summer Study Abroad Bucket List You Didn't Know You Needed

by Erin Oppenheim

You somehow made it through finals week and now summer study abroad is calling your name. You are days from departure, your swimsuit and sunnies are safely tucked away in your luggage, and your passport might be starting to communicate with you telepathically (saying, “stamp me, STAMP ME!”). Potential summertime heat-stroke hallucinations aside, your summer abroad in [insert fabulous destination] is finally here, and you can’t wait to take the world by storm.

You’ve done your research, started learning Italian, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, and well, you get the idea, on DuoLingo, and now that brand-spanking-new travel journal is just begging to be filled with your tallest of tales. Here’s our suggestion for that first page: The Perfect Summer Study Abroad Bucket List. Consider it a table of contents, and let the adventures grow from there!

Couple visiting Wat Rong Khun

Start out with a scenic selfie, then Instagram it and make friends jealous.

1. GO!

Okay, it may seem redundant since you’re probably already through customs and well on your way, but the best way to tick items off a list is to set reasonable, attainable goals for yourself. Go ahead and put a check mark right next to “study abroad this summer” and feel good about making a little dent in your bucket list.

2. Grab your bestie and take a selfie with a killer view behind you.

Whether it’s your old bestie and college roommate embarking on this adventure with you, or your new bestie and/or roomie from summer orientation, take a little time to be a tourist and grab that snapshot at the Eiffel Tower, Buckingham Palace, Phra Nang beach (in Thailand), or whatever major monument or mouth-dropping vista makes your host city and country famous.

3. Post a photo online with your favorite travel quote.

Get yourself a Canva account, pick your favorite filter, and be sure to “Live, travel, adventure, bless, and don’t be sorry…” about using American Typewriter or Amatic Sans to share your favorite travelers’ words of wisdom. It sure makes a great #TBT or #WanderlustWednesday post. Sit back and watch those Instagram likes come rolling in.

4. Stay out and go to that club even if your feet hurt and you want your bed.

While it may be true that no one will care if you don’t go to the party tonight, you should have at least one wild night out this summer; wallflower or homebody be damned! There is no ailment that a good dance sesh with your study abroad besties can’t fix. So get down to that bachata, do the Argentine tango, or shake it to that German house music. Your bed will be there at the end of the night, whether you’re home at 10 p.m. or 6 a.m., and wouldn’t you much rather have the late night/early morning walk home to brainstorm how to tell this story to your friends? (They’ll never believe it!).

5. Visit a late night restaurant in all it's sketchy glory (don't worry, calories after midnight don't count).

Sometimes you just need that late night fast food fix. You can even check this off your list after number four’s crazy night out to tide you over for the walk home. There’s nothing quite like hitting the Febo snack wall after a late night out in Amsterdam (Yeah, you read correctly, a SNACK WALL). It might not be the best quality, but how can you go wrong with fried everything? For the late-night gourmande, go the extra block or two for a late night staple: the döner kebab. Your tummy (and your wallet) will thank you.

Fancy meal at restaurant

Treat yo’ self to a fancy farewell dinner.

6. Everyone toss a fiver in  and grab delicious snacks and treats for a midnight picnic somewhere scenic.

Maybe greasy croquettes and kebabs aren’t quite what you’re craving for a late night snack; so grab a few bucks and your study abroad besties to hit a late night market for snacks and local delicacies to park it and picnic with. Nothing beats good food, a scenic spot, and even better company. Take this time to reflect on your summer with your friends, regaling each other with your favorite stories so far, even though there are plenty more memories left to be made.

7. Rock the peanut butter (or Nutella) and bread diet for a last minute weekend getaway.

You’re at that slow crawl toward the end of the month and the end of your summer abroad. Funds may be a little on the low side, but morale is high as you plan your last minute weekend trip. Say your prayers and board your budget airline flight with a backpack full of bread and peanut butter to sustain you through museum trips, free walking tours, and maybe that long afternoon bike ride. You might not be able to eat peanut butter for a week, but you certainly won’t regret it.

8. Find a beach, any beach! It’s summer! You have to!

Bust out your bathing suit, lather up with sunscreen, grab a towel, your sunnies, and a great book to read, and head out to the beach! Any beach! It can be lakeside, riverside, or seaside. If there is sand and a body of water it counts as a beach and you should be relaxing on it.

Bonus points if you have a bonfire. Double bonus points if you wear flower crowns.

9. Eat too much ice cream.

It’s summer! It would be a crime if you didn’t binge-eat gelato or other sweet treats in your study abroad destination. Popsicles, halo-halo, sorbet, mole ice cream, shaved ice, all fair game. Grab some friends and buy as many flavors as you can stand (plus two more), then feast to greatness.

10. Grab your new hostel-buddy and go on a free walking tour.

A tight schedule and a tight budget mean you’ll be spending your summer hostel-hopping and counting costs down to the centime. There’s no better way to get the most bang for your buck on a weekend adventure than to take a free walking tour. While the tours are free, you should probably bring five to 10 bucks to tip the wonderful fountain of knowledge that is your local guide.  

Picnic by a river in the mountains

Pack a scenic picnic (bonus if it’s at night).

11. Scope out free museum days and get your fill.

For the history buff, the art lover, and the all-around museum enthusiast, those entry fees can start to add up fast, even with student discounts. Rather than deprive yourself of the educational and cultural experience of exploring the Louvre or the National Gallery, keep an ear to the ground for monthly free museum days and schedule your outings accordingly. Free admission days are generally the first Sunday or final Thursday of each month, but it can vary by city and museum.

12. Find the long way home.

You didn’t plan on bringing your shoes back in perfect working condition after your summer abroad, did you? Then put them to work and hit the road. Find a meandering route home and get to know it well. Say hi to the shopkeepers and your neighbors. Stop to smell the flowers (literally). Help a lost-looking tourist who wound up on the wrong street. You’re a local now.

13. Make a Tinder account and find a local cutie to show you around!

You read that correctly. Your favorite dating app can double as a great travel resource! Learn how to swipe right and find the real local spots to hit in your host city. Safety, of course, always comes first, so swipe smart and use your better judgement. Even if you don’t end up meeting up with a match, take this as an opportunity to practice your foreign language skills and get the local scoop on your host city. You don’t want to be texting like an abuela, after all.

14. Seek out at least one adrenaline-filled activity, no matter how much it scares you, take that leap!

This is going to be the story that kills during Christmas dinner. You’ll have friends and family on the edge of their seat as you regale them with tales of bungee jumping, ziplining, cliff diving, or insert adventure activity here. Walking tours and trips to the modern art museum are fun, but you need to get your blood pumping this summer. Eleanor Roosevelt says we should do one thing every day that scares us, but we’re only asking you to do one thing that scares you once. It doesn’t seem too unreasonable, right?

15. Grab your Kindle or (gasp) a real paperback and head to a nearby park.

An afternoon of sunshine and well-written prose will do you some good, and will allow you to observe a quieter side to your study abroad destination. Not every day has to be an action-packed adventure. Take a little time to yourself and unwind with your favorite book - maybe try reading an old standby in your host country’s native language. Harry Potter à l’école des Sorciers, anyone?

16. Tighten your apron and throw a dinner party.

Make like Julia Child and practice mastering the art of French (or Italian, or Chinese, or Thai) cooking by hosting a top notch dinner party. Even Jesus knew the importance of breaking bread and sharing a bottle of wine with friends (too soon?). It’s a great way to show your new friends you care, and almost guarantees you’ll be eating at least one vegetable.

Pro tip: Take note of who brings wine and who doesn’t, then you’ll know who your true friends are.

17. Have a girls/guys weekend!

While it’s fun to intermingle, sometimes it’s just as good to tap into your shared femininity or fraternity to really “bro out” for a weekend. Do all the things that are unacceptable in the eyes of the opposite sex, scratch weird places, wax your legs, binge eat chocolate, engorge on take out Chinese...

18. Find a park with swings.

See just how high you can go, and maybe try and point out a few major landmarks from your bird’s eye view, +1 point if it’s a swing with a view, +2 points if it’s a tree swing, +3 points if it’s a tree swing that you can jump off of into river while pretending you’re in a Nicholas Sparks novel. If you’re a bird, I’m a bird.

19. Stargaze, you little romantic, you.

What’s the point of warm summer nights if you sleep through them? Grab your friends, find a dark place (that’s still safe!), and count falling stars. Extra adventure-cred to those who sleep under the stars for a night, too.

Crowd in front of a stage at concert

Catch a local music festival and dance your heart out.

20. Attend a local music festival.

Music has a way that brings people together that is only rivaled by sports, and summertime is all about music festivals. Even if you don’t recognize the name of the band (or understand the words they’re singing), pull up a picnic blanket and stay awhile. OR grab a partner and dance it out!

21. Try a no-electronics day!

Now, before you go into cardiac arrest at the thought of abandoning your precious smartphone for a day, hear us out. Grab some accountability partners (your group of friends, duh!) and vow to take a break from screen-time. After the first few hours of cold-turkey withdrawals, you might find yourself feeling...lighter, more free, and more present. Your instagram will surely survive one day without you. Besides, your friends at home just might need a break from your jetsetting and adventuring, too.

22. Say “Yes” to everything for a day.

Better yet, say “Yes, please” to everything for a day. Smart Girl and the literal embodiment of #Goals, Amy Poehler says, “taking risks and making choices is what makes life so exciting.” So make life exciting! Don’t overthink it. Would you like fries with that? Yes, please. Would you like some more wine? Yes, please. Do you want to go to this feminist art gallery opening tonight? Yes, please!

23. Go running!

The Boss is right, we were born to run. The good news is you don’t need a gym membership when you have open roads and pair of running shoes. So ditch the treadmill and opt for blue skies and fresh air. Who knows, you may stumble upon your next favorite spot in town!

Boy running on beach

Ditch the electronics and go for a spontaneous run.

24. Swim under a waterfall.

Another thing for you to say “Yes, please” to! It’s the closest you’ll ever come to fulfilling that lifelong dream of being a Neverland mermaid. Keep an ear to the ground and find the best waterfall to swim under. Bonus points if there’s hiking involved!

25. Challenge a stereotype.

Whether you strike up a conversation with someone you normally wouldn’t or you commit to learning more about communities you’re unfamiliar with, find a way to add depth to your summer abroad by interacting in new ways that you might’ve feared before. Challenge your own perspectives and privileges this summer.

26. Scrap the umbrella and enjoy the rainfall.

You don’t need to be Gene Kelly to enjoy a good jaunt and maybe a song or two. Really there’s just something cathartic about a walk in the rain. Next time there’s a cloudburst, ditch your umbrella and embrace the rain, it’s a great way to clear your head, and maybe help you stave off doing laundry just one more day.

27. Double check your bank account and make a reservation at a nice restaurant to treat yo’ self for your last night in country.

Donna Meagle and Tom Haverford would want you to. You’ve spent all summer budgeting and being smart, and now it’s time to splurge. Food is as much an experience as a trip to the museum or the big tourist attraction. So check out that Michelin guide and the lunch or dinner specials, throw on your nicest outfit, order a glass of wine, and toast to a wonderful summer abroad!

Pro tip: lunch prix fixe menus are usually less expensive than dinner menus, so you can still splurge without sending yourself into the red.

28. Really truly live.

Now’s not the time to shy away from adventure. Not to sound like a broken record, or an obsessive Amy Poehler fan, but, “the great thing about taking big chances when you’re younger is you have less to lose, and you don’t know as much. So you take big swings.”

Take big swings this summer, if you miss, at least you’re living and learning.

As your summer abroad comes to a close, take comfort knowing that you can always look back through your personal blog or travel journal and have these wonderful memories to reflect on. Don’t be afraid to fill in the blanks and take creative liberties with this bucket list. It’s less a list of “must-do/sees” and more like basic guidelines to ensure your summer abroad is unforgettable. So have fun, be safe, make lots of memories, and don’t forget to stay in touch with the friends you make along the way. Happy travels!