One of the best parts of studying abroad, in my opinion at least, is having the ability to travel all over the country and continent you’re studying in on any weekend you want. When I was deciding where I wanted to go, what ended up being a major factor in going to Spain was that I would be able to easily travel through all of Europe. Might as well take advantage of this opportunity now because who knows when it will be that easy again to just hop on a plane and fly to France. But, if you don’t plan it correctly, they could be a disaster. As someone who has been through this process (and made quite a few mistakes in the process), I have some tips so you can survive your trips and make it back on time.
1. Know where you’re staying before you get there. You should actually plan out your hostel/hotel situation early because it will be much cheaper that way. But if you show up and expect to find a cheap hostel in a nice area without booking it first, I wish you luck. It’s definitely always better to be prepared in these situations. You don’t want to get stuck with some creepers. You can find discounts on hostels and hotels, plus airfare, at Studentrate!
2. Avoid pub crawls. I didn’t do too many of these, though I did hear there was one in Prague that’s definitely worth it (unfortunately I didn’t have enough time for Prague). But the one time I did go on a pub crawl, I didn’t think it was worth the money. Each place you go to you get a ticket for one free drink, but it’s usually a cheap beer and you end up ordering another drink anyway that you now have to pay for. Also, since you’re going with a big group, it’s always super crowded and hard to move around in. You’ll never meet locals that way since the only other people who go on pub crawls are students studying abroad (although you can meet people from different countries), and it’s not the best way to integrate yourself into the culture since they’ll only take you to Americanized bars. Some of the best times I had while abroad, we just wandered into a bar that looked crowded. And it can’t help to look up some of the more popular bars and clubs with the locals so you have an idea of where to go.
3. Know how to get to your hostel from the airport/train station. There will be public transportation from the airport to most places that you will need to go to, even if you have to take a bus to a subway station stop and go from there. Never ever show up without knowing what bus or train you need to take to get to your hostel, or you could end up spending a TON of money on a taxi ride when you could have ridden a bus for $5. And be wary of people on the public transportation. My mom was pickpocketed while we were in Italy, and it ruined the trip for her. Of course, you should be careful everywhere with your things, but you don’t want someone to steal your wallet or purse while you’re in a different country than where you’re studying because you might need some of those things to get back (like if your passport is in your purse).
4. Be early for your flights! My roommates and I actually ended up missing a flight back to Spain from London and had to deal with finding another (cheap) flight that would leave so we could get back to class. It was a huge hassle and we always made sure to never have that happen again. Our excuse was that it was snowing and public transportation wasn’t running, but that’s no excuse. Even if you have to pay a taxi a ton of money to get to the airport (this airport was about an hour away), just do it. It’s not worth it to find another plane that will take you home. And we were late to our second flight so we almost missed that too. So make sure to arrive early for your flight, and have alternate arrangements on how to get to the airport just in case something goes wrong.
5. Know what sights you want to see. Don’t just show up and just go with it. I know people who did that and they missed out on a lot of cool things. I’m not a big museum or sightseeing person, but when you in Rome you really should visit places like the Vatican and the Coliseum, to name a few. Sure it’s also fun to go out at night and experience the night life (especially since many people are legal in Europe and not in the United States), but don’t stay up all night and sleep all day and miss out on everything else. Have a sort of plan for your day. It doesn’t need to be super detailed, but have a list of things that you want to accomplish for each day you are there so you don’t slack off.
6. Check for online tickets to places/student discounts. Sometime, you’ll be able to buy tickets online for different museums or sights to make it cheaper. And more often than not, if you present your student ID to the person at the ticket stand, you will get in for a discount or even sometimes free! So it’s really handy to never forget this card at home. It can really help save you some money.
7. Be prepared to pack light. If you’re like me, and most students, you’ll be flying a lot of cheap airlines, such as RyanAir. And if you check a bag, it’s like a €50 charge, so like $60 almost. So pack light and only bring a carry on. What I did was layered up what I was wearing to the airport so I had less to pack. Also, I would avoid bringing things like laptops unless you really need them, which you shouldn’t, since you’ll be out sightseeing and having fun all day. The computer with it’s charger will take up a lot of space and make the bag heavy. And plus you won’t want to leave many of your electronics unsupervised at your hostel, as it will be easy for someone to steal it. Since you won’t have a lot of space, try to plan out outfits while you’re packing so you only bring the essentials. And don’t forget that you can’t take large liquids on the plane! Either buy travel size soaps and cosmetics, or you can buy tiny bottles to put things like perfume in so they will make it onto the plane.
8. Don’t be afraid to meet people! Go to your hostel breakfast or hang out in it’s common area if it has one and meet other travelers you can hang out with, or when you’re in a bar, go up to a group of strangers who seem like they are having fun. Since you’ll likely be traveling with the same people over and over again, having other people to socialize with makes it more fun and exciting. Plus, you never know what kind of night you’re in for. My roommate and I stumbled upon someone’s bachelor party, and it was one of the best nights we had. As a shy person myself, I know how challenging this can be, but it’s really worth it. Just make sure that you don’t get too crazy or you might find yourself stranded in a city. Make sure that you know how to get to your hostel from the bar.
9. Use premade trips! Using a site like Bus2Alps or WSA is a great way to make sure you have fun and get in some sightseeing. I did a trip like this, and while the rain put a damper on the trip and made us miss a lot of things, they had some pretty cool stuff planned. We were supposed to go cliff jumping, and we also had like boat tours of around the Amalfi Coast and trip to this cave bar if you wanted to go (but you had to pay extra for that). And with WSA, they let you skip the lines at all of the big sights, so you don’t have to wait hours to go inside the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Plus, they set up your hostel and everything and even some meals for you, so really all you have to do is find a way to get there. If you are booking your flights and hotels, don’t forget to use student discounts with Studentrate. You can get 4% cash back at Hotels.com, and save at Orbitz, ZipCar and more…
As a bonus tip, just go with the flow! It’s important to know what you want to do and how to get there, but if things don’t go exactly according to your plan, don’t sweat it. You’re there to just have some fun and take in some culture. Don’t let your schedule rule your whole trip and ruin your time there. Believe me, if you stress out about the little things, your trip will be a disaster. So enjoy!
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