We all know travel is a huge part of the study abroad experience, especially if you study in a place like Europe. You are surrounded by so many different nations, and the possibilities for travel seem endless. However, it’s not so simple. From deciding what cities to visit to booking flights and hotels, chances are you’re going to run into some problems along the way. But don’t worry, I’m here to help! I’ve taken what I’ve learned from my semester of travel and put together some advice for you.
1. Do your research before you go to another city. Although it may seem like you can figure everything out once you’re there, it’s a lot easier to navigate a city if you do your homework beforehand. Trust me, I know from personal experience. Some things to consider are attractions you may want to see, famous restaurants or bars you may want to try and day trips you may want to take. I’ve also found myself entering a city and suddenly realizing that I had no idea how the public transportation works (how to buy a ticket, how the payment system works, the most convenient ticket to buy, etc), so I would definitely research that before going as well.
It’s also worth looking up the customs and culture of the city. How people behave on trains/buses, restaurant norms (like how much to tip), and history are all worth noting. In addition, it’s important to know how big the city you’re going to is so that you can plan accordingly. If it’s a big city, you’re going to need to either do lots of research ahead of time so that you use the short amount of time you have while there most efficiently, or perhaps save that city for a longer weekend/trip. If it’s a small city, look into day trips or specific places to go to while in the city.
2. Download the TripAdvisor City Guides app. This app allows you to download the data of many of the major cities around the world and then use the information without any internet connection. Each city has ratings of restaurants, hotels, attractions, suggested itineraries, nightlife and more. It’s a really good way to get a feel for what you need to see/do in a city. It’s led me to some pretty great places. Highly recommended.
3. Book flights well in advance. Prices for flights increase on the daily so it’s important to figure out what cities you’re going to and when well ahead of time. If you keep waiting, before you know it you’ll be spending $100 more than you should be. There are multiple sites that will allow you to compare budget airlines that are really helpful. I personally like http://www.skyskanner.net the best.
4. Research accommodation options thoroughly. There are so many options when it comes to accommodation– hostels, Airbnb, hotels, etc. It’s worth it to compare prices, ask around and decide what’s best for your situation and destination. I personally really like Airbnb because it’s relatively cheap and convenient. All of the places I’ve stayed at through AirBnb have been clean, the hosts have been friendly and the locations have been very convenient. Since you’re staying in someone’s home, you usually don’t have to worry about bringing shampoo, towels, flip flops, etc. which I find really nice. On the flip side, you are in someone’s home, which may make you uncomfortable. So think it through, talk with your friends, and figure out what’s best for you.
3. And lastly, something that is probably frequently overlooked, but deserves to be noted, is to make sure you set aside time to actually explore the city you chose to study abroad in. It can be tempting to travel every weekend, especially if you’re in a place like Prague where there are so many cool neighboring cities, but be sure to take a break some weekends and stay in the country. You can use this time to hit up the bars/restaurants you’ve been meaning to try, explore a new city within the country, or catch up on schoolwork (in a cute little cafe, I would suggest!). I wish I had stayed in Prague more weekends so that I could have avoided this anxiety I’m currently feeling that I don’t have enough time (although perhaps this is inevitable). If you want to travel all around Europe, I would suggest doing most of your traveling after your program has ended. That way, during the semester you can enjoy the time you have in your host country and then at the end you can go all out and see all the cities you wanted to see.
Bottom line: Do your homework to avoid stress, anxiety, and unexpected surprises. Planning travel is not so simple, but it can be fun and rewarding. I’ve learned to love searching what restaurants to go to, places to see, or what apartment to rent. Remember to have fun with it and it’ll make the experience all the better! You’ll learn more about yourself that way 🙂