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10 Tips for Weekend Travel While Studying Abroad

By Alysia Santo

Studying abroad is a fascinating opportunity to learn more about the world and yourself. I went abroad in autumn of 2007 to London and spent most weekends traveling in Europe. Money was tight, the dollar was weak, yet I wanted to make the most of this precious time I did have. Taking advantage of these tips will help maximize your trip and save you money! Happy travels.

1. Plan Around the Weather
If you go in the fall, spend your September and October weekends in more northern areas like Prague, Ireland, and Germany. Then as the weather gets colder, hit up Greece, Spain, or Portugal. You will be doing a lot of walking, and visiting a place like Germany in November or December can make for some shivery touring. Adjust logic for those going for spring semester.

2. Always Plan Your Hostel Ahead of Time
Being in a less than comfortable hostel can be a grimy experience. You will thank yourself for reviewing, researching, and booking a hostel ahead of time. There are tons of websites where travelers just like you review the hostel based on location, atmosphere, amenities, cleanliness, price etc. Just type in hostel reviews into a search engine and check out a few sites. Pretty reliable and worth checking out!

3. Location, Location, Location
It really matters where your hostel is located. It can affect your whole trip if you are not near the metro, tube, subway, whatever it may be called! With this scenario, especially if you plan on going out at night, be prepared to spend the money you saved from your non-centrally located hostel on taxis back. Wandering around late night in a foreign city after a few drinks is just asking for trouble. Never get in an unmarked/un-metered taxi.

4. Avoid Tourist Traps
The cafe located across from the Eiffel Tower. The pizza shop around the corner from The Colosseum. The businesses closest to the big attractions are not where you want to be hanging out. These places are usually over priced and lower quality then places that aren’t in the center of everything. It’s like going to New York City and eating in the middle of Times Square. Expensive, lower quality, plus- no locals! Take the time to go outside these areas and you’ll be glad you did.

5. Budget Flights
Flights around Europe can be very cheap if bought enough ahead of time and at less than desirable travel times. Most of the flights I took left at 6:00 AM, meaning I left my flat in London around 3. Sure I was sleep deprived but I saved a lot of money, sometimes up to 60 pounds difference. Be wary of “processing fees” and the like which some budget airlines tack on to the price right before you click to confirm the purchase.

6. Mobile Madness
I found that figuring out how to use the phone abroad was quite challenging. Between calling codes and the different fees associated with calling between countries, I ended up quite confused with a $700 cell phone bill upon my return home. One 20 minute phone call home from Paris cost me $70! Looking back, the cheapest way to make a phone call is with a phone card and a track phone because then you have more control over what you are spending. A phone like this usually goes for around 50 euro. This initial investment will save you future hassle.

7. Pack Only What You Need
This is coming from a female perspective, but I know what the urge to pack 5 outfits for everyday feels like. Unfortunately, this is just not that kind of situation. The airlines will hit you with a charge every time your bag can’t be counted as a carry on. On top of that, if you’re like me, you’ll be staying in a hostel that you will have to find on foot once you arrive. Hostels sometimes have small lockers but many of them don’t so keeping it to a minimum is best.

8. Take Advantage of the Time You Have
Try to squeeze as much into this study abroad trip as you can because it’s hard to tell when you will be back again. Europe is a region where you can experience different countries so easily, so take advantage of your 1-4 hour plane rides from culture to culture. It is fascinating, amazing, eye opening, life changing, breath-taking, you get the idea. Carpe Diem.

9. Keep a Journal
Even if you don’t write in it every day, keeping a record of trips and experiences will facilitate all the learning and growth you will be doing! Being in a completely new place puts your sense perception on high, and you may find yourself at new levels of perception and introspection. Honor your trip by being grateful for the opportunity and keep a record of what you most want to remember.

10. Wherever You Go, There You Are
Above all, take this experience in and savor it. Many people feel more alive when they travel because you are not as burdened by your mind as you are during “regular” life. It can help you realize that from culture to culture, from place to place, sometimes the most fascinating thing is the similarities between people, not the differences. Be fully present as you immerse yourself in the unknown in order to make sure that your body is not the only thing traveling while your self remains trapped in your head.

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