Everything you need to know when planning weekend travel abroad
It’s no secret that one of my favorite parts of studying abroad was traveling, and it’s safe to say I did plenty of it. I plan on doing just as much traveling when I head abroad this fall, but since China includes so many regions with their own geography, climate, and culture, I don’t know how big of a rush I’ll be in to leave The Middle Kingdom. While I loved planning week-long multi-country excursions in Europe, the fact is that a majority of my traveling was done on weekends when I didn’t have any big papers to write or tests to study for. Believe it or not, if you follow these simple planning guidelines, your weekend trips will not only be hassle-free, but much more enjoyable as well. Here are my ten need-to-know tips for planning weekend travel.
1. Go in a group
Traveling with friends is not only safer, but also much more fun. I traveled to Dublin on my own and while I never felt like I was in danger, staying in a 6 man room with 5 French guys who enjoyed naked wrestling in the middle of our room at 2 AM wasn’t the easiest to deal with. Having multiple heads working together will make planning and getting around much easier, and if nothing else, it’s always better to have some company.
2. Plan a budget
Actually, you’ll want to plan 2; one for your flight and hostel you book ahead of time, and and one for the amount you’re going to spend when you’re actually traveling. Good hostels can be as cheap as 15 or 20 Euro a night depending on the time of year, and flights as low as 50 to 80 Euro round-trip. If I was going to be in a city for say 3 days and 2 nights, I usually took out the equivalent of $200 to $250 in local currency. For more tips on planning a travel budget, check out Secrets To Saving Money While Studying Abroad – Cheap Travel!
Check currency exchange rates before you leave! In some places like the Czech Republic, the rate is something like $1 to 20 Czech Koruna, so don’t be surprised when you take out 5000 CZK from the ATM.
3. Fly on low cost carriers
If you’re studying abroad in Europe and haven’t yet heard of EasyJet or Ryanair, you will very soon. I’ll be honest, they’re not the most comfortable, but it doesn’t really matter. The money you save by flying on low cost carries far outweighs the lack of personal space. While you can book a flight pretty much up until the day before you leave, I recommend doing it as soon as you can. You can book right on their websites, but I suggest going through Vayama because they’ll compare all European low cost carrier prices for you.
4. Stay in hostels
This one’s pretty much a given. Hostels are cheap, and they usually provide everything you need: bed, sheets, a locker, and some sort of breakfast. I always booked through Hostelworld and they never let me down. Not sure what to look for in a hostel? Check out The Top 10 Things to Look For in a Hostel, and some of my awesome Hostel Reviews.
This next one is a two-parter: look into transportation.
5. Airport to hostel transit
One of the drawbacks of low cost carriers is that they usually fly to airports that are half an hour to 45 minutes outside of the city center (still worth it by the way). Luckily, most of these airlines also operate a shuttle service to the city center for between 5 and 8 Euro. The most popular airport services I came across were Terravision Airport Transfers and EasyBus. If you can’t find a shuttle service, check out bus and train airport link routes. This is what I had to do in Dublin, and since you’re only going to be carrying a backpack, hopping on a bus is easy if you know where you’re going.
6. Investigate public transportation in your destination city
This was probably the biggest mistake my friends and I made when planning our first weekend trip which happened to be to Barcelona. We didn’t really have any clue about how to get around a European city, so we walked everywhere and it took us something like 4 hours to find the Sagrada Familia on foot. Don’t make this same mistake! Public transportation in Europe is awesome, especially the subway/ metro systems. They’re safe, cheap, fast, and clean (except for the smell of urine saturating the air in the metro stations of Paris). You’ll probably also be able to find sites like this London tube site where you can get acquainted with metro routes and stops ahead of time.
Note on Taxis: In mainland Europe, taxi drivers are occasionally known to charge you a ridiculous rate when you come to your stop. Negotiate either a price/mile rate or an overall rate right when you get in the cab, and stick to it. If the cabbie tries to mess with you, threaten to get the police and more than likely they’ll back down as they don’t have the time to get involved with the cops.
7. Research a city before you go
Another one of our mistakes when we went to Barcelona – we had no clue what sites and attractions we were supposed to see (we really were amateurs). Check out guidebooks and websites before you leave or while you’re waiting in the airport. I’m a huge fan of Lonely Planet, and they take the concept of a guidebook to a whole new level. With awesome maps, “best-value tips”, language guidance, and health and safety advice, they prep you for just about every aspect of your trip. What I like most though is their background information section. I’m a firm believer that the more you know about the history and culture of a place, the more you’ll appreciate your trip.
8. Pack a lock
Every good hostel should provide you with a locker of some sort, but they probably won’t include a lock. Even if it’s not big enough for your whole back pack, make sure to at least lock up your valuables, passport, camera, jewelry, etc. I never had anything of mine stolen, but I knew a few friends that did. A $4 combination lock can pretty much guarantee your stuff will be safe.
9. Bring a copy of your visa and passport with you
I had my passport on my person at all times because I figured it was safer that way, although some people will disagree with that. If you’re following my lead, keep a copy of your visa and passport in your hostel locker, and on the off chance your passport does get stolen, having this will make your trip to the U.S. consulate to get a replacement go a lot smoother.
10. Don’t be afraid to get lost
I’m not saying run through the city ghetto at 1 AM, but sometimes exploring with just your brain and a map as your only resources will allow you to get away from the more touristy stuff. More often than not, if you happen to wander off the beaten path you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what you find.
Traveling to foreign places, learning from my own travel mistakes, experiencing different cultures, and interacting with people from other countries was one of the most eye-opening and rewarding things I did while studying abroad – and it’s probably one of the reasons I’m so pumped to go to China. Follow these ten tips and I can almost guarantee your weekend travels will be as gratifying as mine.
If you have any other questions or comments please feel free to leave them below and I’ll get back to you!