Weekends. I lived for this word during my 2016 summer internship in London because they were my gateway to exploring Europe. The unlimited opportunities of inexpensive European travel was my favorite part of studying abroad. Over the ten weeks, I managed to plan trips to 7 different countries!
I started the summer with almost no experience internationally or with travel planning. I had limited cell service to America, so I quickly learned to successfully plan short trips and explore foreign countries independently. However, it would’ve been easier knowing a few things beforehand, so I compiled some important tips about navigating major cities in Europe.
Start Planning Right Away
This may sound kind of obvious, but even cheap European airlines can get pricey the closer you get to departure. When first arriving at the internship, your head will be in a million different places but do your best to nail down travel dates as soon as possible.
I could only travel on weekends, but week day flights are by far the least expensive. I recommend checking out cheapflights.com to compare information from all the low cost airlines available at the closest airport. Also consider taking a train (such as the Eurostar) which is cheaper and less boarding hassle. There were a few trips where my roommate and I flew to a destination, took a train to a neighboring country, and flew home from there. Anything goes, so be creative to save money and time!
Booking a Hostel
Despite what you may have heard, hostels really arn’t as sketchy as the movies make them out to be. They are usually clean and homey with friendly travelers. I was once offered homemade Mexican food by a lady cooking for her family (most hostels have a public kitchen and lounge space). Hostels are a unique opportunity during inexpensive travel to meet great people from all over the world.
The key to hostel success is researching online and reading customer reviews. Check not only for comfort, but convenient location. Consider the attractions you want to see while factoring in travel time to and from the hostel. Don’t always settle for the first find, but compare different prices to get the best deal.
Public transportation saved my life when navigating across big cities. It’s very expensive to rent a car and many locals don’t even own one. Thankfully, Europe has an established a reliable network of underground trains, overground trams and buses. Day passes, as well as single tickets, are cheap and help cover lots of ground in little time. Get directions from grid maps at the stations and clearly market street signs. I suggest carrying maps of both tourist sights and the underground system. It gets a little tricky when the native language isn’t English, but I’ve always found an English speaker who is willing to offer assistance.
If you’re willing to pay a little extra for more relaxed travel, there are great bus tours available in any well known city or coach trips to outlying areas and town. They cover tourist highlights with opportunities to get on and off at your leisure (book with Hop-on Hop-off Bus tours). I went on a beautiful guided tour from Edinburgh to see the lochs (lakes) of Scotland. Make sure to read customer reviews beforehand to ensure satisfaction.
If you have no money to spare, your own two feet work just fine! (Plus work off all the incredible food you’ll sample!) Walking is how most Europeans get around big cities anyways. There were several nights I went to bed with sore feet, but it was worth it because of everything I got to see! If you ever get lost, an Uber will usually never be more then a few minutes away.
During my trip, I quickly realized that I should’ve paid more attention in foreign language class in high school. It’s true that going to a non-English speaking country is a very different experience, but there’s no need to stress! Thankfully, English is the business world’s language so most people speak it to some extent, regardless of their native language. Employees at hostels and tourists attractions will speak English and most signs have an English alternative.
I also had a lot of success in just asking others for help! While you may get a few bad eggs, most people are obliging and happy to explain a word or point out a direction. As you spend more time in a country, you will start recognizing certain words and gain comfort.
I highly recommend planning the specific outfits that you are going to wear before leaving. Roll your clothes into a backpack instead of wasting space with a suitcase. Backpacks are not only much easier to carry, but you avoid checking a bag at the airport which will save lots of time when flying.
Do Your Homework!
I like having a plan when visiting a new country, especially with time constraints. **Spontaneous travelers please scroll to the next point** If your budget isn’t too tight, there are always great organized tours (via bus, bike, or on foot) to get a look around or travel long distances. If you prefer the road less taken, there are plenty of blogs about those “hidden gems” of travel. I would also look up “must-eat” foods or restaurants, recommended means of transportation, and top sights you would want to see. There are blogs, articles, and resources for just about anything to organize your trip!
Experience the Culture
No matter where you visit, it will most likely be completely different from America. I LOVED this part of traveling, and I did my best to get a taste of the new culture. You will discover that a country’s culture in what creates unity, yet still celebrates the uniqueness of a certain place.
- First, eat the famous foods! Countries want to show off and religiously guard their signature dishes. Everyone has to eat, so food is an opportunity to bring people together. Cuisine says a lot about a culture, so try a little bit of everything.
- Second, check out the music scene. Like food, music speaks to everyone, but each country has its own unique style and instruments. My most vivid memory of Berlin culture was a night spent listening to beautiful piano and violin duet playing amidst locals on a grassy lawn.
- Third, find a spot to watch the sunset with a great view of a city skyline. Everyone loves a beautiful sunset and it gives the chance to look out over what you spent the day exploring. Whether it involves climbing a wall or walking to a dock, this experience slows time and allows the opportunity for reflection and appreciation.
Wow. Okay so that was kind of an overload, but these tips will help! I know traveling can be tiring, but this is a ONCE IN A LIFETIME experience! Walk until you drop and sleep when you are back in the Unites States. I promise you won’t regret it.
The world awaits…discover it.