How to Plan a Weekend Trip You’ll Enjoy

As someone who has never had the opportunity to travel Europe, I initially came to Spain hoping to travel to as many different countries as I possibly could. However, I have since realized that such hopes are not as easily obtainable. Firstly, travel abroad is not as easy and affordable as it originally seems, and it comes with many difficulties. Finding travel companions, transportation to major airports, and language barriers are all things one must keep in mind prior to traveling to another country outside of your host country. Luckily, my ISA program has taken me on a few excursions early on in my stay in Spain which helped me learn how to be a more skilled traveler. It has also made me appreciate seeing smaller cities that are closer to my host location. Spain has such a wide variety of topography and landscapes, from mountains to sprawling pastures to picturesque beaches. Pictured below is the beautiful Parque campo Grande in Valladolid, Spain. It is a perfect example of the sheer beauty that Spain holds.

Parque Campo Grande

Planning a Weekend Trip: Transportation

I was lucky enough to not have classes on Fridays which allowed me an extra day for preparing and traveling. My host program is in Salamanca, Spain, which is a smaller city in western Spain close to the Portuguese border. One thing to keep in mind if you are a student studying in a smaller city is that transportation to certain areas may not be as easy because you need to connect to a major city like Madrid. Salamanca has few train lines, so tickets book up fast! Train is my preferred mode of travel around Spain. In my experience it is the most comfortable, fast, and relatively affordable way to see much of Spain. However, because tickets book fast out of Salamanca, I often resort to taking a bus (which are long and rather uncomfortable) or ride share service called Blabla car. Blabla cars are my second favorite mode of transportation around Spain. The rides are extremely affordable (my trip to Zamora cost me 12 Euros round trip), comfortable, and a great way to interact with actual Spaniards. 

Planning a Weekend Trip: Things to Keep in Mind

When booking your lodging–whether it’s a hostel, Airbnb, or hotel–try to find a place close to your train station, bus station, etc. because it can become very stressful to try and find your lodging in a strange city you don’t know at 5 AM. My friends and I booked our stay in what we thought was Porto, Portugal, but was actually Gaia, Portugal which is across the Duero River. We ended up finding a taxi that knew the way, but it was expensive and a little scary at first when no one knew where our Airbnb was. Always do your research beforehand on how you will be able to arrive at your destination so as not to put yourself in a bad situation. Below is a view of the spectacular sunset on the Duero River in between Gaia and Porto.

Duero River Gaia

A Few More Thoughts

Another thing to always remember is to make sure you are bringing enough cash to get you through your trip. In Spain and Portugal I exclusively used cash, and my friends who only utilized cards had to withdraw money while we were in Portugal. If you want to buy anything from vendors or small shops it is almost a guarantee that it is cash only. 

Also, always look into what languages are spoken in whichever area you go to. I was shocked to find out that although the Portuguese can understand Spanish, they find it offensive when people speak Spanish to them. In both Lisbon and Porto I found that the people spoke perfect English and were able to communicate easily. However, I have heard from friends that communicating in other countries such as Italy and France are a bit tougher because English is not as widely spoken. I would say that you should always look into the social atmosphere of wherever you are traveling prior to your visit so that you are a little bit more prepared for anything that might come your way.

Lastly, try not to plan every minute! Trust me, as an over-thinker myself, I struggled at first to not have the entire weekend planned out by the minute. But I have found that just doing a simple Google search on local attractions in your destination is more than enough to inform your excursions for the day. In Porto my friends and I took a tuk-tuk car around the city to see the sites and get off of our feet. He showed us some of the best spots for going out, eating, and other tourist attractions. Being more spontaneous makes you appreciate the destination that much more!

Michelle Johnson is a student at University of Minnesota Morris and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is studying with ISA in Salamanca, Spain.

Author: michellejohnson02

College student from University of Minnesota studying abroad in Salamanca, Spain

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