One of the biggest challenges when studying abroad, aside from things like making friends, being homesick, culture shock, etc., is trying to fit in all of the travel that you want to do. You only have so many weekends (roughly 16-ish depending on how long your semester is), and there is so much to see and do!
I came to Amsterdam with an organized list (I’m very Type-A if you haven’t figured that out by now) of what I wanted to see/do in Amsterdam as well as all the other cities/countries I wanted to visit. I had it broken down into cities I absolutely had to visit, cities that I wanted to see if there was time, and cities that I would use as backups.
Granted, I wanted to see literally every country in Europe, but that just isn’t possible in such a short amount of time, especially since you want to actually see plenty of sights in each country. While you don’t need an uber-organized list, at least make a rough outline of where you would like to go.
Luckily, I quickly found that one of the girls that came with me from Hofstra wanted to travel just as much as I did. After an impromptu dinner not long after we arrived, we ended up going home and planning our trip to Greece that night! This was the first of many dinners followed by late-night bookings, and we ended up doing 7 countries together.
Ok, enough about my experience (though I could go on forever). How do you actually book a trip when you are abroad? Luckily, it ‘s not that hard.
How to Plan a Weekend Abroad
- Plan out your cities. We made a rough list, and mapped out which weekends would work best with our class schedules (yes, you do still have to go to class).
- Research, research, research to find the best deal. We used SkyScanner, CheapoAir, Student Universe, and Google Flights to get cheap flights all over Europe. I much prefer flying over taking the train or a bus, as flying within Europe has become so cheap thanks to a huge number of low-cost airlines. We used RyanAir, EasyJet (my favorite!!), Transavia, KLM, and Vueling. But do your research on the airline itself- those tickets might be $50 because there are $150 worth of fees that you could end up paying. I had to pay $20 in Morocco because I didn’t bring my boarding pass already printed (thanks, RyanAir….). Many have strict luggage requirements as well, so try to bring nothing larger than a backpack.
- Find a place to stay. Hostels.com and Hostelworld.com are great- they give you every hostel available in your chosen city based on when you want to stay, as well as tons of reviews and details. This way, you won’t end up in some bed-bug-ridden hostel or sleeping next to 20 strangers; read the reviews/ratings and you will have no problem finding a place! If you’re not into hostels, opt for an AirBnb; we rented one in Paris and IT WAS AMAZING. Some cities even have super cheap hotels- we scored a hotel for our 5 days in Greece for less than the cost of most of our hostels. Your best option? Find friends who are also studying abroad, or even friends of friends. This is the cheapest and easiest option, especially since they can show you around the city!
- Set your sights. You have your plane ticket booked, your hostel ready to go, and your bag packed. Now, make a list of what you want to see in each city. There are definitely things that I regret missing (Sagrada Familia and Casa Batllo for starters) because of poor planning or not enough time. A trick Tori came up with is to visit a shop that sells post cards, pick a few photos that you love, and ask what/where it is. It’s also good to ask locals, like waiters or the people working at your hostel desk. This is perfect for cities that aren’t super touristy (i.e. we all know major sights in Paris, but what would you see/do in Oslo?).
- If you are doing multiple cities or countries…. this requires a little extra planning. There were several weekends where we hopped around; we did Norway and Sweden in one weekend and Lisbon, Seville, and Morocco in another. If you want to do more than just one trip in a weekend, you may need to do a little more legwork. We only went to Seville for half a day because it was the cheapest place to fly into Morocco, and it fit into our trip. For our Scandinavia weekend, we took an overnight bus from Oslo to Stockholm. If you have an extra day or two and a little wiggle room, try to see more than just one city in your allotted weekend, it is totally worth it!
- Get out of the city. While we all want long weekends in Europe’s greatest cities, it is worth escaping to smaller towns every now and then and seeing lesser-known sights. In Lisbon, we headed out to Cabo da Roca, the western-most point in all of Europe. In Ireland, we skipped Dublin and headed west to the Cliffs of Moher, one of my favorite parts of Europe. In Norway, we visited the Santa house in Drobak and loved the little town. I probably would have disliked several countries if we hadn’t opted to spend a little time out of the major cities.
- See your home country. I made a point to see other cities in the Netherlands and not just visit other countries. Luckily, it is small enough that most of my excursions were day trips. While you do want to hit the major European spots, make sure to spend time exploring your host city and country.
- Take your time. It is not a race to see who can visit the most sights. Stop, take pictures, eat in a place full of locals, spend more than 20 minutes in that museum. Some of my favorite trips were the least stressful- sitting in a park in Utrecht for hours, laying on the beach in Barcelona for a whole day, picnicking in the park in Paris. Make sure to take time and appreciate what you are seeing, because this opportunity won’t come again.
I hope this helps- planning trips was a huge source of stress for me before I left. But it is so worth it, and if you can see a new city or country every weekend, go for it!