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Ready, Set, Go!! The Travel Advice I wish I’d had

  1. Planes: If you need a cheap, no hassle flight for a weekend trip, Ryan Air is the way to go. (Tip: check their website every couple of days as they are always putting up new promotions.)
  3. Buses: Please. Dear Lord. Never. EVER. Book. An. Overnight. Bus. A 10pm to 5am bus from Aix to Barcelona, as tempting is it may be, is not a good idea. I can promise that you won’t get a minute of sleep with all the roundabouts (especially if your bus driver has a thing for late 90’s Britney Spears). And nothing good happens in Barcelona at 5 am, so be prepared to hang out in train station’s McDonald’s until sunrise. Other than that, though, buses are fantastic! ;)
 Montagne Sainte Victoire

A lot of people in my program aim to spend as little money as possible on finding a place to stay. And it is possible to find cheap hostels, but remember that where you stay has a very large effect on the experience. Find a hostel/hotel/couch where you feel safe, comfortable, and clean. That 10 euro hostel on the outskirts of Brussels may seem like a great idea now, but when you find there’s only a very thin wall between your bunk and the hostel’s “club” and you wake up to drunk Belgians screaming “WHAT DOES THE FOX SAY??” at 4 am, you won’t be a happy camper.
  1. Where to start: HostelBookersHostelWorld, and Airbnb.
  3. What to look for: good reviews in multiple languages, safe and central location near metro/tram/bus stop. If you’ll be arriving at night, keep in mind the distance from the airport or train/bus station where you arrive and how you will get there (whether there are buses running, if you should book a taxi, where to find the metro stop, etc.).
  5. Pack right: A padlock always comes in handy when storing your stuff during the day at hostels or hotels, and a bike lock will do the trick if they don’t have lockers. To be safe, I always lock my backpack to my bed while I sleep. And finally, after you’ve finished packing, force yourself to remove three things that you probably didn’t need–time to prioritize.

 Van Gogh Hostel, Brussels, Belgium

Come prepared:
  1. Get a map: before you leave, download an offline map (no wifi or cell data needed!) from CityMaps2Go onto your smartphone. Large cities also tend to have tourist apps that work without wifi.
  3. Plan it out: there’s really nothing worse than arriving in a city and realizing you have absolutely no idea what to do there. Make a list of places you want to see before you leave using TripAdvisorTripIt, and by checking out tourist websites.
  5. Budget: Seriously. Make a budget and stick to it. Unless we’re talking about the stroopwaffel in Amsterdam or gelato in Italy. In that case, forget about your budget.
  7. Learn the language: The five most important words in any language as a traveler are hello and goodbye, please and thank you, sorry, help, excuse-me, and how much. When I was in Barcelona, all I wanted to be able to do was ask how much a cup of coffee was. Pointing only gets you so far.
  9. Just in case: 
    1. Save all of your information online so that if anything happens, it’s easily accessible from anywhere in the world. Googledocs works the best—take screenshots of all of your online receipts and PDF copies of tickets, hostel reservations, and reference numbers just in case. Save a photocopy of your passport and visa just in case. Take precautions with your tickets. Print two copies of each of your tickets and arrange them in order. Put one set in your wallet, and the other in a safe, difficult-to-reach pocket in your carry-on bag.
    3. Store emergency phone numbers: a taxi company, your hotel (along with the address, especially if you don’t speak the language), police, and the numbers of the people you’re traveling with.
    5. Check the voltage of the country you’re going to. And keep in mind that many hostels and hotels have extra chargers from previous guests who left them behind, and also often have computers with USB chargers.
 Les Baux de Provence, France
Once you’re there:
Just one last piece of advice. If you get the chance, take just a moment to be completely alone in the city you’re visiting. Two weekends ago I was staying in St. Julien’s Bay, Malta. It was Sunday morning and I woke up early with the sun rise. I went for a walk along the pier, past the colorful boats and faded gasoline-jug buoys. The water was sparkling and clear, and for just a moment I could feel the distance between me and home, how far away I was and how far I’d come. Wherever you go, whoever you go with, get away for just a moment so that it’s just you and the city, with nothing in between.

Happy Travels!

 St. Julien’s Bay, Malta

Lindsay Bayne is the Spring 2014 CEA MOJO in Aix-en-Provence, France. She is a junior at the University of Pittsburgh.

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