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How to "be a Traveler, not a Tourist"

 Pebble beaches and the crystal clear waters of the
Adriatic Sea on the island of Hvar, Croatia

Half the fun of studying abroad is being able to hop on a plane, train, or bus and venture from your host city to pretty much anywhere in the world.  And since Prague is so centrally located, it's been pretty easy (and cheap) for my friends and I to book weekend excursions to any destination in Europe.

It took me about a week to acclimate to living in Prague, and about two weeks before we really got the urge to travel outside the Czech Republic's borders for the first time.  As of now, I've taken trains fromm Prague to Vienna and Berlin.  This weekend I felt confident enough to fly solo to the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia with the intention of acting like a traveler, and not a tourist.

Trust me--it's easier said than done, and I'm certainly no expert on figuring out public transport in a different country.  But now that I've had a few weekends of experience and a couple mishaps between all the buses, metros, ferries, and flights under my belt, here's a few tips that I've picked up on how to travel outside your host city while studying abroad:

 Walking along the river to our hostel in Berlin

1. Pack light.  At least for me, I've found that it's a lot easier to shove my clothes and a pair of shoes in a backpack rather than a suitcase for a couple reasons.  For one, I hate towing around a heavy suitcase when I'm trying to navigate around a new place.  I've also found that out of all the clothes I pack, I usually only end up wearing about half of them.  Plus, avoiding baggage claim when I step off a plane is just an added bonus.

2. Be social.  As far as accommodations go, some people might choose a hotel or an apartment over a youth hostel, but I've found that the hostel environment is more conducive to meeting other people my age traveling about.  You never know who you'll run into when making friends with people staying in your hostel, and making plans to go to museums or other attractions is always better when you have a buddy or two.

 Always prepared with a map at the ready

3. Do your research.
 Before I leave for a trip, I always make sure that I have directions from the airport or bus station to my hostel saved on my phone.  This saves me the trouble of trying to find free wifi in order to get directions once I've reached my destination.  I'll also do a little research on the currency exchange rate, traditional foods to try, and attractions to visit beforehand so I have an idea of where I want to visit.
 Fresh fruit and vegetables at a market in Vienna, Austria

4. Save where you can.  The "vacation" mentality is all too real when I visit someplace on the weekend, and the urge to splurge on exotic dishes and drinks is ever present in new locations.  To counter this, I've taken advantage of local markets if I know that my hostel has a kitchen.  It's a lot cheaper to throw a dish together than it is to pay for a meal at a restaurant.  By cutting costs when I can, I'm able to budget a little better when I want to pay for a walking tour or something like that.

5.  Go with the flow.  Plans do change, so when you show up to the bus station and realize you accidentally booked your return bus for the next day, stay cool.  It happens, and it's happened to me.  The best way to travel is by being flexible to avoid getting hung up on the things that will inevitably go wrong.  It's all a part of the experience, and it always makes for a good story.

And after it's been said and done, nothing beats the feeling of returning back to Prague after a weekend away.

 returning to Prague just in time to catch the sunset over the castle
Chelsea Brady is the Fall 2014 CEA MOJO in Prague, Czech Republic. She is currently a junior at the University of San Diego.

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