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5 EuroTrip Tips

 Belgium is magical


I took a break from my magnificent little study abroad city of Aix-en-Provence, France to experience what a neighboring country had to offer. At the end of October, European students are allotted a week-long vacation and I spent my week in Belgium! The whole trip was a cultural experience of fries, waffles, chocolate, and beer, in the best way possible. Here are some tips for planning your own excursion.

1)      Travel Partner(s)

The most important step in planning a trip for your break is choosing the right person or people to share this wonderful experience with. Your traveling partner must be someone you are comfortable with and also someone with whom you are on the same page. Even if your desired destination is the same, make sure you both want to do the same things once there. If you want to try every beer and brewery tour in Belgium and your traveling partner prefers juice and is only interested in exploring every cathedral, that’s going to cause some bumps in your trip. Maybe you have a best friend in your program but you’re prone to get frustrated when little things go wrong? I can assure you that this trip will not go perfectly and there will be a lot of frustration from both parties. Make sure a friendship is strong enough to withstand that and keep your vacation from being a puddle of awkwardness.

 your travel partners should keep you smiling, even if they insist on photo-bombing your every attempt at artsy photography

2)      Destination

There are so many amazing places surrounding France almost everyone I talked to was going somewhere different. I chose Belgium because I’d never really heard a lot about it and it was close to Germany without being as expensive as Germany. A friend of mine had family who used to live in Brussels and she told me all about what an amazing, culturally diverse city it was. This is your chance to go somewhere you never would have gone before! Take your time deciding where it is you want to go. I stayed in Brussels and took day trips to other cities within Belgium, such as Bruges and Ghent. Other friends I’ve talked to took multi-legged journeys from country to country. If you’re into constant movement and seeing as much of the continent as possible, this might be a better option for you.

 

3)      Accommodations

Staying at hotels can be super pricy. On a college budget, they probably aren’t worth it. Youth hostels are the quintessential EuroTrip option. Tips for Hostels: Buy a lock and keep your things locked away when you go out traveling for the day, check for bedbugs before you sleep in your bed (underneath the mattress), make sure you have some extra money budgeted away because hostels are notorious for charging fees for basic necessities like towels, etc. Another option is couchsurfing. Couchsurfing is a website wherein you can create a profile and ask to stay on a registered host’s couch for the duration of your stay. This option is completely free and you get out of it what you make. Most people who host couchsurfers want to build relationships with people all over the world. Talk to your host, let them show you the city and tell you all the best things to do. That being said if you get the wrong host it could be a slightly uncomfortable stay. The option I went with for Brussels was Airbnb.com. Airbnb is another web service, similar to couchsurfing, where people list extra spaces in their apartment (be it a spare room, a bit of floor space, or an entire apartment) for a fee often cheaper than the weekend rates for hostels. We rented a room with a nice woman living outside of Brussels. Be careful of where your hostel, hotel, or airbnb is located because you’ll be responsible for getting from that location to the city centre and it can be very complicated if you’re far enough away from public transport. Also, keep safety in mind when selecting any of these acommodations.

 You never know what hidden gem your can find from talking to your host, or even someone in your hostel room
 

4)      Budgeting

It’s easy to get carried away when on a EuroTrip vacation. I recommend making a rough budget for each day of your trip including food, activities, and souvenirs/shopping/necessities. However, you never know what’s going to happen and what opportunities will arise. If your budget is strict and you go over one day, just skip the ice cream after dinner and don’t buy the Mannekin Pis doll even though you know your dad will just love it (he probably won’t). Make tiny modifications that keep you within budget and don’t leave you stressing for your whole trip.

 Photographing canals in Bruges all day: zero euros


5)      Transpo

In terms of the initial destination and any possible cross country travel that will be happening throughout your trip, I recommend the Irish airline Ryanair; their rates are much lower than any other airline I’ve encountered. Ryanair has such low rates by flying into the secondary airports in most major European (and some North African) cities. Make sure you know how to get from this airport to wherever you are staying for this leg of your trip. Another thing to keep in mind is that Ryanair makes a lot of its money by charging fees when their very specific standards are not met. Make sure you check in online before heading to the airport, make sure your carry-on luggage meets the size requirements that they listed on their website, and don’t forget to print out your boarding pass!

Once you’re at your destination, get to know the public transport system. The most important is knowing how to get to where you are staying. Then figure out how to get to major train stations in case you’re planning on some in-country travel. Brussels had a metro, tramway, and a major bus line and we became pros of all three by the end of our stay there. That being said we still had to splurge for a taxi one night when we stayed out past the time that the buses stopped running. Be careful! Check when the last bus to your hostel is and don’t miss it!

 We were so close to being stuck in Ghent...which wouldn't have been the worst thing in the world.

Most importantly: stay safe, have fun, and know that however much you plan your trip, it’s not going to be perfect. Just go with the flow and see where the city takes you!

Bridget Stemmler is the Fall 2014 CEA MOJO in Aix-en-Provence, France. She is currently a sophomore at Northeastern University.


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