After months of fantasizing over pictures of the luscious gardens of Versailles, awe-inspiring castles of Germany, and Spanish tapas you can already taste, you set foot in Europe ready to turn these daydreams into reality. You tell yourself that traveling through Europe will be inexpensive and pack your bag for a weekend getaway -- only to realize that the cheapest option will require a six-hour bus ride and you won’t have enough time.
Traveling abroad is not as easy one might think. Behind the beautiful pictures on social media are hours of planning, crying over missed trains, and unforgettable memories that you will cherish forever.
Here are some travel tips to help you through the process:
Plan, plan, plan (but be open to adventure)!
One of the most important components of travel is planning ahead. Grab your agenda and laptop, and begin to prioritize the locations you want to visit and the weekends you have available. You usually don’t have as much time as you think, especially if you're only abroad for the semester. As you plan, create a budget so you can track your expenses and be able to cut costs on your next trip.
Once you've chosen the places you want to visit, look for transportation. Some of the best websites for transportation and accommodation: GoEuro, Hopper, and Rome2rio. If you plan with anticipation, you will save money; buying tickets at the last minute will limit your options and be more expensive.
If you travel by plane, make sure to look up the airline regulations. Many airlines only allow you to bring a small personal item, but may check in a carry-on for free; others might charge you extra. Check to see the limit for liquids and put them in a clear plastic bag. If you travel with liquid medication, make sure you have the prescription with you; otherwise you might be forced to throw away the only sweet relief for your cough.
Regardless of the mode of transportation, always take care of your belongings. Double-check to make sure you don’t leave anything behind or you might end up crying because you left your precious camera on the bus. Also, take into consideration how long it takes to get to the station or airport, and factor in traffic or emergencies that might arise so you don’t accidentally miss your ride and be forced to pay for another ticket.
At the same time you search for transportation, look for accommodation through Airbnb, hotels, or hostels. While researching your accommodations, consider a place that's close to the city center with access to public transportation, and one that's close to the bus station or airport you will be arriving at. Research the best option for public transportation, such as tourist cards that allow you to transfer through tramways, metros, and buses.
Once you have everything ready, read blogs, search online for local attractions, or ask friends and family for recommendations. If you don’t speak the language of the place you’re visiting, take some time to learn a few phrases. Search for the most popular tourist attractions, but also find the hidden gems of the city. The best way to find these lesser-known places is by talking to your Airbnb host, people at your hostel, or locals once you’re there! Don’t forget to find things that interest you in particular. Are you a coffee person? Look for the best coffee shop in town. Are you a bibliophile? Look for the coolest bookstore or library.
Explore and have fun, but don’t rush!
Most importantly, don’t force yourself to stick to an itinerary. It is good to have a rough idea of the places you want to visit, but don’t be afraid to walk around, talk to people, and see what you can find! You might accidentally bump into a local protest or gallery. Although you want to have as much time to see everything, don’t feel guilty if you sleep in a little or take some time to relax; it’s all part of the experience.
Andrea Vazquez is the Fall 2018 CEA MOJO Blogger in Aix-en-Provence, France, and is currently studying at Soka University of America.