Tales from abroad: Europe

Robert Wiegmann jumping in front of Saint Peter’s Basillica. (credit: Courtesy of Robert Wiegmann and Kelly Phouyaphone) Robert Wiegmann jumping in front of Saint Peter’s Basillica. (credit: Courtesy of Robert Wiegmann and Kelly Phouyaphone)

Traveling in a foreign country is always a challenge, especially while studying abroad. Get some quick tips from this informal travel guide put together by two students who studied abroad at Imperial College London and had the opportunity to travel across Europe during their time there.

The informal guide to traveling abroad while studying abroad

Okay. You’re a student. You want to see a lot of places. You don’t have money. But don’t let that stop you — traveling in Europe can be super-cheap and easy. We’ll admit that it won’t be the most glamorous experience (“How many times have I worn this shirt? Only five? Okay, good to go.”), but we think it is the best way for students to travel.

Step 1: What to pack?

Versatile clothes for any weather (Learn to layer)
Tennis shoes, sandals, or flats (No heels)
Travel guide (a helpful reference; check out your local library for a free one)
Toiletries (Shampoo can double as body wash)
Backpack or tote bag (Buy convertible luggage)
Lock(s) (for luggage and locker)
Camera (DSLR is nice, but sometimes a pain to take care of, so slip a cheap point-and-shoot in your pocket and try not to live out your memories behind the lens)

Step 2: Planning

Go everywhere you possibly can! Really. Generally, allow at least four days in the really big cities. Sometimes you can stay for weeks and still feel like you missed things. Otherwise two to three days for smaller cities could do them plenty of justice.

Also try to plan around local holidays or festivals. This can either be really amazing — you get to see cool once-in-a-lifetime events — or it can suck — you’re surrounded by tourists in fanny packs, and everything will get more expensive.

Step 3: Getting there

So there’s this thing called EuroPass that allows you to travel all over Europe with just one card. There are some stipulations: You can only use it for a certain number of days in a short period. It’ll get you to places fast and it gives you freedom to go anywhere.

RyanAir, Aer Lingus, and EasyJet are the most popular “value” airlines, meaning super-cheap flights (some of ours were free plus $10 to $20 for taxes), but of course there are hidden costs. Most of these flights land in airports an hour or so away from the city, so prepare to arrange and pay for bus transportation. Try Terravision, EasyBus, or local bus services. Generally, the airport websites will have information to help you. Baggage weight and size is heavily restricted, especially with RyanAir, so follow the rules and don’t cheat the system. Keep in mind that these extra costs can add up, so even if your flight is cheap it might be worth the extra money to fly directly into the city.

Step 4: Finding a place to stay

Hostels are the way to go when on a budget (which you probably are). Save your money for fun stuff. We’re used to cramped dorms anyways — hostels are just like them.

Try to book a hostel at least a week in advance. Some people like the thrill of finding a hostel once they arrive; however, you’re likely to pay a lot more or end up in a crap-hole.

Good places to start for hostels: Hostelworld.com, Hostels.com, and Hostelbookers.com, all of which give great recommendations and reviews.

What constitutes a good hostel?

Location: The hostel should be located very near to public transportation (if available), or within walking distance to the things you want to see.
Free breakfast: The majority of hostels offer free breakfast, mostly of the “toast, jam, and cereal” type. While this might not seem like much, that free sustenance starts a long day of adventuring off on the right foot.
Lockers: Hopefully you didn’t pack too many valuables, but it’s nice to know that you’ll still have clothes when you come back.
Linen: Some super-stingy hostels require you to bring your own linen, so beware; others might ask you to rent. Usually they’re included.

Generally, hostels range from 11 to 20 euros ($15 to $28) a night, depending on the city and the day. You’ll pay extra for weekends or for staying in very touristy cities.

Step 5: Explore!

Everyone explores differently, but we’d like to suggest some tips:

Wander: Guidebooks are great, but nothing beats the feeling of stumbling onto treasure when you least expect it. Sure, you’ll get lost, but it is a great way to get to know the city.
Food: Look for open markets because they’re amazing, (La Boquería in Barcelona, Borough Market in London, rue Mouffetard in Paris) and look for dinner specials. Don’t hesitate to ask your hostel for recommendations.
The highest point in the city: Find it! You’ll get great views, even better pictures, and the best memories.