Travel Zen: How to Achieve Fulfilling Travel During Your Semester Abroad

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An afternoon on the Seine in Paris

Traveling is the only thing you buy that makes you richer

The wise words of a Pinterest photo that I found completely inspiring before heading abroad. To me, that meant don’t worry about a budget, you will not regret the places you travel to! Therefore, my trusty sidekicks (otherwise known as Carly and Caitlin) and I put together an ideal travel list. This included: the Cannes Film Festival, Budapest, Amsterdam, Santorini, Croatia, Prague…and about a dozen other places we never traveled to.

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Luckily we were able to make it to Venice

Guess what? There are not enough weekends to travel everywhere and I actually had studying to do and classes to attend. So choices had to be made.

Not to mention, when I travel to a new place, I want to get to know that place to the best of my ability. When I am skipping around to three different cities every weekend just to check them off a “Been There” list, but not really experiencing them, what’s the point of even going?

My travel goals were:

  1. To see beautiful places without my budget suffering
  2. To be a spontaneous planner (I will explain this oxymoron later)
  3. To explore a location like a local would

Below is what I learned while trying to achieve these goals.

1. Get to Know Your Country of Residence

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Flashback to 2014 photo: I loved traveling throughout Spain while studying there! Sevilla was one of my favorite cities.

What: A European semester abroad is glamorous and the entire world seems at your finger tips. While both these points are true, it is so easy to try to pack too much into a semester and only scrape the surface of everything you see.

How:

  • Buy a train pass (see below) and take the train to nearby locations every week.
  • Go to the smallest villages and the largest cities and compare how different life is.
  • Travel more leisurely and start to feel like you are a local.
  • Go back to the places the loved and don’t feel like you are missing anything.

Why:

  • Traveling throughout your host country during the semester allows you to dive deeper into the history and culture of that country.
  • When else are you going to get a chance to live in a European country for several months and truly get to know it?
  • When you simply country hop all semester, you never get to do much more than skim the surface of that location.

2. Buy a Eurail Train Pass.

What:

  • A train pass that lets you travel between 1-15 countries for several days in a two month time period.
  • After you’ve purchased the pass, you only pay a reservation fee (4-20 euro usually) for every train trip that you book.
  • Tickets included in the pass vary from regional trains to the (fancy) high speed trains.

How: http://www.eurail.com/eurail-passes to purchase a pass.

Why: This train pass allows all of the spontaneity of a usual study abroad semester without the cost. No matter if you book a ticket a few weeks out or the day of your trip, you still only pay the reservation fee. It allows a lot more flexibility and turned me into a “spontaneous planner”. Thanks to not having to pay for expensive last minute tickets, I could go anywhere!

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Travel by train also means more room for free luggage…perfect for shopping days in Colmar, France

Tip: This is best if you plan on traveling extensively in your country of residence for the semester. If you plan on going farther distances over the weekend, the travel days get too long and it wouldn’t be worth it to miss a valuable exploring day.

3. Do Your Research

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Definitely real gladiators outside the Colosseum in Rome 

What: This doesn’t need much explaining. When you know a place better prior to your arrival, it suddenly becomes the most interesting place in the world.

How:

  • Read some articles, even if they are just off of Wikipedia about the history of the city
  • Pick up an extensive European travel book before you leave. (I highly recommend Rick Steves, he helps you to travel like a local)
  • Look up unique things to do in each location.
    • For tours: https://www.viator.com/
    • For lodging and experiences: https://www.airbnb.com/
    • For eating suggestions: https://www.tripadvisor.com/
  • Ask locals their favorite things to do! Where to eat, where to shop, about the nightlife, etc.

Why: I promise, a knowledgeable traveler is the best kind and research–even just a little–can lead to a much more memorable trip.

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