Planning the Perfect Side Trip Abroad

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My study abroad experience was such a rush. Yes, an adrenaline rush, but more importantly a constant scramble to discover the many corners of Europe. My group of pseudo-Nomads traveled through 25 cities in eight countries over the course of two and a half months. For all you non-math majors, that’s a new city every two days. After returning home, settling down became more foreign to me than Lederhosen, so I packed up and explored Australia a mere few months later.

If your study abroad program keeps you in one place for an entire semester, it’s important to venture outside your main city and take side trips on weekends and school breaks. “Once you get settled in to the familiarity of a city abroad, it's good to get out of your newfound comfort zone and explore various other cultures, countries and scenes,” said Hofstra University senior Michaela Papa, who studied in Florence.

1.) One Word: Hostels

Youth hostels are the most fun and economical places to stay for a weekend or break.  “Just because you're on a small budget, that doesn't mean you need to compromise cleanliness and niceties,” said Papa. “There are a ton of very nice, clean hostels for very reasonable prices.”

When researching hostels, look for words like “backpackers” and “youth” to ensure these places are cheap yet fun. If you are traveling in a large group, you’ll have the opportunity to gather your friends together in the same room of four to eight beds (I smell slumber party!), so you won’t have to bunk up with people you don’t know. Some well-known, inexpensive chains in Europe include Europe’s Famous Hostels and St. Christopher’s Inns. If you’re Down Under, try Gilligan's Backpackers Hotel and NOMADS Backpackers. The most important factor to remember when looking for a hostel is to look up reviews from people like you so you don’t have to learn that the bathrooms are co-ed the hard way.

2.) Got The Munchies?

Many hostels offer free breakfast, so be sure to take advantage of this. Grocery stores will also be your key to success in pricey cities. Stock up on boxes of granola bars and water bottles for snacking on the go so you’re not hungry while passing that expensive gelataria.

3.) Transportation

“Book flights and trains well in advance, or look for cheap rates first and then plan the trip around an inexpensive destination,” said Duke University junior Matt Block, who is currently abroad in Sydney. For getting from place to place, ditch the taxis and study up on the public transportation of your dream side trip city.

4. What To Do:

While it’s fun to explore a new city with no agenda, try to have at least one set activity planned before you arrive. “Consider taking a trip to learn a new hobby or skill,” said Block, who took scuba lessons in the Great Barrier Reef. “Scuba diving was perfect because I spent my money on a vacation and I’m going to return home Open Water certified.”

While planning your mini adventure, look for cheap group rates if you’re traveling with four or more. “Side trips can be the best part of studying abroad,” Block added. “There will likely be a ton of great opportunities for travel, and if you're willing to be flexible you can save a lot of money.”

Photo: Per Ola Wiberg ~ Powi at flickr.com

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