Perhaps the biggest geographical difference between the countries of Europe and the United States is the proximity of nearby countries. Within the time it takes to travel from the east coast of the U.S. to the west, one can travel between any two countries in Europe. If we vacation from state-to-state, Europeans are able to travel country-to-country in the same amount of time.
As a student studying abroad, I have six weeks in Europe and six weeks to explore the many countries around me. Hungary, where I am staying, is beautiful, but it would be foolish not to seize the opportunity to see the surrounding countries while I have free time over the weekends.
When I first sat down to look at flights, trains and buses, I was absolutely clueless. To say I was overwhelmed is an understatement. In the U.S, I can easily book a flight to where I need to go and then arrange a ride from the airport, but in Europe, it isn’t so simple. In Europe you need to remember no one is waiting for you on the other end. You need to recognize that it usually takes two or three means of transportation to get one place and plan accordingly. Most importantly, you need to know you are in a foreign land with a foreign language, surrounded by foreign people.
Many frustrations, coffees and torn out notebook pages later, I finally established travel plans. For those of you planning on traveling to Europe in the future, I am here to share several ways to save time and money and make the most out of your stay in Europe.
7 Tips for Planning a Weekend Trip Abroad:
1. Make a List
Before you even open up your computer, grab a blank piece of paper and make a list of all the destinations you would be interested in visiting. Don’t hold back during this step; if you have ever dreamed of going somewhere, put it down. Once you have listed any and all places, then you can start eliminating the far-fetched ones. Is it unsafe? Have you been there before? Is it unreasonable within the time frame you have? If you answered “yes” to any of the questions above, consider crossing these places off your list.
2. Search Around
There are so many websites such as SkyScanner, Kayak and Expedia that take the hard work out of finding flights. Many of them, like SkyScanner, even offer a “fly anywhere” option that will give you the cheapest flights out of your city to anywhere in the world. For those looking to plan their trip based on price, this is an awesome feature to find inexpensive flights. Don’t be afraid to look at several destinations, times, dates and even airports to find the best possible option for your travels. Document all potential flights with times and tracking numbers so you can return back later and find them.
3. Research Routes
As mentioned earlier, getting from point A to point B is not always simple. There are often buses, trains and cars that need to be arranged in order to get where you are going. Fortunately, sites such as Rome2Rio make this a lot easier. Here, you are able enter your starting point and final destination and the website will do the rest. Once you submit your travel plans, a comprehensive list of ways to get to “point B” will come up and all you have to do is book the route that best meets your needs and schedule.
4. Find a home-away-from-home
While traveling, some of my favorite places to stay have been found through AirBnB. Not only are these housing options inexpensive, they also immerse you into the true culture of the city, rather than the artificial atmosphere of a hotel. Researching AirBnBs is a quick and simple process because you can find homes of any size both in and around your destination. The reviews are extremely helpful and due to their comprehensive background checks, all of the homes are kept to the safest standards possible.
5. Keep track as you go
Oftentimes, we overestimate our ability to remember small details, and for this reason, we often lose a lot of the information we think we’ll be able to recall. The only way to prevent this is to document your research as you go. Whether it is a good deal on a flight, a helpful website or just something you found to do in the city — write it down! This way, when you are ready to book your travel, you will have all you need in one place.
6. Pay Ahead
Traveling across Europe can be extremely inexpensive if you plan ahead. Flights are cheap, but their baggage allowances are strict. Train tickets are not pricey, but the prices will rise if you wait until the day of to purchase them. Be smart and prepare in advance to avoid extra, unnecessary fees. If you plan on bringing a bag larger than a carry on, make sure you pay for it online beforehand. If you know when you want to travel and where, buy the ticket a couple days before. Making small adjustments like this can end up saving you hundreds of dollars in the long run, and that means more money to spend on gelato and waffles.
7. Plan to Play, Schedule to See
Chances are, if you are traveling for the weekend, your time in the city will be limited to about 48 hours. In order to make the most of this time, figure out what you want to do and see ahead of time. Search around for other people’s bucket lists and the “Things to Do Lists” that are all across the Internet. Ask a friend or family member who has traveled to your destination before what they recommend. Some of the most popular activities need to be booked ahead of time and you do not want to miss out. Research, make your own weekend bucket list and start planning your days out ahead of time.
Weekend travel is great because it gives you a chance to see a new city, without the pressure of packing up and completely adapting to a new culture. In Europe, weekend travel rises to another level and, rather than crossing state lines, you cross country borders. Open up your passport, not your bank account and follow these tips for successful weekend travel.