The fall and spring semesters are structured differently in Spain, and one of the most notable distinctions is the 10-day break for Semana Santa (Holy Week) during the spring. This means that IES Abroad offers fewer group excursions than during the fall, and that students have a space of time when they can travel independently just about anywhere they’d want to go.
Independent travel is something with which many students don’t have much experience, so it can be intimidating to plan an entire vacation. However, it’s an exciting opportunity to visit places you wouldn’t have time to go just for a weekend, at your own pace and with friends. The far-away destinations of Dublin, Brussels, Amsterdam, and Bruges were most popular with our program this semester, but I decided to explore Andalucía, a region of Spain that is famous for its celebrations during Holy Week (and its warm weather!). While it wasn’t perfect, I feel the trip went well. Here’s what I learned in the process and what I recommend future spring semester students keep in mind when making their travel plans.
Plan your trip well in advance. Semana Santa is the busiest travel time of year here in Spain as Spaniards travel to visit family and students are on vacation all over the world. No matter where you decide to go, planning early will help you save on transportation costs. And in the case of Spain, attractions like the Alhambra in Granada sell out for timed visits weeks in advance of this popular travel week.
Think about all the places you’d like to go, and pick your favorites. See how feasible it is to get from each of them to the others, and create a sensible route to and from Salamanca. Look up what there is to do in each place you’d like to visit and think about how much time you would need to do all of it. If you’re on a budget, look up major attraction entrance fees so you can decide how often you might want to cook in a hostel kitchen rather than eating in restaurants.
3. Choose travel companions wisely.
You’ll be with these people for a very long stretch of time, and best friends do not always make the best of travel companions. Find people who enjoy the same activities and foods as you do and your trip will run much more smoothly. Think about group size as well: too big, and you’re always waiting for a table for your group at a restaurant (if you ever manage to find one that will seat you) or for a seemingly endless line of people to use the shower before the day’s activities can begin. Too small, and there will be more conflicts as everything seems concentrated. I traveled with one other person during this period and things went fairly well. We congratulated ourselves (jokingly of course) on not having killed each other on the final stretch of our journey back to Salamanca and agreed that if you can deal with the stress of confronting new cultures, spending long stretches of time on buses and trains, and navigating through unfamiliar cities with just one other person for ten days without arguing, you really should marry that person immediately. While my travel companion and I aren’t announcing our engagement, we’re still friends in spite of the occasional bickering that befell us at times, such as when we were wandering lost in the Andalusian heat up miles of steep narrow streets with all of our belongings on our backs after not having eaten all day, and we had a lot of great times on our trip. Not bad!
4. Pack carefully.
Just like when you’re planning what to bring for your semester abroad, think about all the situations you’ll find yourself in, how you can use layering or other tricks to make more outfits out of fewer items, and how much you’re likely to buy while you’re gone. I brought my big hiking pack half-full and had plenty of space for books, souvenirs, and to stuff my daypack inside. Also, don’t pack right before you leave. These things are better done with a clear head, and stress causes things like left-behind passports
5.Check, double-check, triple-check.
Read those emailed itineraries, receipts, and tickets carefully. Get directions ahead of time from airports and bus stations to hostels, and from hostels to major landmarks. Create one document with addresses and phone numbers of each place you’ll be staying and departure times for every form of transportation you take. Print a copy and put one in Dropbox (you can access it from a smartphone without an internet connection if you “favorite” it beforehand). Before you leave any place, make sure all of your important belongings are where you need them to be. In a hurry, I left a library book in an underbed locker in a hostel in Granada. Fortunately I was still in the city (and it was still in the hostel) when I realized my mistake. Things don’t always go so favorably, and that (harmless) incident made me more cautious.
6. Stay positive.
It will probably rain, things are quite often not what you expect, and if you’re not coming to the realization that you’ve been traveling with your soulmate (see #3, above) you’ll likely be tired and grumpy by day four or five. Vacation is a lot like life as a whole: there’s no perfect way to do it, things will go wrong, and the only thing left to do is make the best of it. Think about what kind of memories you’ll want to have of the trip when you look back on it later. There are lots of things you can’t control, but your attitude is not one of them, and it will impact the quality of your trip
7.Expect the unexpected, and keep an open mind.
You’ll make the most of any trip this way. Step outside of your comfort zone, try new things, and have a great time! Do the things you couldn’t do at home like visiting ancient ruins, eating unfamiliar foods, and talking to fellow travelers in hostels.
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<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">I am a junior at Bowdoin College, where I am majoring in Spanish and minoring in Art History and Teaching. I'm outgoing and inquisitive, and getting to know other people is how I make sense of this mixed-up and beautiful world. My favorite hobbies are baking bread, playing ukulele, and camping. I love exploring new places and am looking forward to getting to know Salamanca as well as the fun and challenges I'll encounter in my travels around Europe.</span></p>