One of the many advantages of studying abroad in Europe is how incredibly easy it is to travel to all the countries that inhabited your childhood fantasies of elegance and grandeur. It’s less than 40 euros to get a train to Paris (with proper planning) from Berlin and a flight to Amsterdam is under two hours. There are a few excuses not to travel while you’re abroad. I just spent spring break in Italy with a friend and enjoyed every second of it (right up to when my wallet got stolen). Obviously, I made some mistakes and learned some important lessons while traveling. I thought I might compile a quick list for you so that you might have the chance to avoid the mistakes I made and enjoy the same successes.
Book everything as far in advance as you can
It’s always better to plan ahead, that’s probably common knowledge but this is even more important when it comes to traveling. I didn’t book my flight until a week before I left and the inflated prices that came with last-minute booking definitely limited my trip. It limited which countries I could travel to, for how long, what kind of hostels I could stay at, and how much I was willing to spend on the course of my trip. There was a hundred euro difference in plane ticket prices if I’d booked even a week earlier. The earlier you book, the more funds you have to enjoy the place you’re at. Therefore, planning ahead is key.
Research the place you’re going
Just as I said above, planning ahead is key. I went to Venice with little to no knowledge of the city itself other than what had been indicated to me by the media over the years. And while I think there is an important space in travel for allowing yourself flexibility, in great historical cities like the ones that populate Europe, it’s hard not to feel that you’re missing out if you don’t know anything about the history of the city you’re visiting. You can be staring at one of the most important spaces in human history and if you don’t have any idea of what you’re looking at, you’ll have no real appreciation for what you’re looking at. Even if you’re not a history buff, looking up the place you’re visiting could inform you about some cool modern things that are going on that you’d never know about otherwise.
Don’t carry all your valuables with you
This point is super important! It may be tempting to keep everything together for convenience's sake or the sanity of knowing exactly where everything is but it’s actually super risky! When I lost my wallet I didn’t only lose my ID, I lost my student ID, COVID vaccine card, credit cards, and lots of cash. If I’d been a little more practical and only taken what I’d absolutely needed at the time, I would’ve been far less inconvenienced. It’s also simply dangerous to carry too much with you because the more someone has of your information, the more at risk you are. So leave what you won’t absolutely need (student id, for example) at home or locked in your hotel/hostel.
Make sure where you’re staying has a place to look away valuables
In tangent with the last point, make sure wherever you’re staying has somewhere you can safely store your valuables. You don’t want to be carrying your passport around but you won’t just want to tuck it into a pillowcase either. Most hotels have safes but make sure that the hostels you stay at offer a lock box. If you can’t find any or you don’t want to pay an extra fee, it might be worth investing in your own padlock or a suitcase that comes with a lock combination of some kind.
Invest in a purse or backpack that zips (and make sure you keep it closed)
Again, keeping track of your valuables is super important when traveling and you’ll obviously be carrying some money around with you. To make sure all that remains as safe as possible, make sure you have a bag or backup that zips or has some sort of anti-theft flap. And once you have that, MAKE SURE YOU PAY ATTENTION TO IT AND KEEP IT ZIPPED. I lost my wallet when I was running to catch a bus and my wallet flew out of my bag and someone picked it up before I’d even turned back to get it. It’ll happen in the blink of an eye so just make sure you’re always mindful.
Get materials to make your own lunch
Hopefully, you’ll have lots of fun exploring to do. You'll be out for most of the day. Without a kitchen, you’ll be eating out a lot, and even if you’re just grabbing a sandwich and some coffee those cost QUICKLY rack up. It might be worth buying either granola bars or another quick snack that can help you curb midday hunger and hangry vibes without having to drop money on food that you’re buying in between activities. It’ll save you cash in the long run and will free up cash for more fun things throughout the day.
Take locals' and other travelers' advice! When you meet people on your travels (and you will) if they give you recommendations for restaurants, museums, or other activities, take their advice! The most impressive and fun things I’ve seen and done while traveling have been upon the spontaneous recommendation of people we’d met while at lunch and then again while chatting with people in our bunks at the hostel. There are things even the best travel guides will miss and only locals or fellow travelers will be able to share with you. Having experienced it themselves, they usually have good thoughts on what’s worth visiting.
Don’t be afraid to wander!
Get intentionally lost. While it’s nice to have plans and goals on your tips, getting bogged down in running from place to place can make you miss the daily life that really makes up the life of any city. So don’t be afraid to allow yourself to wander through the area you’re visiting and just take in the small things. Some of my favorite things I saw in Venice were things I found while wandering far away from the touristy things that people fly hundreds of miles to see.
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Hello everyone! My name is Eliza DuBose and I'm from the area surrounding Boulder, Colorado. I'm a junior at American University studying Foreign Language and Communication Media, which is (very) basically a Journalism and German double major. This is my second time living in Germany and I am so thrilled to be studying in Berlin for the year. In my free time, I spend most of my time hiking, reading, writing, or consuming an inordinate amount of media.