Travel Advice Before Your Semester Abroad

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Simon Wallace
December 29, 2023

Centrally located and near a large airport, Madrid is a great city for travelling around Spain and even other parts of Europe. It is probably my number one recommendation for anyone studying in Madrid to take advantage of this and to travel as much as you can. It is important, though, to be sure that you are living within your means when it comes to time, energy, and money. Keeping a simple budget and tracking your expenses will be extremely helpful. This will save you a lot of stress and indecisiveness when deciding what trips to go on and what trips to not go on. Additionally, if you fly anywhere, you’ll want to book flights at least 3-4 weeks before the trip—ideally more like 6-8 weeks. Anything less than 3 weeks, the prices start to skyrocket. 

There’s no need, however, to have everything planned out right when you start your semester. You don’t need a set list of places where you want to go. A lot can be played by ear as you get comfortable in your new city and meet other people that are looking to travel. In fact, I would err on the side of being flexible and easy-going when it comes to making travel plans, as this will limit stress and burnout and will also help you to actually enjoy your trips when the time comes. Some people travel somewhere for the weekend with absolutely nothing planned, and some people go with full-on itineraries. Personally, I find the middle ground to give me the best travel experiences. That is, I didn’t make itineraries, but I did look up stuff to do and places to see in the week leading up to a trip, and to keep track of these places I would flag them on google maps. Then, as I found myself exploring a city and looking for something to do or something to eat, I could simply pull up google maps and look for places near me that I marked. This way, I felt like I was making the most of my trip without feeling like I was just checking off boxes on an itinerary. Plus, it didn’t feel like a loss if I didn’t get to a certain place on my map.

Spain and many parts of Europe are so much more affordable than America. Airfare is airfare and will always be expensive, but even international flights in Europe are much cheaper than a U.S. flight. So many museums and monuments are free in Europe too, especially for students. Reserving ahead of time for places and events also seems to be less common and is another reason I opted to go into my trips with minimal planning. To me though, where you really save your money is the cheap lodging. Europe has a plethora of hostels in every city, offering beds for as low as 15-20 euros a night. You do have to sacrifice privacy, of course, as hostels are not private rooms and the most you have is a curtain to separate your bed from the rest of the beds in the room. You also must be willing to use their public bathrooms and showers (consider bringing some flip-flops). I haven’t had a bad experience at a hostel, and they also fit my minimal planning mindset because you can book them a day or two before the trip. It is understandable to opt for something like an Airbnb instead, which is a more expensive option but not terrible if you split it between enough people.

As a final word of caution, I will say that traveling frequently and being a weekend warrior has the potential to be something of a double-edged sword. That is, even small weekend trips can lead to burn out, and almost always it would take me a couple of days to feel back to normal and fully functioning after returning from a trip. I would try to avoid big trips on back-to-back weekends. Just remember to take time for yourself, and don’t fall victim to FOMO if you feel like you really need a night in or even a weekend to yourself. It can be great to be constantly on the move, constantly experiencing some type of novelty, but it really is important to balance those things with rest and a sense of order and routine. 

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Simon Wallace

I'm from Williamsport, Pennsylvania and I am a senior at Penn State University studying computer science. I enjoy being physically active, whether that's organized sports, going to the gym, or just spending time outdoors.

2023 Fall
Home University:
Penn State University
Computer Science
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