In the dead of morning on October 21st, I’m leaving for my second non-school sponsored trip outside of Nantes. That’s the only kind of trip I’ll be having from now on, as last weekend we went to the Chateaux de la Loire (well, just four: Azay-le-Rideau, Villandry, Amboise, and Chenonceau). This week, though, is a special sort of chaos, as we have a full week and two days off for the Toussaint holidays. As much as I’d like a weekend home relaxing with my host family, I also desperately want to travel…which I’m going to do by cramming four cities into the space of this break.
Booking and planning all these trips has really taught me a lot…about what I need to look for in hostels, how much money I need to bring, and how much time it takes to make a good trip happen. So here’s some advice for planning your own travels abroad. Bon voyage!
1. Fun with hostels!
My program is full French immersion, so you know the staff is serious about something when they post a sign in English, as they did for hostels: WARNING. BEDBUGS ABOUND. THEY ARE IN ALL THE MATTRESSES AND YOU WILL DIE. Bonnes vacanes!
I followed my program’s advice and bought a travel sheet, which makes me feel a lot better about staying in hostels even if it’s not a ton of protection. When booking hostels, it’s decently obvious to search for ones with proximity to landmarks you want to see, train stations, or airports. But some hostels offer free or decently-cheap walking tours (sites like hostelworld.com list features like this) so if you’re unfamiliar with a city, it’s a good way to make sure you don’t miss anything. Make sure your hostel offers free WiFi…then check again to make sure it’s available THROUGHOUT THE HOSTEL, not just in the common area. I almost booked a room for Prague before I realized this catch, which would have been annoying. Free breakfast is also a plus, but many of the hostels I’ve seen are hooked up to little bars or cafes. You have to pay for food, but it’s probably better than wandering, aimless and hungry, in the morning.
Follow your comfort zone when booking hostels. I stay in female-only dorms and make sure the hostels have lockers for my luggage. It makes me feel safe, which means I have a better vacation.
2. Money, money, money!
I almost, almost, didn’t Google whether or not the Czech Republic accepted euros. I mean, it’s still in Europe, right?
Right, except the Czech Republic has its own currency, the koruna. It was decently easy to find a currency exchange in Nantes instead of waiting for the airport, but the main thing is that I checked, as all travelers should!
The second important money point is how much you need to bring…which isn’t really a huge question in the age of credit cards, but I still like to bring a safety buffer of cash, just in case—it makes it easier to pay for public transport and little souvenirs. Back to hostels—many of them only accept payment in cash, so make sure to check up on that, then bring however much you need.
3. Clothes and weather.
I’m a chronic overpacker, but I swear I’m trying to improve! I still bring one or two more outfits than the amount of days I’m staying somewhere, just in case. I’m terrified that my luggage will get lost during this trip, so I’m going to bring a change of clothes on the plane with me, just in case.
Always check the weather, because God knows you don’t want to walk out of your hostel into an unexpected torrential downpour. Guess what’s a little warmer than Nantes? Greece. Where’s it looking possibly rainy? The Netherlands and the Czech Republic. I know what to expect…now it’s up to me not to forget my umbrella!
4. Book in advance.
There are so, so many reasons to start planning your trips as early as possible. There will be more options, especially in terms of hostels; flights will be cheaper; and you won’t be nearly as stressed as if you were trying to put together your great adventure just a few days before your departure date.
It took much more time than I’d thought it would to book my Paris and Pierrefonds trip, to make sure train and bus schedules aligned, my hostel was close enough to everything, making sure I could provide said hostel with an accurate check-in time, etc. Start soon if for nothing else but your mental health…though the earlier you look, the more cheap options are available for every aspect of your journey, so it’s good for your bank account’s health too.
5. Know what you want to see, and print directions.
Okay, you don’t necessarily have to print or buy maps, but especially for trips out of your host country (where you likely won’t have cell phone data), map out your itinerary on Google Maps and take screenshots. It’s a good idea to jot down notes on a piece of paper that you can carry around and consult so that you don’t have to wave your phone around all day, making you a target for pickpockets. Having screenshots of mapped routes on your phone is good for emergencies, as you’ll be able to not only see the directions, but landmarks like stores and restaurants to help reorient yourself and find your way.
I hope this was helpful! Bon voyage, and I’ll post again when I’m back in Nantes.
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<p>Hi! My name is Suzan Frierson and I'm a junior at the University of Redlands. I'm a Creative Writing major and French minor, and the language inspired me to study abroad in Nantes. I love traveling, writing, and going on adventures.</p>