By the time week seven of the semester rolls around everyone is ready for a break from classes. While it’s officially called “Reading Week,” abroad students infamously utilize this week to fit in as many trips as possible. After all, when’s the next time you will have Europe at your disposal? If Reading Week is planned correctly, you can really accomplish a lot. However, there’s a lot you should know about how to make this week memorable & affordable! Here are a few resources that made my trip run smoothly and some tips that I learned along the way!
Who You Travel With
Some people choose to travel with newfound friends through their program and others decide to meet up with friends from their home universities studying abroad in different cities. There’s really no right or wrong choice. I think it’s so cool to make lasting travel memories with people from home. It’s such a unique opportunity to see those friends in a new city. On the other hand, I also think it’s valuable to spend time with people in your program. Often times those students are from all around the United States and there's a possibility that you'll never see them again. I split my travel break between my best friend from home and my new friend from this IES Abroad program. It was one of the best decisions I made because I felt like both friendships grew in entirely different ways.
On another note, it’s important to make sure you choose to travel with people that you know you can trust and have similar travel patterns. If you’re a super organized person who wants to fill your travels with museum visits, local restaurants, and shopping, you should probably steer more towards individuals that would like to do the same thing. If you decide to travel with people that are only focused on the night life of a city and that’s just not your thing, you could be heading in a bad direction. You want to look back on this time with fond memories, not wishing you chose different people to travel with. Traveling is all about compromise. There’s no perfect person. Even my best friends and I have different interests which can make traveling difficult, but we make sure to communicate exactly what we want to do in each city we visit.
Where You Go
The most valuable travel tool I’ve used over the years is SkyScanner.net. It’s a site that pulls all the airlines flying from point A to point B and shows you the cheapest prices. Instead of having 10 different tabs open to compare prices, this website does the work for you. Be sure to search on "incognito/private mode" so the prices of flights don’t spike up after you look at them.
Reading Week, in my opinion, should be reserved for places that are farther away and have a lot of activities to do. For example, visiting Italy is the perfect destination during Reading Week because there are so many major cities to visit and a lot of sights to see within each place. Amsterdam, on the other hand, is a city that you can easily visit on a weekend.
If you’re looking to visit more than one country during your time (I went from Belgium to Italy to Switzerland), try to choose places that are in the same region of Europe because tickets will be even more inexpensive than they already are! My flight from Rome to Geneva was $18 because the distance between the countries is so short. If I were to fly from Dublin (my host city) to Geneva, the price would be well over $100. It’s important to choose your destinations wisely and know tickets can fluctuate in price depending on the weekend. If flights are outrageous one week, know that it’s likely the price will be very different on another. I never pay more than $100 on flights (round trip) because I know it all depends on the weekend I am traveling.
The Activities You Do
Some places require more planning than others. Rome, for instance, is a city you really need to plan an itinerary beforehand because it’s so large and several places require reserved tickets. Other cities, like Brussels, does not require much planning and wandering often procures the best-found treasures. If you’re traveling with a group of people, it’s important to plan sights that you absolutely do not want to miss. If you purchase your ticket online, many sights offer a discount for pre-booking and for students. Be sure to read the fine print because some places require that you print out your ticket beforehand. Don’t forget your student ID if you purchase a student ticket.
While seeing the main sights in each city is valuable, some of my favorite memories come from randomly stumbling upon shops or cafés. Leave time in your busy schedule for adventure. Know that not everything will go as planned. That’s just what happens when you travel in a new city. I always say that 2-3 days in a new place is perfect. You have enough time to see the sights, but also to wander and find hidden gems. If you’re traveling for 7-10 days I think it’s possible to see 2-3 places at least. Especially being college students, we have a lot more energy and enthusiasm during our travels.
Make the most of your time. Remember being abroad is a huge privilege and a moment in your life that you’ll remember forever.