Independent Travel

If you are going to travel before or after your study abroad program, it is important to plan your personal trip before leaving the U.S. Always have your hotel/hostel booked for your first night upon arrival. Here are some more ideas about how to start planning your adventure:

Pick a Direction
Read books, talk to friends, look at maps. It’s tempting to try to visit as many places as possible, but getting to know a place intimately is pretty appealing too. As experienced travelers, we recommend taking it a bit slower A minimum of 3-4 days in one spot tends to be most satisfying. And with the right planning, using one place as a base of operations allows you to explore with ease and convenience. Carefully plan, make bookings, then confirm.

Travel Guides
Travel guides and their websites provide lots of country and culture information as well as travel planning ideas. You can choose country specific or region general guides. The only way to choose where you want to go is to read about what there is to see and do. Let's Go or Lonely Planet or any of Rick Steves books are just three of the more popular series of travel guides.

If traveling in a group, each person can buy one guide for one country and you can share as you travel.

Whatever book you use, rip out the pages for the destination once you arrive. Just carry those pages around rather than the whole book. When looking at hostels or restaurants, choose the third one listed. The first two usually have longer descriptions because they have been visited the most. Hence, they are overrun with other people.

Rail Travel in Europe
Rail travel, especially in Europe, is one of the best and often least expensive means of getting around. The train systems are clean, reliable, and fast and seem to go just about everywhere.

For the U.S. traveler, one of the best ways to travel by rail is with a Eurail Pass – these passes provide plenty of options for using the many train systems in Europe and can be used through the European Union.

Please be aware that you must order the Eurail ticket while in the U.S. It is not available for purchase in Europe.

European trains have seating options. If traveling in a group, compartments are nicer because you have a little room to yourself, and the seat reservation is the same price as the common room cars. Even when using Eurail, you often need to buy a supplement ticket for certain higher-speed trains, and you also need to pay if you want a seat reservation. Reservations are a good idea in spring and summer as trains get more crowded!

Student Discounts
ISIC cards are excellent for student discounts, and they are recognizable. Be sure to ask about student discounts in Europe, even if it doesn't look likely. Sometimes even hotels or B&Bs will give a discount.

Food and Money
While a meal of bread, cheese, and wine may feel elegant as your train or bus rolls through stunning mountains, it won't feel so elegant when you're tired and lost and footsore looking for that hostel on Rue de Lalala. Wear durable shoes, make sure your backpack actually fits, and eat a decent meal at least once a day.

Create a daily budget (hostel, 2-3 meals, daily transportation, entrance fees, buffer money) so you know exactly how much you have to spend each morning. This budget depends on location, so research the travel guides, and consult the current currency conversion rates.

Miscellaneous

  • Locks for backpacks. Someone in the group should have a coil bike lock. This way you can lock your bag to a train luggage rack and not worry about it, or lock it to your bed in the hostel, or lock a few bags together making it hard to cart them off.
  • Pack light. You want to be able to carry your luggage and have your hands free.
  • Read travel/packing tips every time you get a chance, there are lots of best practices out there.
  • Read fiction and non-fiction stories about the areas you go to and watch your travels reach a new depth.
  • Always phone your hotel or hostel first, even if you just called the night before.
  • Sleepsacks are also a good idea. They are simply a double sheet folded in half and sewn like a sleeping bag – easy to pack and easy to clean.