In today’s post, I’m going to talk all about how to best plan weekend trips while you’re studying abroad. For many students, Europe is an enticing destination for studying abroad for so many reasons, but especially because of how easy it is to hop on a plane, train, or bus and nd up in a completely different country in just a matter of hours. That was definitely a factor in why I chose to study abroad in Denmark this fall (see that post here)!
That being said, given my limited/minimal/lack of knowledge about studying abroad anywhere other than Europe, this post will mainly be focused on planning weekend travel in Europe—but if you use or modify any of these tips for studying abroad elsewhere, I’d love to know—let me know in the comments below!
Part 3: How to plan for weekend travel while studying abroad
I have two words to sum up how to best go about traveling on weekends when you’re studying abroad: research and plan.
Doing research for the places you’re going is so, so important to ensure that you get the most out of your weekend. By their very nature, weekend trips are usually short (even if you do get Fridays off…in which case, lucky you!), so it’s important that you do some research on your destination ahead of time so you make sure you don’t miss any of the sights on your “must-see” list!
One thing that’s really good to research ahead of time is the currency used—and, even more crucially—the exchange rate of the country you’re going to. Basically…don’t be like we were in the Prague train station last summer, when we literally stood in front of an ATM for probably 20 minutes (y’all, the line got so long behind us 🙈) trying to figure out how much money we were getting from the machine. I accidentally almost tried to take out the equivalent of 1,000 euros instead of 100? Basically…don’t be like me.
Another great thing to research is the opening and closing times of the attractions you’re going to. For example, when my dad and I were in Budapest (read my blog post about that trip here!) he really wanted to go to one of the central markets, so we got there around 3:15pm. Turns out it closed at 3pm. Lesson learned, indeed! Churches are also often closed to visitors during masses, so make sure you don’t structure your day too tightly, only to find out you can’t go into one of your must-see cathedrals at the time you planned to see it!
My favorite places to do research? To be honest…Pinterest. I spend my life on Pinterest anyway, so why not at least be semi-productive while I’m at it? (Right? Right? Maybe? I think I’m just justifying my hours of Pinterest scrolling at this point… #notsorry) I find lots of great images and blog posts on the site, and I’d encourage you to do the same! Blogs from people who’ve been to these cities (or, even better, are from there!) are my favorite ways of learning the best things to see wherever you’re going. If you do your research about the city and its sights before you get there, you’ll be in a much better place when you actually arrive. Rather than wasting your precious weekend scouring Pinterest for “the 10 can’t-miss attractions” of the city, do that ahead of time so you can hit the ground running when you get there!
To know me is to know my love of planning—so how could this topic not make my blog post! I love planning and organization, and this extends to planning trips and excursions in various cities. My study abroad group last summer even took to calling me “Tour Guide Jenn” after I successfully led them through a day of sightseeing in Prague. (Not so) secretly, I loved the nickname!
Planning out your weekend is my best tip in ensuring that you see everything you want to see while you’re traveling on weekends. Like I said, you don’t have that much time on these short trips, so make the most of it! As you can tell from my post about our trip to Prague, I planned out everything I wanted to see (which was an exhaustive list that I pulled together from various blog posts from other travelers to the city) and then used Google Maps to plot out everything. I then created what amounted to more-or-less a “tour route” (I took the Tour Guide Jenn name very seriously, ok?) so we could see the maximum number of things. 25,000+ steps and a lot of ice cream breaks later, we had crossed almost everything off our list. Success!
I love making itineraries—it makes me feel organized and oh-so-accomplished when I cross everything off. Having now done this for a few trips, my advice would be to not plan anything on your first day if you’ll arrive in the afternoon or evening. Maybe your transportation will be delayed, maybe you’ll run into issues figuring out where your accommodations are…there’s a lot of ways it could go wrong, but that’s half the fun of traveling? (Who am I kidding, it’s stressful as all get out, but it’s all about the learning experiences…or something like that) Even if nothing goes wrong, you’ll likely be tired from a day of traveling, so spend that first afternoon or evening getting your bearings and finding a great place to eat.
Planning weekend travel is all about a delicate balance between being ~*spontaneous*~ and also planning ahead. For example, if you book well in advance, you can find super cool hotels or Airbnb’s or interesting tours that might be full if you wait until a few days before you arrive. When my dad visited me in Vienna, he decided we should to go Bratislava, Slovakia, for an afternoon (watch for a blog post about that trip soon!), and we decided to take a boat there and back—something we wanted to book sooner rather than later, in case it filled up. But the spontaneous, unplanned things, like an impromptu ghost tour of Prague or a trip to an escape room in Budapest, often end up being the most fun memories—even for a crazed, planning-obsessed person like me!
Do you have any favorite tips that you use when planning weekend travel? I’d love to hear them—let me know in the comments below! Be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2 of my “Study Abroad 101” series as well!