For me the study part of study abroad is secondary. Sure I will still attend (almost) all of my classes and work hard to get good grades, but travel comes first. Weekends are the perfect time to travel while abroad without emptying your wallet and trashing your savings.
I’m spending my semester in Milan, Italy, which makes traveling on the weekend easy and cheap thanks to its prime location. I could pretty much go anywhere from Morocco to Finland for a weekend trip and still be back in Milan in time for my night class on Monday.
At first, my wish list of destinations was overwhelming, and I couldn’t decide where to go. I know it doesn’t really seem like a bad thing, but it is overwhelming to have such a long and growing list with not nearly enough time to check each place off. Eventually I had to make some cuts, and I did that with the help of my friends.
Making friends seems like a daunting task – and it is – but fortunately many international students like myself are all in the same boat. I quickly made friends with my seven (yes, seven) roommates and fellow international students in my classes. With these friends I’ve established a solid traveling group so that I always have someone willing to tag along on the next adventure.
Planning a weekend trip always starts with transportation because no matter where I’ve ended up I’ve always been able to find somewhere cheap to spend the night. Transportation can be the most expensive part of a weekend trip.
I like to start on Google Maps and just keep zooming out of Milan until I find a new place I want to go. I usually stick to about a five hour drive radius for shorter trips as the longer trips take much more planning ahead, and typically these weekend trips are planned the week of.
Once I pick a new exploration spot I look at all the options for transportation. If the trains are too expensive, I look into flights, which can surprisingly be cheaper and faster sometimes. If trains and planes are too much, I consider buses or even a ride-sharing service called Blah-Blah Car. There are so many options for transportation to get the cost of traveling down as much as possible.
I’m currently planning my 21st birthday trip to Barcelona with a group of 10, and I’ve found so many places that will cost each of us less than $50 for three nights in a big apartment. It may sound too cheap, but there really are options out there. You just have to hunt for them.
Most importantly, when finding a place to stay, remember that it doesn’t have to be perfect. I learned that from my apartment in Milan as well. A tear in the couch or poor water pressure is no reason to not enjoy yourself. One night in a hostel or even a semester in my quite old and dilapidated apartment will not kill me, nor will it kill you. Don’t bother spending $100 or more for a hotel when you can spend a fifth of that in a hostel or a rented room where you will meet so many other people your age.
Once you arrive for the weekend in your city of choice, walk everywhere. You’ll see so much of the city just walking around and plus you won’t be spending money on over-priced taxis or crowded buses. It’s also great exercise. Just a couple weekends ago, I walked 10 miles in Verona in one day, and it was totally worth it.
Traveling on the weekend is initially a daunting task with so much planning to do and usually, at least for me, with very short notice. Studying abroad is not just an amazing opportunity to learn about another culture other than your own. It’s a great time to travel and get to know yourself and others through exploring the world.