Study Abroad Weekend Travel Hacks
Listen Up Y’all cause this is it... “It” being the only blog post you will need for ALL your study abroad weekend trip extravaganza planning. We have broken it down into how to get there, where to stay, and the best things to do there! While this post is slightly more “Europe-centric”, much of the wisdom is globally applicable so there should be some nuggets of advice for everybody up in here, up in here.
Kayak vs. Skyscanner– Hands down,. these are your go-to resources for finding the best and cheapest flights. Both allow you to compare all airlines in one place and give you plenty of ways to cut costs, including being flexible on arrival/departure dates and choosing all regional airports to search from. If low-cost is your number one priority in determining your destination, Skyscanner’s “Search Everywhere” feature allows you to find the cheapest location for your weekend of choice. Sometimes Kayak and Skyscanner have slightly different prices and offers, so make sure to compare both sites before purchasing. Student Universe is another strong option for buying flights because they offer lower rates for students, but for the most part, the other two will have a wider array of options. All of these resources have mobile apps in addition to their website.
Rome2Rio– I cannot express how many times this site was a life saver. Sometimes flying to your weekend rendezvous is not the most affordable, convenient, or the best option, but how would you know that without checking bus, airplane and train sites? Rome2Rio, that’s how. The site lets you compare various modes of transportation to get from anywhere in the world, to anywhere else in the world. Unless you know for sure that your destination is out of bus/train range, Rome2Rio should be your first stop. Go download the app right now, I’ll wait.
Pros and Cons of Budget Airlines
Budget airlines might be your best friend or your worst enemy, depending on whether you are doing it right or not. Often their flights will appear to be the best rate, but you have to be cautious because there are many ways that initial price ends up multiplying tenfold.
Be wary of the airport that you are leaving from and flying into. Often budget airlines will have you leave and/or arrive in a small airport an hour away from the major city. This forces you to pay $20, sometimes more, for a bus to get to the city itself. There is nothing inherently wrong with doing that (I did it plenty of times), I just wish someone had told me in advance that I would have to pay for that bus twice so that I could have factored an additional cost into the pricing.
Budget airlines always nab you with fees; for luggage, for food, and for wifi. You should expect nothing to be free or included, so bring your own food. I invested in this weekend-pack which could be counted as my personal item and I never paid for carry-on.
Bottom-line, budget airlines sometimes really are the best choice, but know what you’re paying for and what you aren’t before deciding to fly with them.
Hostelworld.com– Hostels aren’t what they used to be. Because they are so much better, like way better! When your parents were in college, youth hostels were dirty, and sometimes unsafe, with 30 smelly backpackers crammed into one room. And I am sure there are still a couple like that out there, but by no means is that the norm these days. Hostelworld.com is an incredible tool which provides you with a comprehensive list of hostel options that are often the cheapest way to go and a great way to meet new people if you are traveling alone or with a couple of friends. As a female traveler, I always made sure to book an all-female dorm when I was traveling alone, but often if I traveled with guy friends, we would just book the cheapest co-ed dorm. Finding hostels where breakfast is included is always a plus too. Above all else, read the reviews listed on Hostelworld to get the best sense of the environment and cleanliness of each individual hostel because they vary widely.
Airbnb– I don’t know what people did before Airbnb was around, but man I sure am glad that it is now because it is really the other best option for traveling on a budget in terms of accommodations. Depending on the city, Airbnb might even be the most cost-effective choice, especially if you have a group of four or more. Always check to see all your options and make sure the host has a strong rating (Ideally Superhost!). Hostels can be socially draining and so treating yourself to a more private weekend with just your friends in an Airbnb can be a much-needed change of pace.
Booking.com– If hostels and Airbnb’s are not quite your jam, Booking.com is a strong alternative that will allow you to compare the most available options including hostels, B&B’s and rental homes. It’s basically the equivalent of Rome2Rio for accommodations.
Livin’ It Up Whilst There
Free Walking Tours- Every major city now offers some type of free walking tour and most offer many providers. I cannot recommend taking advantage of these ENOUGH, because they are dope! So please do them often and ideally as one of your first activities when you land in a new locale. Just google “Free Walking Tour [insert your city here].” While they aren’t actually entirely free (because you do tip the tour guide), you get to choose how much the tour was worth to you and often for me that was about $10-$15. I’d say this is a complete steal for nearly three hours of a guided tour in a relatively small group that helps me instantly become acquainted with the city, provides recommendations for the best places to see, and teaches me some of the histories. Not to mention the tour guides are mad entertaining. Especially if you are traveling alone, make sure to do a free tour to make friends or just to be around other humans.
City Bikes/ Electric Scooters- As much as these have become commonplace in American cities, you will find city bikes and scooters abroad as well. Riding around can be a fun, healthy and affordable way of seeing a new city and some of my favorite memories from traveling have been just biking through the windmills in Belgium, navigating the around the channels in Amsterdam and riding along the water in Montreal.
Find the Highest Tower- Another fun and affordable activity that you can do anywhere in the world is finding the highest point in the city. Whether that means hiking to the tallest lookout point or climbing a tower, gaining the bird’s eye view always makes for great photo-ops and is a good way to work off some of the incredible food you’ve been eating.
Rick Steves Audio Europe™ Travel App – Last but certainly not least, if you are anything like me, then you get somewhat frustrated when you are surrounded by incredible statues, art, and monuments but have no context with which to know what they are about. Luckily, you don’t have to pay for a pricey tour guide to come with you everywhere and show you around when you have a free tour guide in your pocket with Rick Steves Audio Europe™ Travel App. Again, this one is Europe specific and I am the most familiar with Rick Steves but here are some other equivalents for not just Europe. Now you have access to hours of free audio tours that you can do on your own pace whenever you like, so you will never be alone!
Alright kiddos, that’s what I got for ya. Go out there and travel well, travel often!
The Broad from Abroad