Words by Emily Pahl, a hospitality and tourism management major at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst who studied abroad with CAPA London during spring semester 2016.
Ever since I was young, I have always had the travel bug. Constantly wanting to explore somewhere new, immerse myself in a culture other than my own, and push myself out of my comfort zone. Finally, my junior year of college, I got the chance to fulfill this urge by studying abroad.
Since I had this insane travel bug, choosing a city and country to live in for the next four months was a challenging decision to say the least. How was I supposed to just choose one?! After lots of thought and consideration, I chose to study abroad in London. Traveling is not for everyone; many people choose to stay in their host country their whole time abroad and really get to know the country. That’s fine! In fact, I wish I had spent more time in my host country. But, if you are like me and want to travel as much as possible while abroad, I would highly recommend basing yourself in London. Not only does London offer about four different airports to fly in and out from, it is easily accessible from anywhere in Europe. Though the city itself is rather expensive, it is the most convenient for travel.
Living somewhere where it is convenient to travel is just half the battle. The next step is figuring out how to travel…especially as a broke college student like myself. Here are ten categories breaking down the best ways to save money while traveling.
1. FLIGHTS. The great part about Europe is that hopping around from country to country via plane is cheap, efficient, and quick. Though the names of some airlines can seem a bit sketchy (Easyjet, Cheapoair, Ryanair), I promise you that they are just as safe, comfortable, and convenient as the regular and more expensive flights. Flying takes a maximum of 3-4 hours from country to country, which is perfect if flying isn’t your cup of tea. Though buying the first and most convenient flight that pops up may seem appealing, take the time to do some research and look through different options. Chances are that you can find much cheaper flights even if they aren’t at the most convenient times. Check out sites such as Skyscanner to compare prices and find the cheapest round trip.
2. TRAINS. If flying isn’t your thing – don’t fret! The Eurorail is an excellent option that gets you from country to country pretty cheaply. The only downside is that it takes quite a bit longer than flying. But as I said before…do your research and you might find out that sometimes taking the train is actually more convenient than flying! Trains are also perfect for getting your homework done or planning out your trip. (Yes, you do still in fact have classes and homework while studying abroad).
3. CABS, UBERS, BUSES, TRAINS, WALKING. While trying to hit every major tourist attraction in the short amount of time you are in a new country, it can become complicated and expensive to get from sight to sight…especially if they are very spread out (ahem, ROME). To avoid wasting time by walking around aimlessly, as well as avoiding spending way too much money on cabs, do your research before you leave your apartment. Map out which sights are closest to each other (walking distance) and which ones you will need to catch a ride to. Also look into train or bus passes for the day and compare them to Uber prices. Most major cities will have Uber that will almost always be cheaper than official city cabs. (TIP: if you plan on traveling to London, try to avoid taking a black cab whenever possible…way too expensive!)
4. HOTELS, HOSTELS, AIRBNB. The next big obstacle on your adventure is deciding where are you going to stay. Where is the most convenient? Where is the safest? What’s the cheapest? This is where RESEARCH comes in handy again. When traveling with a group of people, hostels and Airbnbs are usually the best option. They allow you to stay in a room (or sometimes an entire apartment) with just your friends! If you travel with enough people, you can fill up an entire room at the hostel and you won’t have to share with random roommates (YES!). Even if you do end up having to share a room with a few people, the amount of time you actually spend in your hostel is minimal. Just make sure you lock your valuables up and you will be fine! Besides, you’re not traveling to sleep in a 5-star hotel…you’re traveling to explore the new city! If you are traveling alone, looking into a hotel room for one or two nights to ensure safety might not be a terrible option. 99.9% of the time hostels are fine to stay in even by yourself, but if you are at all skeptical or nervous about sleeping with random people, it is okay to splurge a little and get yourself a hotel room so you can fully enjoy every moment of being in another country.
5. SIGHT-SEEING, RESTAURANTS, NIGHTLIFE. Research, research, research! Before aimlessly walking around a foreign city, do your research and map out on Google maps where you want to go and how long it will take you. The great part about Google maps is that it stays with you even without wi-fi (what a relief). So before you try to seek out the Trevi Fountain on your own, or wander your way over to Oktoberfest, or desperately trying to find the Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen… look it up! You have a small amount of time in each country, so you don’t have time to spare by getting lost! As far as nightlife, ask locals, do some Googling, and find out the top restaurants, bars, and clubs in the area. Before I left for Europe, I bought a travel book which listed every major European city you could imagine and broke down the best nightlife, restaurants, sights, and more! I would read through the book on my flights and highlight important places I wanted to visit. It was insanely helpful.
6. Food. Of course when traveling to a new country, trying the culture’s authentic cuisine is a major part of immersing yourself in the culture. I mean who in their right minds would pass on real Italian gelato or Spanish tapas?? That being said, be smart with your food choices. Going out to eat for every meal can really add up. Plan ahead, research one or two famous restaurants in the area to go to, and try the top couple of dishes. For other meals, try to go to a local grocery store and split food with whoever you are traveling with to save some cash. If you are staying in a hostel, at times there is at least one free meal provided every day. Fill up on this meal, and stuff your backpack with leftovers for later. Going out to eat for every meal when traveling may seem intriguing, but it can really add up.
7. PACKING. To avoid spending money on items you forgot back in your home country, make a standard packing list for weekend trips. Research the weather in the area you are traveling to in order to appropriately pack what you need. For example, traveling to Spain and Italy you might pack clothes that are a bit lighter than you would traveling to France or Amsterdam, and don't forget to check for rain. When I went to Amsterdam, it rained practically the whole weekend. Had I not checked beforehand, I would have had to spend money on an umbrella and rain coat. Try to pack only the essentials to avoid checking bags on planes but pack smart.
8. LUGGAGE. Though airlines like Ryanair and Easyjet offer amazing prices for hopping from country to country, they will trick you into spending more money if you don’t know what you’re doing when packing. First, try as hard as you can to not check a bag. Most of the time, these budget airlines do not offer a free checked bag, and checking a bag can be pretty pricey. Try your best to fit all of your belongings into a carry on. I found that duffle bags worked far better than rolling suitcases. I used a big squishy duffle bag and could fit an insane amount in there and they never denied my carry on for being too big because it is easily squished down! Pack your liquids smartly as well…make sure they are small enough and they are in see-through plastic bags or you will have to throw them out and buy new ones…which can definitely add up. Do your research on their airline and see what you can and can’t bring.
9. CHOOSING WHERE TO TRAVEL. Just because your flatmates are traveling somewhere, doesn’t mean you have to. Though I am a strong advocate of never saying no and traveling to a new place…if your friends are traveling somewhere you really don’t have a desire to go to and you’d rather go somewhere else, don’t waste your money. Do what YOU want to do. This is YOUR time abroad, nobody else’s…don’t waste your money just because of peer pressure. Follow your heart, do your research, and go to your top places. This is very important in living your abroad life to the fullest.
10. My biggest piece of advice…when in doubt, GO. Studying abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity; never again will it be this easy and convenient for you to hop from country to country. If you have the opportunity to go somewhere and you are on the fence about going…GO. You will never regret seeing what is out there.