As I spoke about in my last article, this semester I am studying abroad in the Netherlands in a program that encourages weekly travel. Since my last writing, I have made three trips—and I have some tips.
1. Don’t travel in huge groups
We had a mandatory excursion to Amsterdam, so I didn’t have much of a choice when it came to my first travel weekend—or the fact that there were eighty-two other students with me on the trip. Of course I understand that when studying abroad or traveling in general, sometimes you don’t have much of a choice in your group size, but my advice is, if you can, keep it small. My friends and I came up with a rule of thumb: only travel with as many people as you can put in a taxi. Usually, this number is four, or you can cheat and get a van, in which case the number will be six or so. Regardless, a group or six or less has many benefits. For example, it will be much easier to get a private room at a hostel, you are more likely to be able to find tables at restaurants, decision will be much easier, and you generally won’t be as loud and annoying everyone else around you.
2. Keep it close (at first)
It is best to keep your first trips close to home. In a practical sense, it’s cheaper and safer. If something goes wrong, you are more likely to be able to get back to somewhere you know. On my friends’ and my first trip, we had a major issue with one of our hostels. We knew that we were not going to want to stay from the second night, so we entered our second day in Germany without knowing where we would be sleeping. Though we were able to find another hostel, we were also comforted by the fact that if we couldn’t find anything, we would be able to hop on a train and be back to our school within a few hours. A less practical, but still valid reason to stay close at first is so that you understand more about where you are staying. I know too many people who studied at the program I am currently at and knew nothing about the place because they were so focused on going to the big places like Paris and Rome. While those places are fantastic, it’s also fantastic to know the area you are actually living in for a semester.
3. For a weekend, a backpack is all you need
Don’t torture yourself with lugging around a suitcase, especially if you are travelling by train or bus. For one, you won’t need that much stuff. If you are comfortable with it, a single pair of pants will last you the entire weekend, so you just have to have different shirts, underwear, and socks. Other than that, you need a small towel and your toiletries. For the most part, this will all fit in a good travel backpack. Also, if you are traveling, a suitcase will just get in your way and if you end up being out and about before you check into your hostel or after you check out, you don’t want to be carrying a suitcase.
4. Go out of the way for food
Surprise, food near tourist attractions is going to be more expensive and possibly not as good or authentic. Look for the little hole in the wall places. On one of our trips, we were trying to decide between two restaurants when we noticed a little one that almost didn’t have a sign that was two or three euros cheaper per meal. And it was some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. Of course, there will be sometimes you want to try the food that’s being sold in busy places, especially because it’s often what you think of when you hear about a place, but try to keep it to small snacks or lunch, not big meals.
5. Don’t plan everything
Some of the best times I’ve had while traveling have been when we had absolutely nothing to do. While the tourist attraction are great, sometimes just seeing the city is great, too. Look for a cool square or park and people watch. Wander down streets that look interesting, even if it’s not where you thought you were going to go. Wait to get to the city to see what locals think is worth seeing rather than relying on travel guides that only focus on the big things. Some of the best stuff is what isn’t advertised.