Pick a weekend
It isn’t as simple as you’d initially think. Sure, you could book it blindly, but remember that unique cultural celebrations happen all across the continent all the time. And it’s important to be aware of that, and make your timing decision based on catching that holiday, or avoiding the additional headache it may introduce via limited public transportation, completely booked hostels and other unforeseen complications. At the same time though, catching Carnevale in Venice, and the Tomatina in Bunyol are absolutely unforgettable experiences. So be sure to look into that before you book your flights or trains. Here are some suggestions for travel destinations.
Photo by Train Chartering & Private Rail Cars
The days have passed when it was cheaper and easier to “train it.” Instead, thanks to airlines like RyanAir and AerLingus, you can find round trip tickets for unbelievable rates. When I studied abroad, a friend of mine would wait til Monday or Tuesday and book flights for the next weekend based on price alone. While not my style (I like to decide where I’m going based on my own volition), he had some of the most unique experiences of our entire group; AND some of the cheapest as well—he would find round trip flights for under $10 US.
That being said, don’t forget about trains altogether. Night trains are a great way to get a “night’s sleep” en route to a great weekend, and get back in time for classes on Monday. Don’t plan on being well-rested the next day, but it’ll get you there. If you’re considering a night train, it’s not unsafe to travel alone, but it’s better to travel with at least one friend. In addition, make sure the distance you’re traveling warrants an overnight train. There’s nothing worse than getting on the train at 12:30 am and arriving at 5:30 am that same morning. In that case, I’d hop on a flight that would probably be equal, if not less expensive, in price.
What about Eurail Passes?
On a side note, I’ve often been asked if Eurail passes save students money while overseas. To put it simply, they do for the organized ones. Eurail passes cannot be bought in Europe, and are designed for the backpacker traveling every few days making the grand loop over 1 or 2 months throughout the continent. That is to say, they’re designed for those who are traveling through cities A-B-C-D and so on… Whereas the student abroad travels A-B-A, A-C-A, A-D-A, as in at the end of the weekend, they’re always returning to their original city they’re studying in.
Like I said though, if you’re organized, you can save some money with them. Eurail prices are a function of several factors: Number of countries in which they’re valid, Number of days in which you can travel (an overnight costs only 1 day), and the overall traveling window. I’m guessing some clarification is needed, so I’ll offer an example: a student heading to John Cabot in Rome knows she wants to visit the Amalfi Coast, Venice, Florence and the Cinque Terre. If she plans her times right (I know she will, you ladies are always more organized!), she could in theory pick up a pass for just ITALY, for 8 TRAVEL DAYS within a MONTH of the first travel day used. This way she has bought the lowest possible number in each of those factors that determine the price of the overall Eurail pass, and can tick off all her Italian traveling desires in 4 great weekends one after the other. She may also want to visit Nice, but since that would add another country to the pass, she figures she’ll find a cheap flight there rather than paying for access to a whole other country’s rail system. Capisci?
HostelWorld.com is a great resource if you know you want to say in a hostel. For me, some of the richest experiences I’ve had while traveling have been some of the cheapest. Staying in a good hostel sets you up with an instant community of backpackers excited to be in this new environment, and you often go exploring for the entire weekend with your new set of friends.
Before booking, though, it’s important to do your research. Don’t just go by “highest rated.” Rather, you need to cross-evaluate the location, rating, number of ratings, amenities and the reviews left by people who have stayed there. Every single hostel will say that they are “centrally located”, but don’t believe them until you’ve actually done some research.
If staying on for more than 3 days, I would definitely recommend looking into AirBnB.com. It’s a website that sets up backpackers with people in cities looking to rent out their spare rooms, or entire apartments. If you can split it between yourself and a small handful of friends, you’ll find accommodations in great locations at very reasonable rates.
That’s all the space I’ve got for now. Keep an eye out for the next guest blog on the Venere Travel Blog in which I’ll discuss how you decide what to do in your destination city! In the mean time check out WSAEurope.com for weekend adventure packages, and here is my blog for more info and travel tips.