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Guide to Travel in Europe as a Student

Students in Prague on a bridge. .

Studying abroad in Europe does not mean staying in one city. Due to weekends and holidays, a summer or a semester abroad allows opportunities to see several countries outside your home base. With many European countries in such proximity, visiting several in a few months is easy. The trick is to find out the most enjoyable and practical way for you to travel. I recently spent four months in Rome. During that period, I could travel to eight European countries. Along the way, I learned some helpful tips that should make your side trips easier.

Choose Air Over Land

For years, many travelers, especially backpackers, swore that traveling by train was the best and only way to get around Europe. But with Eurail tickets now costing as much as a few thousand dollars, depending upon the length of your chosen pass and limitations on the number of countries for which the tickets are valid, traveling by airplane is often far more economical. There are several low-cost airlines in Europe. Two of the most popular are EasyJet and Ryanair.

Based in Dublin, Ryanair operates over 3,000 routes in over 40 countries. I traveled round-trip to Paris from Rome for $20 total using the airline. But nothing comes without a price, and Ryanair is no exception. Extra fees quickly add up with this low-budget airline. In fact, the airline makes most of its money on these excess fees, such as checking bags, booking fees, and priority seating. You also will not get anything free using the airline: sandwiches cost about $8.

And don’t think you’ll land right in the heart of the big city. Ryanair uses mainly smaller airports in the suburbs. Many are an hour or more outside of the city by bus. But $20 to see Paris? Well worth it.

Book Airlines Early

To get great deals on Ryanair, book the flight early — a month or more in advance is best. Many cheap flights go up as the departure date gets closer. And be prepared to leave very early in the morning or very late in the evening for the best deals.

Book Hostels Early

Now that you have the flight lined up, do not forget a place to stay. Before leaving you should book a hostel ahead of time, with a few weeks in advance being ideal., a website where you can research and book hostels and budget hotels by country and city, is a great resource. But if you find yourself looking for a hostel after getting off the plane, do not worry. Finding a hostel once you arrive at your destination can be done, but it could be costly and time consuming. When traveling to Frankfort, Germany, Stockholm, Sweden, and Oslo, Norway, I did not book a hostel ahead of time. Luckily, in all three countries I was able to find a place to stay. But I had to pay extra money for the more expensive room and spend several precious hours looking for a bed to sleep in instead of enjoying the city. Also, I do not think I would have been as lucky in the more popular destinations. Although Rome, Paris and Amsterdam might have more hostels, they also have more college students and backpackers clamoring for a place to stay.

Be Careful What You Book on a Hostel Booking Site

Although most of the hostels and hotels on the website are certified and legitimate, some are less than satisfactory. I booked a double-bed hostel ahead of time for a trip to Amsterdam. It was cheap for Amsterdam standards, had a TV, and received reasonably good reviews on the website. I was surprised when I arrived at an apartment complex and was greeted by a man who rented out two of his own rooms. He expected cash upfront. At that point, I had no choice. My friend and I paid the money, praying he would not kick us out on the streets in the middle of the night. He did not do that (and there was a color TV), but it was not what I had in mind. Carefully read the reviews and comments, and use your digital connections to ask for first-hand information. However, the major hostel sites are reasonably dependable and have active forums. If you still need more time to decide, see if the hostel has a website and an official email address.

Travel in Small Groups

While traveling with all your friends might seem fun, it is usually not conducive to a weekend trip. Trying to satisfy five people who want to see five different things will not do anything but start fights. And who wants to visit Prague when they are angry? It is best to travel with one person, possibly two. Try to ensure they are people who want to see and experience similar things to avoid tension or conflict to the extent possible.

Buy a Guidebook(s)

Knowing nothing about your destination and feeling your way as you go is the best way to learn about a city. It is impossible to do that and see everything the city offers in two or three days. Plan ahead and find out what sights, food, and nightlife are available. There are several good guidebooks on the market today. Many cater to low-budget or student travel. I took Lonely Planet’s Europe on a Shoestring book with me on each of my trips. With maps that pinpoint the significant sights and restaurants, it came in handy more than once. Besides the Lonely Planet series, other good travel guides include the Let’s Go series (Europe, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, and many individual countries and major European cities).

But Do Not Rely Solely on any Guidebook

There are still many hidden gems that are not in guidebooks. Some you may stumble across on your own or hear about from a friend, but because it is not listed in the guidebook, do not write it off as unworthy. It is also important to research information about your destination ahead of time on the web, with so many resources and dedicated blogs that cover locations in-depth. Some very pertinent information may not be listed or be up-to-date in guidebooks. I traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark, with a friend in late March. What was first on our list of must-sees? Tivoli Gardens, a large amusement park and garden in the heart of the city. It's too bad we were unaware that the park opens in April. Here's one little fact: my guidebook did not list one of the country’s major tourist destinations. My friend and I decided to make the most of our three days in the capital. We found other interesting things to see and do even during the Easter holidays when much of Europe shuts down.

For More Information on Travel for Students in Europe

Some websites to help make the most of your European side-trips: A low-cost airline that has over 300 aircraft, operating over 1,024 routes across 30+ countries and 150+ airports Europe’s largest low-cost airline serving over 225 destinations. Book hostels and budget accommodations and read online reviews. The online component of the travel guide series.

Guidebooks worth buying:

Europe on a Shoestring (Lonely Planet Shoestring Guides)

(Also see other Lonely Planet individual country and city guides written about Europe.)

Let's Go Europe: The Student Travel Guide

(Also see other Let's Go individual country and city guides written about Europe.)

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