When studying abroad, especially on longer programs, the temptation to see other nearby countries or cities within your host country is very strong. And this is totally possible! But budgeting and planning ahead are key to having successful trips.
I have been on three study abroad programs while at KU, and on every one I decided to travel outside my host city on my own time. When I studied for Summer 2018 in Berlin, I took a weekend in Milan and another weekend in Vienna. While interning in Toronto during Summer 2019, I took a weekend to visit the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. Finally, on my Fall semester program in Freiburg, Germany, I took trips to Paris, Barcelona, London, and Zürich.
I strongly suggest taking your opportunity abroad to see as many other locations as you can. Being in a new part of the world gives you access to locations you might not be near again. That being said, every program is different. Your curriculum may vary in how much free time you have, and if excursions are included you may need to schedule around those. This is why I’ve created a list of tips based on my own experiences.
Before you even leave for your study abroad program you can be planning your top choices of locations and researching them. Is there somewhere you have always wanted to go near your study abroad location? Will there be certain festivals or events on certain dates that you want to attend outside of your host city? Do you have family or friends you want to visit in another location? Having an idea of your top choices before you leave gives you a chance to research logistics and activities to do on your trip ahead of time.
Every study abroad program has a different schedule. How many days a week you have in person classes, if there are field trips, if your program has included excursions. All of these play a part. For example, I wanted to go to the Swiss Alps when studying in Freiburg, but my ecology class had a 3 day field trip included in the cost of my program. This freed up more time and money for my other trips. But I had to get my calendar for my program first to find this out.
That is the most important part of scheduling. As a student, your academic and program obligations come first. Scheduling solo travel that conflicts with already planned events can have serious repercussions on your grades or you could get in trouble with your program. Wait to schedule until you have your syllabus and program calendar.
Budgeting your trips as much as you can ahead of time is important. Solo trips are an individual choice, and costs will usually be out of pocket. That being said there are often cheaper ways to travel abroad and knowing these options can make your trips more feasible.
While in Toronto, I found that taking the train Niagara Falls was the cheapest option. In my programs in Germany, I used many different types of transportation. First, there are many budget airlines in Europe. You can use companies like EasyJet that are known for cheap flights, or using the official airline of the country you are going to can often provide cheaper flights. For example I used Austrian Airlines when going to Vienna and Air France when going to Paris because they had the cheapest flights when going in and out of their main operating airports.
Buses are another option which is often the cheapest. When going somewhere nearby, at least if your program is in Europe, I suggest using FlixBus. I took my trip to Zürich with them, and they are extremely cheap. Trains in Europe can also be cheap, and Deutsche Bahn has locations all over Europe and are very high quality in my opinion. But remember to research modes of transportation available wherever you are located.
Hostels are another cheaper option for staying the night abroad. I used booking websites like Hotels.com for all my overnight stays because they compare prices and give ratings for both regular hotels and hostels.
Weekends are usually the easiest times to book your trips. Depending on your program you may have three or four day weekends, or you may be able to leave after a class to get extra trip time. For example I’d usually leave right after a class on Friday so I’d get an extra night and full day Saturday.
Get a good travel backpack. Many of the cheapest airline tickets only allow one personal item. If you just pack your essentials and a couple pairs of clothes you can avoid extra expenses. Make sure about a third of your backpack is empty when you leave so you’ll have room for some souvenirs to take back.
Get the public transportation app for whatever city you are traveling to ahead of time. And check prices for day passes or individual tickets before you leave.
If the country you are going to on a weekend trip has a different currency, be sure to check if you will need to transfer some money. For example, in London I was always able to use my VISA card, but in Switzerland I needed Swiss francs because more places were cash only. VISA tends to be the best for getting money out of ATMs and is the most widely accepted in my opinion.