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How to Plan the Perfect Weekend Trip
Published 04/25/2012 by Kristen Wendt
1. To Go by Plane, Train, or Bus? That is the Question. The best way to save money while traveling is to utilize flight search engines like skyscanner.com, which browse through all flights in your area and leave you with the cheapest options. My advice would be to insert the city that you're studying around at in the departures section, and leave your options open by choosing "everywhere" as your destination. This way, you are able to find the cheapest flights flying out of your city every weekend. However, you should also research other modes of transportation like trains or buses. Buses can be cheap, but you often have to deal with traffic and long travel times. Trains are often a good option when traveling within the same country or to neighboring countries because you can pack what you would like and often don't have to pay for extra costs to and from the airport since most trains stations land you right in the middle of all the action.
2. Pick your hostel accordingly. Hostels can make or break your experience so choose wisely. Picking the right hostels doesn't mean that you have to pay top dollar either. Helpful websites like hostelworld.com and hostelbookers.com are great resources for determining your perfect hostel. They break down user ratings into several categories like character, fun, security, location, staff, and cleanliness. The ones I look at most closely are location and staff. Location saves you on public transportation money in the long run and a knowledgeable and friendly staff makes all the difference in the world during your hostel experience. And don't forget to check out the reviews section! Satisfied customers aren't likely to hold back on the praise.
3. Pack light. Budget airlines like RyanAir and EasyJet are great on the wallet. However, they're not so great when it comes to allowing excess carry-on baggage. They only allow one item of cabin baggage "weighing up to 10kg with maximum dimensions of 55cm x 40cm x 20cm" (according to the RyanAir website). (This includes your purse, laptop, camera case, etc.) So pack light, and leave room so that you can throw your purse inside at last minute in order to avoid extra baggage fees.
5. Print out directions. Contrary to popular belief, airports do not land you right in the middle of the city center. They're usually at least a half an hour outside the city and require a bus ride or two. Trains often drop you in the middle of the city, but you'll still need to have directions on hand to find your hostel. I can guarantee that no matter how you get to the city- by bus, train, or plane- you will not simply end up on your hostel's front doorstep. Save yourself the trouble and print off some directions.
5. Make a list of "must-sees". While wandering the streets is a good way to soak up the atmosphere of a new city, it's always good to have at least a vague list of things you want to do around the city. My favorite website on all the best attractions, tours, and restaurants is tripadvisor.com. It ranks the top things to do in every city by user ratings, and includes an endless amount of reviews on every attraction to give you the inside scoop. It also is a great resource for discovering new places to eat since it has filters such as price and location to limit your options.
6. Mark your map. Once you have a list of attractions you want to see and restaurants you want to visit, circle them on your local map. Most hostels give maps out for free upon arrival, however if you can't get one from your hostel, you can always find some at your local tourism office. Once you have everything circled on a map, it's much easier to determine your plan of attack for the weekend.
7. Research local rules, traditions, and mannerisms. There comes a moment in every city, where you realize just how much you depend on simple habits back home. Should you choose a table or let a waiter seat you at the restaurant? Will the waiter automatically bring you the check at the end of the meal or will they expect you to ask for it? Do they tip in this country? If so, how much? When you're in a different country, all the rules change. Taking a few moments before you leave to research some local customs will save you the hassle in the long run.
8. Learn some basics. Learn some basic vocabulary if you are traveling to a different country. Obviously, you don't need to become proficient, but simple phrases like "please" and "thank you" can go a long way. You'll also save yourself a lot of embarrassment when it comes to words like enter/exit, the push/pull signs on doors, and men/women for the bathroom.
9. Utilize the locals. Ask your hostel owners where their favorite place to eat is. Question some locals about their favorite thing to do in the city. Most people are flattered when you ask for advice and are more than willing to share. It's also the best way to learn about some of the most charming, and least touristy (which also means cheaper) places to visit in every city.
Disclaimer: That being said, you can't plan everything. Eventually, something will go wrong. You'll miss your train, lose your directions, or maybe even miss your bus, decide to take a taxi, and then realize that you took a taxi to the wrong airport (It happens. Believe me! I'm talking from personal experience on that one.) Take a deep breath and realize, that these are the types of moments that define a study abroad experience. Just say calm, think though your problem, and realize that these types of things always have a funny way of working out in the end. And honestly, what's a study abroad experience without at least one travel horror story?