MAKING TRAVEL PLANS
It is without a doubt that almost everyone’s favorite part of studying abroad is traveling to different countries. As a matter of fact, I spent most of my study abroad experience doing activities in Barcelona that were provided by my program. However, I have myself planned and travelled on two weekend trips around Europe, but only on weekends when I really didn’t have any big papers to write or exams to study for, especially when I had long weekends with four to five days off. Believe it or not, if you follow these simple planning guidelines, your weekend trips will not only be hassle-free, but much more enjoyable as well. Here are my five need-to-know tips for planning weekend travel.
• Travel with a group: Traveling with friends is not only safer, but also much more fun. I travelled to Prague and Budapest on my own and while I never felt like I was in danger because I was exploring with different groups. When I was in my Prague, I travelled with Bus2alps, when I was in Budapest, I travelled with Weekend Student Adventures. I stood in a 6 to 8 person room hostel with other study abroad students. Having multiple heads working together will make planning and getting around much easier, and if nothing else, it’s always better to have some company.
• Creating a Budget: Actually, you’ll want to plan 2; one for your flight and hostel you book ahead of time, and one for the amount you’re going to spend when you’re actually traveling. Good hostels can be as cheap as 15 or 20 Euro a night depending on the time of year, and flights as low as 50 to 80 Euro round-trip. If I was going to be in a city for say 3 days and 2 nights, I usually took out the equivalent of $200 to $250 in local currency. Remember, the earlier you do your booking, the cheaper your travel will be. Check currency exchange rates before you leave! In some places like the Czech Republic, the rate is something like $1 to 20 Czech Koruna, so don’t be surprised when you take out 5000 CZK from the ATM.
• Bring a copy of your visa and passport with you: I had my passport in my pouch at all times because I figured it was safer that way, although some people will disagree with that. If you’re following my lead, keep a copy of your visa and passport in your hostel locker, and on the off chance your passport does get stolen, having this will make your trip to the U.S. consulate to get a replacement go a lot smoother.
• Investigate public transportation in your destination city: Few days before my weekend adventure begun, I have spent some time reading transportation maps about the city I am going to. This is something I personally advise all travellers to do before their trips begin, because this will help them avoid getting lost, spending money constantly, and make their trip a hundred times more safer. Note on Taxis: In mainland Europe, taxi drivers are occasionally known to charge you a ridiculous rate when you come to your stop. Negotiate either a price/mile rate or an overall rate right when you get in the cab, and stick to it. If the cabbie tries to mess with you, threaten to get the police and more than likely they’ll back down as they don’t have the time to get involved with the cops.
EXCURSIONS PROVIDED BY YOUR PROGRAM
Many cultural activities and travel excursions are included in AIFS Study Abroad programs. In addition, you’ll find great options available to supplement your experience in meaningful, sometimes life-changing, ways. No matter what country you choose to study in, the AIFS programs provide optional excursions during specific weekends. They are there to make your study abroad experiences fun, enjoyable, and memorable.
Seville & Granada AIFS Excursion
Now that I have been enrolled in my courses and have a sense of what my work-load is throughout the semester, I start to travel with my group on the first optional excursion to Andalucia. On Friday morning, I take a one-hour flight from Barcelona to Seville. Seville is famous for its architecture. Seville’s architecture is a mixture of the old and the new, the ancient and the modern. Phoenicians, romans, visigoths, arabs have lived in this city and therefore have left a trace in buildings, urban planning and culture. After spending one night in Seville I take a three-hour bus ride to Granada, another city in Andalucia that is a little more hilly. Granada is very famous for its beautiful gardens, city views, and historical palaces. Here are two wonderful places to go to during your time in Andalucia. One is in Seville and the other is in Granada.
The Alhambra is probably one of the most breathtaking places you'll ever visit, but be sure to have good walking shoes because it'll take a good 2 to 3 hours to see the whole thing. Even though, different palaces that are part of the Alhambra were used less and less and fell into disrepair for hundreds of years. Squatters moved in. A lot of the original artwork was lost. Parts were destroyed in the 1800s during battles with the French and a strong earthquake. It's possible that the entire complex could have been forgotten about altogether if it hadn't been “rediscovered” by European scholars in the 1820s. Since then, its been reclaimed and is still undergoing restoration. I personally love the Alhambra as a palace of fascinating architecture. Spending time up in Alhambra felt like being up in heaven, smelling flowers, and seeing so many people make it for an eternal loving life.
(Seville) Plaza de Espana:
My favorite place in Seville is Plaza de Espana. The massive building is Seville's most impressive after the cathedral, for its sheer scale and grandeur. Love it or hate it - fabulous or fussy, magnificent or overblown, depending on your point of view – I would advise you not miss it when visiting the city. Plaza de España was built for the Ibero-American Exhibition of 1929 (Expo 29), along with many of the pavilions you can see in and around the Parque Maria Luisa. I think Plaza de Espana is one of the biggest and most famous landmarks in the capital of Andalucia. Here is a fun fact. Star Wars Episode II Attack of the Clones was filmed at the plaza. If any of you are huge Star Wars fanatics, this is definitely the place to go if you want to feel like you are in planet Naboo with Senator Amidala.
Morocco AIFS Excursion
Because AIFS is one of the best study abroad programs in the world, I have signed up for an excursion travelling to a new continent and a new country, which was in fact, number 30 on my Travel Record Books. I went on the excursion that I had been looking forward to the most: Morocco. Considering the fact that my Dad is from an Islamic country, I was so excited to visit a Muslim country, and finally experience a different country with cultural similarities. During my three days in Morocco, I have tried different food, walked around different towns, and went camal riding. I loved Morocco. I loved my time there. I loved the places I wandered through and the people who proved that Moroccans are kind, welcoming and helpful. However, I was super frustrated that I ran into local men I met were being childish because I was ignoring them. I am referring to men who were selling Moroccan souvenirs on the streets. Here is some personal and helpful advice for people who plan to go to Morocco. This is advice when it comes to running into strangers who ask for money or try to force you to buy supplies. There’s not really much you can do to avoid attention (I have met women travelling with men who were drained from the abuse directed at them) but there are steps you can take to minimise it. Look as if you know where you’re going when you’re out exploring. If you look frightened and disorientated you’ll also look like an easy target. When local men approach you keep your head held high, avoid eye contact and stride purposefully away. If they persist, ask them firmly to leave you alone. Some of you may ask me, how were you able to prevent yourself from being involved in bad incidents? I remained with my group and made sure I was staying with the people in my group. I disregarded any word that was spat out by any childish stranger trying to get my attention. Other than getting myself out of the dangerous situations, I am very happy to say that Morocco is a country where people can explore the religion of Islam.