My dear friend and fellow Roman, Sam, and I recently stumbled upon some amateur’s blog post offering her six best travel tips. We cannot help but disagree with everything this imbecile says and propose our own travel tips instead. Our credentials? We had the best semester study abroad anyone’s ever had and are thus experts on the subject. Obviously.
So without further ado, here are our 6 Basic Tips to Traveling!
Searching for flights is annoying, plain and simple. (Ha, pun!) You just have to suck it up and spend hours searching for all kinds of combinations and weird times and semi-out-of-the-way airports. In the end, it all comes down to what you’re willing to do. Are you willing to stay up all night partying in Ireland, forfeit all sleep and hop on a 5 or 6 a.m. flight to London? Are you willing to fly to the airport an hour outside Barcelona as opposed to the one right in the middle of it? The more inconvenient the flight, of course, the cheaper. Remember that airfare is cheapest on Tuesdays (it’s a proven fact) and that some of these sites’ prices are in EURO, not American dollars. Also, double and even triple check that your flight is BOOKED and ready to go before you head to the airport. Otherwise you might wind up shelling out a ridiculous amount of cash to a less-than-classy airline (we’re looking at you, RyanAir) in a hasty attempt keep to your schedule.
(Note: RyanAir is the definition of cheap airline—no assigned seats, airports away from the main city, actual clapping when the plane lands—but you get what you pay for. Vueling is actually a very nice airline but they only fly to France/Spain areas. Aer Lingus has really great specials but you have to monitor the site frequently, and Alitalia is great for flying within Italy.)
Staying in hostels is significantly cheaper than staying in hotels—most of the time. For example, hostels and hotels in Venice are nearly the same price. Just make sure you read hostel reviews and descriptions THOROUGHLY so you know exactly what you’re getting into, and if you use a website to book rooms CALL the hostel to make sure the reservation went through. You would think that wouldn’t happen in this day and age, but you would be wrong.
Check for unique staying options as well; universities often rent out dorm rooms during the summer and some conference centers set aside a wing for travelers. It’s also pretty cool to stay at someone’s apartment that they rent out to tourists like you—now that’s doing as the Romans (or Parisians, or Londoners, or whoever) do. Just know that you will eventually come across a truly nasty hostel, it’s part of the growing process. Accept it.
Embrace the true tourist within while putting a practical spin on those double-decker, hop-on-hop-off tour buses you see in every city you visit. Buy yourself a 24-hour-ticket and use it as your own personal taxi service. You don’t have to get back on the same one you got off, there are a bunch of different routes and the passes really do last for 24 hours (meaning if you got the tix at 6 p.m. you can go out, go back to the hostel to sleep, wake up and keep on touring ’til 6 p.m.). These buses are corny but also a great way to see different areas of a city in a short amount of time, allowing you to choose specific neighborhoods you know you want to go back to and explore more extensively.
It’s not too hard to figure out most subway/metro systems in European cities, especially if you’re at all used to one in the States, so get yourself a little map of the system and try it out. Always beware of the taxi drivers that will take advantage of you the second they realize you’re an American, which they will quickly.
(Note: While there will always be plentiful methods of transportation in each city you visit, the absolute best way to immerse yourself is to walk. Grab a map—or don’t, really—and see what you come across after taking to the streets by foot. You’ll notice things you might have missed while underground and you’ll have the chance to find those unique spots you’ll later be proud to say you discovered on your own. (See Exploring for more on the topic of getting lost.)
Your hostel will most likely include breakfast in the price of staying there, but keep in mind non-Americans don’t do breakfast like we do. The hostel will probably offer some crescents and other bread products, lots o’ cereal and if you’re lucky some fruit. The coffee sucks so don’t drink it, just “splurge” on something more authentic later. For lunch try going to a local grocery store and buying fresh meat, cheese, bread and some kind of sauce to make your own little sandwich—usually that’s cheaper than a bar/cafe’ lunch—then go ALL OUT for dinner, especially if you’re in Italy, France or Spain. Don’t go anywhere within a mile of the main tourist attractions, AVOID ALL MENUS WITH PICTURES OF THE FOOD and understand that people in these countries eat dinner much later than 6 p.m. If you’re feeling really adventurous, have an aperitivo (pre-dinner drinks and yummy snacks) in the early evening and a big ol’ dinner around 9.
A couple of memorable restaurants from our travels: L’Archetto in Rome (a stone’s throw from the Trevi Fountain) and Nyhavn 17 in Copenhagen (right on the famous Nyhavn Canal).
Many pubs in other countries have specials on certain nights of the week, just like American ones do, so find out what those are. And the discos, like American clubs, have significantly overpriced drinks and cover charges. Do try absinthe, just once, but with a group of friends. Keep in mind that in other parts of the world people don’t drink solely to get drunk, they do it for the taste, for the pure enjoyment of the thing in their hand, so try to drink with some dignity. Definitely taste the beverages each country is known for—Peroni (beer) and Limoncello in Italy, sangria in Spain, you get our drift. (Honestly, Guinness really does taste better in Ireland.) And definitely, definitely, DEFINITELY go on a pub crawl in at least one city. They are somethin’ else.
Walk everywhere. And get lost. That is when you’ll find the hidden treasures of a city, the little boutiques, the gorgeous views, the hole-in-the-wall restaurants. But don’t be ashamed of signing up for a few walking tours and such—don’t you want to know at least some the history behind that beautiful building you’re looking at? Feel free to purchase a map and study it but don’t whip it out in public places thus losing the little dignity you as a tourist had left. People at your hostel will definitely help with recommendations and directions, even going so far as marking up your map, so be open and take advantage of their suggestions. Flirting will get you everywhere.
We hope you have enjoyed and will seriously take into consideration our tips, and no one else’s. Bon voyage!