For many people, study abroad is the ultimate excuse to travel. It sometimes results in a sense of urgency, a race against the clock to fit it all in during the exchange program. Many of the most popular study abroad locations are in Europe, where countries are small, close together, and easy to travel between thanks to the Schengen Agreement. Plus, all your friends are traveling there too, and seeing all those awesome touristy photos they've been plastering across Facebook probably has really been giving you that itch to travel.
There is only a limited amount of time in a semester, what, 14 or so weeks? All things considered, it would be insane not to try and rack up as many countries as possible during the narrow window of time you're abroad.
Right? Well, maybe not.
Take a deep breath and realize that's not what it's about. There are a lot of reasons to stay in your own country, and if you really have to jet-set, there are some more rewarding ways to do it than just showing up and joining the herd of tourists stampeding the Eiffel Tower or Prague Orloj.
Not convinced? Don't stop reading yet! Here are plenty of reasons why you should NOT travel to a new country every week during your study abroad program:
Your Wallet Will Thank You
Traveling costs a lot of money. Just the ticket to get across the ocean and start studying abroad was a huge expense. In comparison to that massive price tag, those little Ryanair or EasyJet flights might seem like pocket change. But… they aren't. Those add up like crazy, especially after considering luggage (most cheap airlines charge extra for bringing any checked baggage). Also, transportation expenses getting to and from what are often secondary airports aren't what you expect. They are way harder to access and leave! For example, Ryanair's “Paris” flights drop passengers off at Beauvais, an airport over 60 miles from the City of Lights. It should be illegal to label it a Paris flight, seriously.
The transportation is only half of it. Chances are you won't be cooking your own meals and staying in for the evening when traveling to a new country each weekend. Some hostels provide a kitchen, but in most cases they are congested with people camping out around mealtimes. So, you eat out, but where to? Travelers relying on guide books or travel websites to find good places to eat will probably end up actually spending MORE on food.
Choice vs. Bandwagon
The reason for traveling is to experience things.
Nights AND days should be spent out and about, and unfortunately that's not free. One day usually includes a tour, a few hot spots, some souvenirs, a light lunch, museum entry, and the list goes on and on. Even responsible frugal travel adds up in time and money, so instead of jumping to every available location, be sure to choose quality trips to places you really want to go.
Unfamiliarity with the currency doesn't help. Constantly traveling to new places with new currencies and price ranges can result in ringing up a “secret” debt that may not hit you right away, but it will certainly come back to bite you later.
You're Not There By Accident
You chose your host country for study abroad for a reason right? When deciding to study abroad, you probably picked a country that you have a passion for and a culture you wanted to learn about. Maybe you love the language, love the city, but you must love something about it otherwise you wouldn't have picked it!
So, why on earth would you leave it every weekend? Explore your number one choice!
Build Those Language Skills!
Similarly, if you chose a country that does not speak your native language, you picked it ostensibly because you would like to become much, much better at that language. That's going to be a lot harder if you take off every weekend with English-speaking friends and completely leave the language behind for two or three days each week. Instead, invest your weekends on learning your host country's language, like you planned!
Learn to Travel Wisely
All the above considered, you probably will still want to do some traveling, and you should. It might be the last time you'll be on the continent for a while, and there are probably a couple places you are just dying to see. There are ways to travel wisely, to get the most rewarding experience for the time, effort, and money you sink into it. First of all, try traveling within your country. There's more than the city in which you chose to study (unless you're studying abroad in Monaco).
Many European countries are very easily traversed by rail. In France, for example, all of the largest cities are connected to Paris by the TGV network (a collection of super-fast trains). You may be surprised at the variety of cultures and dialects you discover right there in your own country! Similarly, you can work on language skills by traveling to other countries that speak the same language; for example, if you're studying in France, you could practice French in other countries, such as Belgium, Luxembourg, and Switzerland.
To get the most value out of the trips, try to go to places where you can meet up with someone who lives there, be they a friend studying abroad, a relative, or someone else who knows the area inside and out. Also, try to make the trip longer than just a day or two; if you can go for four or five days, or even a week, that's much better! You'll get to know the city more intimately than a random tourist could.
Still trying to decide whether a quick trip out to Vienna or Bruges is in order? Ask yourself these questions.
- Can I afford to travel to ______?
- Do I have a legitimate desire to go to ______ beyond the fact that my friend asked if I want to go?
- Do I know anything about ______?
- Do I even know where ______ is?
- Have I thoroughly explored my host country?