While studying abroad, I have opened myself up to a plethora of new experiences and opportunities. While I spend a great deal of time trying to integrate, learn the language, and focus on my academics, being in Salamanca also provides the unique opportunity to explore Europe in an economic and eye-opening way. Since most free time falls on the weekends, I’ve decided to share a few tips and tricks I have learned about making the most of your weekend adventures and enriching your study abroad experience!
1. Do your research before you leave. Make sure you know what you would like to visit, where you are staying, and how you will get there and back before you leave your front door. Of course, you may have to be flexible during your trip, but it always helps to have a basic understanding of local bus schedules, airport transfers, etc. in case you run into a problem. This is especially helpful if you only have a couple of days – you want to be able to enjoy the city!
2. Don’t be afraid to ask. The best and fastest way to get an answer to your question is to ask. Sounds obvious, but often we can be nervous to approach locals or officials with basic inquiries. Don’t be! Put away your phone and ask a local on the street; communicating with different people is a critical part of traveling and often provides you with a good recommendation for that one delicious gelato place.
3. Take advantage of free tours. In many major cities in Europe, companies provide “free” tours of the city.
These can be informative and help you get the lay of the land. The guides who lead these tours most likely work just for tips, so make sure that you are prepared to give them some cash. However, these tours can be just as good as an expensive, pre-paid tour and are meant for budget travelers. Just make sure you check out their website and their reputation first to get the most out of your time.
4. Learn how to say hello, goodbye, and thank you in the local language. This is just good manners.
5. Adventure away from the tourist centers. While the Eiffel Tower is amazing and it’s fun to look in the ritzy shops, it can be very worthwhile to venture out on your own. You may discover a quaint little neighborhood or a quiet part of the river that takes your breath away. Use your free time to explore these areas outside of the city center. Bonus – restaurants and shops will be way cheaper.
6. Go it alone. While daunting, planning a trip on your own can be quite liberating. It allows you to see and do what you want to do, and being alone forces you to integrate with the people around you. I’ll never forget some
of the days I have spent traveling on my own because they allowed me to reflect and observe life around me in a way I don’t experience when with a group. With that being said . . .
7. Trust your instincts. It is often fear – of planning, being lost, or worse – that keeps us from venturing where we want to go. The bottom line is that you have the power to keep yourself safe. Trust your instincts when you are wandering around or talking to people. Wear your money belt. Bring a lock to the hostel. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. While most of us students are budget travelers, always keep in mind that it’s worth it to splurge for a taxi if it is dark, or to pay more for a hostel in a better part of town. There is no need to be so worried that you don’t enjoy your trip, but it’s just good sense to look out for yourself when traveling.
8. Live in the moment and enjoy. Come on! This is an amazing opportunity to travel and see a different part of the world. Keep in mind that you do not have to travel every weekend; this is exhausting and takes away from your experience. Some weekends are meant for exploring your new hometown and the surrounding areas. Just because you don’t have to travel far doesn’t make the experience less valuable. So live in the moment! Go on adventures! Enjoy this incredible opportunity to learn and discover.