I’m just over halfway through my study abroad program, which means that I’ve had many opportunities to take weekend trips from Florence and see much of Europe! Traveling on the weekends has been an essential aspect of studying abroad for me and something I encourage everyone to do. However, weekend traveling can be incredibly exhausting, overwhelming, and expensive!
Here are a few tips I’ve learned that have made my weekend trips from Florence relaxing, fun-filled, and inexpensive.
I simply cannot stress this enough: research the city you’re traveling to before you leave! You’ll want to know where the train station is in relation to your hostel or hotel, how long of a walk the different museums and restaurants are from each other, and other important logistical details. You’ll want to research the best things to do in each town, as well as the best places to eat!
Before I venture out on a weekend trip, I typically look for small bloggers who have written about their experiences in this town. Look up some must see museums or churches, the best place to grab a quick bite to eat or a nice dinner, perhaps the place to go out at night, and any hidden treasures or must-sees the city has to offer!
Write down a few places you for sure want to see before you go. Research what time they’re open, how much entry will cost, the transportation to and from, and schedule how much time you’ll likely spend there. Do this with a couple of places to create an outline of a schedule for your day. You certainly don’t want to over-schedule your day, as being flexible is key to traveling, but get a feel for how you’d like to spend your day.
2. Transportation: Trains, Planes, Buses
Getting to your destination is arguably your first step when weekend traveling. I always advise people to book transportation first — and well in advance. If you try to book transportation from two weeks out and closer, prices will be significantly higher.
For Trains: I typically start with TrenItalia if I know the city is reachable by train in a relatively small amount of time. TrenItalia has a mix of trains — some make frequent stops and are very “city-like”, while other trains are significantly nicer, cleaner, and are meant for folks traveling long distances, making few stops in larger cities. The city-like trains are usually cheaper, but will likely take longer. They’re certainly not as clean or comfortable and the bathrooms aren’t the best. But, if you want to get there in the cheapest way, this is your best bet! If you’re wanting to get there are quickly as possible and you’re not worried about money, I suggest taking a nicer train and sitting in 2nd class. You’ll find comfortable seats, phone chargers, a table to do work or rest your head on, and decent bathrooms.
For Planes: Traveling by plane in Europe can sometimes be the cheapest option of all! However, these flights are few and far between. I purchased a flight to Sicily for 20 Euros once! These cheap flights usually come from RyanAir, so be sure to check them out first. Sadly, it’ll be hard to find a really cheap flight on the weekend.
Be sure to pack light for these flights as many of them have bag restrictions; a backpack is ideal! Also, check out where the airport is in relation to the city center, as most airports are outside the city. You may need to buy a bus ticket to get into the city or where you’re staying.
For Buses: The easiest way to book a bus is to head straight to GoEuro, either online or using the app. GoEuro will tell you the quickest and cheapest way to travel — by plane, train, or bus — but is especially helpful and easy when researching buses! You’ll likely be directed to the FlixBus website, which typically departs and arrives from a bus station near the local train station. These buses may be packed, may or may not have a charging port, and you’ll probably be a little uncomfortable. However, buses are great for traveling longer distances when you have a flexible amount of time. I typically choose to take a bus to return home on a Sunday, as you’ll likely leave the city in the early afternoon and return home to Florence by midnight. At this point, you’re exhausted — I tend to fall asleep on the bus!
3. All about food
Traveling and constantly eating out for a weekend can really add up! I suggest going to the grocery store before you leave your home city and stocking up on easy snacks — perhaps some protein bars, nuts, bananas, etc. Additionally, if you’re really looking to save some money, grab a loaf of bread, jam, peanut butter, and fruit and eat breakfast or lunch on your own! Find a local sandwich spot for a quick lunch on the go — save yourself the extra money of a cover charge by having a take away lunch and sitting at a nearby park. For dinner, I would research local places or ask store-workers where they like to go for dinner. The further away you get from the city center or big touristy areas, the less expensive the food will be. Walk a little in any direction and suddenly a pizza goes from 20 Euros to 12!
Always carry a refillable water bottle when you travel. Most city’s have free taps somewhere around, or you can refill in a bathroom with tap water. Never purchase bottled water, it’s a huge rip off!
4. Museums and Activities
Depending on the length of your stay, I would suggest choosing one museum or art gallery to attend for each day you’re in a city. Each city typically has a couple museums, churches, or exhibits that are deemed “must-sees.” Attending a city’s museums or church will give you a greater appreciation for their history and culture.
Purchase tickets for these places online to avoid the line and attend them later in the day. Tourists usually go in the morning and the places can be incredibly busy, so if you don’t mind waiting until the afternoon or evening, do so! Another fun trick I’ve learned is that almost every city has a free walking tour each morning. They usually last around an hour and the tour guide will walk you around the city, pointing out highlights and giving you some background and context. This is a great thing to do on your first morning in a city and a wonderful way to get your groundings of the area.
5. Where to stay?
Another pre-departure part of weekend traveling is planning your accommodations! If you’re traveling in a larger group, I would suggest checking out Airbnb or other homestay apps. They’re trustworthy and credible, and if you split the price between multiple people it’s typically fairly inexpensive. Many have access to kitchens so you can cook as a group. Always check the location of the Airbnb in relation to things you want to see in the city. Walking is always the best form of transportation!
If you’re traveling solo or with a small group, I’d suggest looking into a Hostel. Hostelworld.com has a plethora of hostels in every European city, ranging in price and location. A couple of things to look out for when booking a hostel: its proximity to the city, whether they provide a towel, if free breakfast is included or not, if there are lockers to store your belongings, WiFi access, etc. After finding a hostel, scroll to the bottom of the page and read the reviews! The reviews will tell you so much.
6. Don’t Forget Your Studies
There’s nothing worse than returning home from a long weekend of traveling to a test the next day or a homework assignment. Plan ahead! Spend your weekdays getting assignments done so you can be fully invested during your travels.
7. Pack Smart!
As for packing, plan your outfits ahead of time! Try to brings things that are interchangeable and always wear layers. Be sure to check the weather before you leave to dress accordingly! Wear comfortable shoes that you wouldn’t mind walking 20,000+ steps in, and pack a comfy outfit to change into for travel time!