Since studying abroad, I think we could all agree that we more frequently find ourselves connecting with others who have traveled. International travel changes your perspective of where you belong in the world and better shows how everyone’s connected. Luckily for us, we’re all in Pitt’s Society for International Business (SIB), which brings people who have had that experience to one place! Robby, a fellow SIB member, studied in Sevilla, Spain while we were in Argentina. Here is his take on travel that he discovered while trekking around Europe.
Tips for the Neo-Nomadic Traveler
Travel tips for those on a tight budget with an open agenda
10) Research your transportation options.
When you hear the phrase “book a flight” you may cringe at the thought of your bank account diminishing, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Discount airlines are the way to fly while traveling abroad. Ryanair, Vueling, and EasyJet are a few, of the many, discount European airlines (*Alexa’s note*: I really like Skyscanner, and it includes those airlines!). Flying most likely isn’t your only option. Many regions have extensive, and easily accessible, rail systems. During a trip I took through several countries in Western Europe, I was able to keep transportation costs below $50, and I was lucky enough to be able to exchange train tickets last minute. Don’t be afraid to ask.
9) Don’t hesitate to book hostels or CouchSurf.
Let’s be honest, you’re probably already thinking of one of the many mediocre horror films where a vulnerable traveler finds themselves trapped amidst a tragic situation in some sketchy hostel in a dreary European town. This grotesque depiction of hostels is not accurate! Although you may run into some interesting travelers sleeping in the bunk next to you, most people checking in to the hostel are just like you. I have had several hostel experiences, some better than others, but never negative. One memorable hostel experience was in Málaga, Spain—a small city on the southern coast. The staff greeted us at the door, showed us around the hostel, offered us food and drinks, and immediately began helping us plan our time in Málaga to make sure we took advantage of everything the city had to offer. Remember, a hostel isn’t a 5-star hotel, but it most certainly can be a 5-star experience. CouchSurfing.org is a fast-growing network that connects travelers with locals willing to host travelers in their home for a few nights. The best part: it’s free! Many hosts are travelers just like you and are trying to boost their traveling karma by letting a few people crash for a night or two in hopes of the favor being reciprocated down the road. I haven’t personally couch surfed, although I’ve tried, but many of my friends have had unique and truly positive experiences.
8) Pack light and accordingly.
It’s extremely important to be conscious of what you’re packing. First, you need to know some background information about where you’re planning to travel. Check the weather. A quick 2 hour flight from southern Spain to London can be a difference of 20 degrees. Pack lightly bringing only essentials. Large suitcases may not meet strict carry-on requirements for discounted airlines, and checked-baggage fees can be quite pricey. I always packed in a medium sized duffel bag that was able to conform to the tight baggage check system on Ryanair. I have witnessed several friends having to pay the baggage fee because their standard backpacking pack did not fit in the baggage check. It’s important to be familiar with the culture of where you’re traveling. Nothing stands out more than walking around a quaint European town wearing shorts and sneakers. Proper clothing can also become a safety issue. In countries like Morocco, women showing an excessive amount of skin may receive aggressive male attention that may very well seem inappropriate.
7) Take advantage of free attractions.
If your heart isn’t set on vising the most famous museums, then don’t! Do research to find free museums that may be off the beaten path, visit a cathedral, spend the time walking through less visited parts of the city, or enjoy yourself and your company at a local café. Although visiting the Louvre may be on your bucket list, Paris is full of art that can be accessed just by wandering through the winding Rues observing the beautiful architecture of seemingly insignificant buildings. Check to see if museums have student discounts or offer free entrance on specific days. If you don’t make it to the most recognized museums, don’t let it bother you. Your options to experience local culture and art are endless.
6) Document your experience. (<– We super support this!)
There are many ways to capture your experience. Even though pictures and words may never seem to satisfy the feelings of being there and in the moment, you will appreciate being able to look back on your experience. Take photos of anything and everything. You don’t have to be a photographer, snap shots of anything that catches your eye or you find meaningful. I usually only travel with a point and shoot digital camera and tend to take candid pictures of people and architecture, but when I look back on these photos it brings me right back into that moment. I also suggest keeping a travel blog or journal. A blog will help you remember your trips and can always be looked back on to keep the experience fresh in your mind (this is Robby’s from Spain!). Also, family and friends will enjoy being able to keep track of what’s going on in your life since internet isn’t always provided and international phone calls can be quite expensive.
5) Talk to strangers.
Contrary to what you’ve been taught your entire life, talking to strangers can definitely enhance your travel experience. No one has more useful information than someone who is native to the city or town you’re traveling in. Ask about restaurants, nightlife, sites worth seeing and places worth visiting. Chances are you’ll come across someone who is more than willing to talk about their favorite places around town, and talking with locals will uncover the hidden gems off the beaten path.
4) Don’t be too cheap, even if you’re on a tight budget like I was.
I’m a college student on a budget, so it’s almost hypocritical for me to suggest spending money. However, it’s important to spend money while traveling to get the most out of your experience. Make sacrifices. Spend the extra €3 to purchase an authentic Belgian beer while in Belgium, instead of the cheaper off-brand alternative. Grab a £5 kebab for lunch so you can afford a Thames river boat tour, if that’s what is important to you.
3) Travel with great friends (or just one).
Travel with people who have similar interests and objectives as you, and people you truly care about. Trust me, there’s a high probability that your travel buddies will become some of your best friends. Large travel groups bring a higher stress level (which is completely unnecessary). Traveling with one or two friends, who are just as open as you are about where to travel and what to see will make your trip flow smoothly. Plus, the conversation along the way is just as important as the actual sightseeing.
2) Don’t make plans!
There’s a difference between doing research and making plans. Keep your options and your mind open while being aware of your surroundings; the rest will work itself out. I discovered this wise tip during my last big excursion around Europe. I booked transportation and a few hostels and the rest of the trip was determined in the moment. Don’t be afraid to leave town a night early if you feel like the time can be better spent somewhere else. Tickets can be transferred and dates can be changed. Remember, if you don’t make it to the most famous tourist locations, don’t fret. Your experience can be tailored to your personal interests.
1) Just GO!
Travel as frequently as possible. It doesn’t matter whether you’re making an international voyage or a weekend trip to another university; if the timing is right, then go! Don’t be afraid to venture off into a city or country that you never imagined yourself traveling to. Often times these less traveled cities hold the cheapest airfare, and a rich amount of culture. Every trip holds a unique experience, and I’m a firm believer that every experience is the best thing that can happen to you.
And that’s what traveling around Europe teaches you in a semester. Lucky for us, we learned it all in one sitting! Thank you so much for the insight, Robby! Happy travels. 🙂