by Sarah Bennett
Hello world! This semester I am studying abroad at University College Dublin (UCD) in Dublin, Ireland. After spending the first half of my semester exploring Ireland, for spring break I decided to adventure out to the rest of Europe. Having never been to Europe before, this experience has been all very new for me and taught me a lot about traveling. Here are some of the things I’ve learned along the way!
1. Travel with someone you trust:
Though I have done some traveling on my own in Ireland, I was extremely lucky to have the same spring break as my boyfriend, who is also studying abroad. This made our trip a lot more enjoyable and now we have a ton of stories to share when we get home. I have also traveled with friends from UCD and no matter who you go with, having someone else is better than traveling alone. Overall a second person is a second set of eyes in a busy train station, an extra wallet to help keep costs down and obviously double the fun.
2. Eat the local food:
You may or may not like it but you’ll never know until you try. Living in Ireland is fantastic because shepherd’s pie is one of my favorite meals and it’s one of theirs too. In Belgium, the waffles are delicious so I would highly recommend those. Though it may feel weird, don’t be afraid to take a picture of your food. I’ve never been one to do so but sometimes you want to remember the best meal you ate in a city (or ever).
3. Travel light:
Only bring as much luggage as you feel comfortable lugging around for the course of your trip, especially if you’ll be walking with it a lot. Of course, bring enough to have what you need but know that a train won’t wait while you struggle to get your suitcase up to the platform. While packing to go, make sure to leave room for items you may pick up along the way. Packing light is also a great way to save money on flights because while flights here are cheap, sometimes checking a bag can cost as much as your ticket!
4. Try to know a little of the local language:
If you’re learning the language it can be really exciting to use it in real life but odds are in Europe you will go somewhere and not know the language. I know French, which helped until I spent a week in Germany. Though in most countries I traveled to it seems you can find someone who speaks English, you are a visitor so it’s polite to at least try. If you put in the effort you may notice a change in the attitudes of the people around, which can make for a much more pleasant experience. I recommend knowing how to say hello, thank you, you’re welcome, sorry and excuse me. Even though actions have different meanings across cultures, a smile is universal so if you don’t know how to thank a waitress there is always that option!
5. Trains are great:
In the U.S. getting around can either take a long time or be pretty expensive. However in Europe, getting around is fairly inexpensive and easy. There’s flying and taking a bus of course but I was surprised by the many options there are if you choose to travel by train. Since most cities in Europe are old and pretty established, the airports can be located quite a ways outside of them (I’m looking at you Paris). Trains can be more convenient for getting into the hearts of cities. The other great thing about trains is you only have to get there a couple minutes early giving more time to explore before you have to leave. The downside to traveling by train is they take a lot longer. Planes are great if you prefer to take an hour to get somewhere rather than five or six. However, I would highly recommend a train trip because it allows you to see more of the country you’re traveling through. I took trains everywhere except to and from Ireland and I loved that it made me slow down and relax because once you get to a city things tend to move a lot faster and it can be easy to burn out.
6. But bring something to do on long train rides:
Sometimes trains have wifi and sometimes they don’t. The way chance would have it, my two long (as in six hours) train rides did not so make sure to bring something to pass the time such as a book to read or a laptop so you can write a blog post. Another thing to note is whether the area you’re sitting in is a quiet zone or not. I brought a deck of cards but the first time we shuffled them we got a couple looks because even that was too loud for a quiet cabin.
7. Stop into souvenir stores:
Souvenir stores are loads of fun and full of the craziest things. I personally like to pick up postcards but part of my souvenir hunt this trip is to collect a rubber duck from each place I visit. Though the main point here is to buy something to remind you of your travels, souvenir stores can also be a place of inspiration for where in town you may want to visit next if you see something cool on a postcard. After visiting the EU Parliament Building in Brussels, Chris and I were browsing the gift shop and noticed a couple of cool places on the postcards that we made a point to visit.
8. Write things down:
This was advice given to me by a friend who studied abroad and it was some of the best advice I got before leaving. You’ll take a thousand pictures (not exaggerating) and though you say you’ll remember what everything is, once you get home three months later and have to show other people you may be finding it harder to remember than you thought. Chris kept a list on his phone of everything we saw in each city and I wrote it down in a little pocket-sized journal. I promise you won’t regret it and it’ll give you something to hold onto in the future.
9. Always carry cash:
Maybe this seems obvious but I cannot emphasize this enough. There’s nothing more awkward than having to pay a waitress with coins because you’re short a couple euros. Though most places will take your card, inevitably you will go somewhere that doesn’t. We had heard that many places in Germany don’t take cards but didn’t realize how true that would be so just a head’s up for anyone going there anytime soon.
10. Most importantly make sure to enjoy it:
Everyone will say this but it’s good advice so I’ll say it too. Take your time and make sure to do what you want to do. There isn’t a list of things that you absolutely have to see when you go somewhere, though it may feel like it. No matter how long you spend somewhere, there’s always more to discover so I recommend doing what you want rather than what you feel obligated to, chances are that’ll give you a better experience. Besides if you take your time and don’t get to everything on your list that gives you a reason to go back one day!
Overall choosing to study abroad is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Writing this blog felt impossible because there are so many experiences to share with you all. Even though I didn’t write about Ireland much, if there were one place I would tell people to go it would be here. There’s just too much to say about this island for one blog post. If the opportunity ever arises to study abroad or even just to travel, I highly recommend taking it because the experience is really incredible.