By Chelsea Couture, International Education Intern
Although Barcelona is possibly the greatest city in the world, many students still like to occasionally travel to other cities on the weekends. Traveling in Europe is not only a great way to see a wide variety of cultures, but it’s also (as many may already know) very easy. Yet, even though it is very popular, it may still be intimidating for novice travelers. Here are the essentials you need to know when going on weekend trips within Spain and to nearby cities. Once you have these tips down pat, it will be smooth sailing across Europe.
First things first…
Packing. Two words: pack light. Stick to only the essentials. The stress of trying to stuff your exploding bag into a small compartment can put even the most skilled traveler on edge. Avoid the stress and extra hassle by packing as lightly as possible. And no, that doesn’t mean bringing 5 changes of clothes, a hair dryer, and 4 pairs of shoes for a 3 day trip. We all know that cutting down what we pack is much easier said than done, but you won’t regret traveling with a lighter load. Many of the cheap airlines tack on extra fees for every checked bag. That’s money you could be using on cultural activities or even better- food! Unfortunately, airlines can also be pretty strict with the size of your carry on bag as well, so make sure it fits the regulation size. Quick tip: try packing what you would normally bring for a three day weekend and then cut that in half. The less you bring on your travels the less things you will have to worry about, and even better- the more you can bring back with you!
Transportation. Let’s be real, traveling country to country within Europe is pretty comparable to traveling state to state in the US. One minute you can depart with an “Adios” only to be met with “Ciao” a short hour and half later. And no, it’s not teleportation. Cheap airlines are a great way to get around quickly on budget. Airlines such as RyanAir, Vueling, and EasyJet are good options to travel around Spain and Europe. But Be Cautioned! Since these are small flights, you need to be aware of the airports listed. Many times (because they are cheaper airlines) they will work with second rate airports, which can be an hour or more out from the city. Luckily in Barcelona, these airlines typically run out of terminal 2, which is connected with both a train from the city and a bus that takes you to terminal 1. So, in Barcelona you can breathe easy, but when it comes to other cities just be aware where you’re going and how you’re planning on getting to your accommodations. Quick tip: In Barcelona there are also multiple ways to get to the airport. Instead of dropping around 30 euro on a taxi ride to the airport, try taking the bus (Aerobús A1 and A2) that leaves from Plaza Catalunya and takes you straight to the airport, or the train (RENFE) that has multiple stops throughout the city and ends at terminal 2. Don’t worry, after a little practice you’ll be traveling city to city like pro.
Accommodations. That whole, “Yah dude we’ll just figure it out when we get there” may be appealing to some, but those who like to err on the side of caution should probably plan ahead. Luckily, there are many options when it comes places to stay for overnight visits. Everyone has heard all the rage and convenience of hostels in Europe. They are cheap, quite safe, a great way to meet fellow travels, and if you search right, they can even be almost as nice as some hotels (emphasis on almost). Airbnb and similar short term room/apartment rentals are also becoming popular. Here you can spend a little bit more to have some privacy and comfort. Airbnb is also great for budget travels who are looking to cook some of their own meals. For those who are really tight on funds there is always the option of couch surfing. Couch surfing is exactly what it sounds like, people who live in the area are nice enough to put you up on their couch. This can be a little sketchy if you don’t thoroughly look into whose couch you’ll be staying on. Travel in groups, and make sure someone has verified your host on the site. In other words, make sure they look legitimate before you decided to stay with a complete stranger. A plus is that coach surfing is a really good way to meet locals. Quick tip: Be safe when choosing accommodations, and typically the earlier you start to plan the best deals you’ll find.
Eating. No need to beat around the bush here, we all know food is easily the best part of travel. Although we all want to try all of the local delicacies (and basically have an excuse to stuff our faces) it’s easy to drop a major amount of dough on food. The best way to find great food that is not crazy expensive, is to ask a local. Who knows the area better than the people who live there? You may even get to make a friend or practice you language skills. BAM-culture, friends, food, and all at a local price. If for some reason asking a local isn’t as easy as it may seem, language barrier, anti-social, etc. another option is to have a nice dinner one night and then try to find smaller restaurants or markets for other meals. Quick tip: A great way to do this is by avoiding the restaurants in the super touristy areas, as they tend to increase the prices without necessarily increasing the quality. Obviously, you want to try all the new foods your destination has to offer, so if you can afford eating everything in sight- all the power to you, but for those of us on a budget these tips can make doing everything a culture has to offer much more accessible. Eating more wisely can allow for you to have more money for souvenirs, museums, or even to start planning another trip in the future. Eating well on a budget is a true art.
Safety. Be aware, bring a buddy, and never use your back pockets! While traveling in unknown areas it is extremely important to always be aware of your surroundings. Know how to get back to your accommodations, what time things close, and who to contact in case of an emergency. Also, inform people, including onsite staff, of your travel plans and where you will be staying. God forbid an emergency was to occur, people should always know where you are and how to reach you. When it comes to walking alone at night it’s simple, don’t do it. Quick tip: Be careful when it comes to valuables, make sure you put your money somewhere a pick pocketer wouldn’t be able to easily snatch it. Most importantly, have fun and take in as much of a new culture as you can!