March 1, 2010

Ten Tips on Traveling Europe Efficiently: 1 & 2

Student Profile:
Ron Iacone is a senior at UNC Charlotte double-majoring in Political Science and Spanish. He spent a fall semester in Santander, Spain and the following spring semester in Madrid. During the two months in between semesters he traveled extensively. At the end of his time in Madrid, he lived in Granada for one month. In the next week he'll share his stories and advice on how to make the most of time spent abroad in Europe.

Before I give out advice on how to travel in the most cost effective and efficient way possible while maximizing you’re experience as a broke college student, let me give you a brief background on me. I spent an academic year abroad in Spain living one semester in Santander and the other in Madrid. I was motivated to split up my schooling between these cities for two primary reasons. The first is simple, I wanted to experience life in a small, yet intimate city such as Santander and then move to the “New York City” of Spain—Madrid—where life is a lot different. The second reason, which was just as equally appealing, was the two-month break I had between semesters. Yes, I had two months before I started school in Madrid to do anything I wanted. And to be honest, these were two months of nothing but partying; not in the sense of keg stands and liquor luges, but more as an eye opening, culturally bound, academically fueled, internationally charged and intellectually motivated kind of a party. Get it? On that note, maximizing you’re experience to the fullest and being able to use as many adjectives as I did to describe mine requires knowing certain techniques, tips and strategies to travelling Europe effectively. Moreover, mentally preparing yourself is an enormous factor in making the best of your adventure. While both are important, the rest of this article will focus more on the former than the latter. What follows are a list of tips I learned, experienced and implemented on my journey through Europe:

A view of Santander from the cliffs

1) Eurail Pass
This is a true goldmine. Imagine slowly rocking to sleep as you hear the soft sound of train tracks. Imagine being able to stretch out your feet or even have a bed to sleep on. With great thanks to the Schengen agreement, backpackers can go almost anywhere in Europe by train without the hassle of customs and long lines . A Eurail pass enables the holder to do just that for free (after you pay for the pass of course). There are a variety of Eurail passes offered such as the Global Pass, which enables you to go to more than a dozen countries, or some where your are limited to three countries. Depending on which option you pick will correlate with how much time you want to spend travelling. Trains are almost never full, so getting a seat at your desired time is pretty easy. I have found great use for the pass in traveling long distances in or across countries.

This website will be your best friend. It is by far the best one out there for booking hostels. All you do is type in your destination and the hostels available will come up. Even better, the website allows you to organize the hostels that do come up into categories, i.e., location, availability, name, price or rating. What I say next is the most important tip in booking the best hostel: Organize your search results by rating. It follows that the hostels with the best customer ratings are the ones that are the most fun, have the best locations, best prices for what you get, and a lot more. For example, I booked a hostel in Seville that was more expensive than the rest but had a 98% customer rating. I later found out that the hostel offered free dinner and breakfast, free tours, maps, and a lot of themed festivities during the week. This will save you money and at the same time be an extraordinary experience.

Check back tomorrow for Tips 3 & 4.

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