I chose to study in Milan largely because of its proximity to other European cities and access to a well-connected airport. Last week, I visited my friend Belle, who had moved to Brussels at the beginning of the year to work as an au pair. As I planned this trip and my upcoming excursions this semester, there were a lot more challenges to overcome than what I anticipated. To maximize your fun during short trips, here are some tips to keep your time and budget in check.
DO keep an open schedule and open mind.
Once you arrive to your new school, you never know what opportunities might arise between you and your future friends. My university’s chapter of the Erasmus Student Network, the international student group at many E.U. country schools, offered weekend and day trips from Milan to Cinque Terre, Rome, and Bergamo throughout the semester. Though it’s wise to leave some room for spontaneous trips, plan bucket-list items in advance. Four of my friends and I knew we wanted to go to Oktoberfest as soon as we planned to study abroad, so we booked our AirBNB in February, which saved me a lot of stress going into the school year. Have some ideas about what travel you want to prioritize, but don’t plan trips for every weekend before you arrive.
DO know where you’re going and how to get there.
Typically in bigger cities, public transit systems like metros or trams are going to be your cheapest option apart from walking. Figure out if it would be convenient to get a three-day transportation pass over individual passes. Be mindful that not all stations will have signs in Englishー map out your routes in advance so that you won’t be hopelessly lost.
If you have an early flight and want to take a metro to the airport, make sure public transportation is open. For me, it was cheaper and safer to book a hotel with a shuttle by the airport than to risk being alone on the metro at 4 a.m.
DON’T eat only at restaurants.
The best way to get the flavor of a new location is through its cuisine (pun intended). It’s common advice to avoid restaurants right next to major sites; paying 20 euros for a mediocre touristy meal when you can get a good pizza for 8 euros elsewhere is tragic. While in Brussels, Belle and I ran into a street food festival one day with a variety of items all under 10 euros. We also explored a farmers’ market where I filled up on crepes, Lebanese food, and waffles for under 15 euros. You don’t have to stop at a Michelin-star restaurant, or any restaurant, to have an incredible meal.
DON’T exclude travel emergency expenses from your budget.
Budget airlines like RyanAir and EasyJet may seem to have the best upfront deals, but if you are not careful, you might have to pay a fee that’s more expensive than the cost of the flight for something as ridiculous as a slightly big backpack (learn from my mistakesー also remember to validate your train tickets!) Though I became frustrated during the times that I had to pay fines, luckily I had put aside money for mishaps. I’d prefer to spend less during a trip and have money leftover than maximize my budget and panic over additional costs at the end.
As the semester continues, I will continue to go through several trials and errors. However, with each mistake, I know that I can save money and be savvier the next time!