Amy Wu is a student at Brandeis University studying Business and Computer Science who studied abroad with IFSA-Butler at University College London. She was an International Correspondent for IFSA-Butler through the Work-to-Study Program.
Europe is a continent with so many different cultures and you could potentially be studying in one of its many countries. If you are, do not miss the opportunity to travel around Europe during the Winter break, typically 3-4 weeks. I traveled for 20 days only by train and it was the best experience of my life. A few weeks of traveling can be expensive, but this is an experience that you may not get a chance to do again. I’m going to show you how you can go on the European dream of a lifetime if you plan your budget and time wisely.
Choosing to travel during the Winter Break is a great option. Whether you are a study abroad student studying for a semester in Europe or for an academic year, you still have a winter break. Winter break is a great chance for you to explore the European continent right after/right before your studies. You can travel with some friends you meet while abroad or even travel solo! The possibilities are endless of where you can go in Europe and who joins you on your journey, but it all starts with a desire to get out of your comfort zone and broaden your mind.
For 20 days, I went to countries I never expected to visit. I was spontaneous and flexible, and I saw things in person I only read in books. Study abroad teaches you life skills and traveling gives you practice in honing these life skills. You will learn how to deal with obstacles such as unexpected costs, time management, etc. In 20 days, I visited 9 countries and experienced the local culture of each country.Study abroad teaches you life skills and traveling gives you practice in honing these life skills.
I wanted to see Europe as much as possible, so I followed the itinerary below, basically making a loop around Europe. My intention was to see Eastern Europe as much as possible since Eastern Europe tends to be a lot cheaper, but also visit other European countries along the way.
- Paris, France
- Strasbourg, France
- Vienna, Austria
- Bratislava, Slovakia
- Budapest, Hungary
- Ljubljana, Slovenia
- Zagreb, Croatia
- Venice, Italy
- Florence, Italy
- La Spezia, Italy
- Cinque Terre, Italy
- Nice, France
- Monte Carlo, Monaco
In terms of budgeting, I learned a lot before and after the trip. Since I traveled by train with the Eurail Global Pass, I had already paid a fixed price of less than $400 for unlimited train travel to 28 European countries for 15 continuous days and rarely had to factor in transportation costs. I highly recommend it for a trip like the one I took, as research shows that the pass is worth it if deciding to see many parts of Europe.
What makes this pass great for students under 26 is during winter, you get 20% off any of the passes, though I don’t recommend buying a one-country pass. Students have to budget for this initial cost ahead of time because the promotion to buy the pass ends in October, but the pass can be used anytime between September through March.
Safety is not something you can budget around, and I highly recommend choosing accommodation according to how safe you feel in that country.
The second major cost is accommodation. Through previous trips, I’ve stayed in hostels and Airbnbs, but throughout this trip, I only stayed in an Airbnb once. The reason for this is because one problem I ran into is not having cell phone service in countries besides Austria, France, and Italy, so it would be very inconvenient if there were any problems with the Airbnb host, or not being able to find your accommodation in a foreign country. Safety is not something you can budget around, and I highly recommend choosing accommodation according to how safe you feel in that country. Without cell phone service, I needed a hotel that almost guaranteed my safety.
For timing your trip wisely, the best example is when I was in Florence, Italy trying to make a seat reservation back to Paris, France. With the Eurail pass, sometimes trains require seat reservations, which means additional costs. We didn’t know the cost would be extremely high, so from the help of the ticket lady, we found out the price would be a lot cheaper back to Paris if we were in another city in France. Luckily, we timed our trip wisely in case we ran into any trouble getting back to Paris. Since we had to re route our trip to Nice, France in order to get back to Paris, we were able to squeeze in some spontaneous adventures on our way there.
We spontaneously decided to stay a night in La Spezia, Italy where we dined out in a local buffet, where the waiter spoke Chinese and Italian. We went to my bucket list location of Cinque Terre, Italy, where we tried the local Italian pizza and saw many lemon trees.
Finally, we took an amazing train ride up the Italian and French Coast to our final destination of Nice. We got to Nice a day early, so we also took a day trip to see Monte Carlo, Monaco before our departure back to Paris. In all, the lesson learned about timing your trip wisely is 1) to leave room for error 2) always have a plan B 3) be flexible, relax, and enjoy the spontaneity when it shows up.
As for sights, you’ll want to see a bunch of tourist attractions like the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Duomo in Florence. In Europe, there are a bunch of museums, cathedrals, and different styles of architecture. As for learning, you get to experience the different cultures firsthand.
Cultures have different ways of living, different ways of commuting, and different food. You get to enjoy authentic pasta in Italy, or authentic Schnitzel in Vienna, or homemade soup in Bratislava. The most local food tends to be a lot cheaper, especially the hole-in-the-walls you see while walking around the cities and towns.
What was especially exciting for me was experiencing the different zoos in Europe, because I’ve discovered so many new animals I’ve never even heard of. You get to enjoy the lifestyle of the rich in Monte Carlo, but you’re also a train ride away from the relaxed atmosphere of Nice.
When you travel, your mind opens up a lot more to the different cultures you encounter, and you realize how different the world is.
While traveling during the Winter Break, you get to experience exciting holidays, such as Christmas in Vienna, or New Years in Zagreb. In all, when you travel, your mind opens up a lot more to the different cultures you encounter, and you realize how different the world is. Cater your trip around what you want to see, and the learning will follow!