Travel Planning Tips & Tricks

person holding passports


world map poster near book and easel
Photo by Nicola Nuttall

Introduction

Are you a college student interested in visiting Europe? Do you have no clue where to even start in the planning process? Have no fear! I have compiled my most crucial travel planning tips & tricks for college students. Planning a trip on your own for the first time can seem intimidating. It doesn’t have to be! Following these easy planning steps will guarantee a smooth journey to your first time in Europe.

Choosing a destination

Choosing your desired destination is the first step to planning a memorable trip. The country and city you decide to visit will depend on what experience you want to gain . If you prefer a laid back, stress-free environment… the pebbled coasts of Nice, France is a prime choice! If you prefer a “city that never sleeps” vibe with discotecas that rage until dawn… Barcelona, Spain is your spot! Regardless of the city you choose, there will be endless activities, restaurants, museums, nightlife spots, and experiences to immerse yourself in. After deciding the type of experience you want, it’s time to choose a city.

TIP #1

Create a shared document for brainstorming your trip at least 6 months in advance. Include what kind of attractions you would like to see, activities you would like to do, lodging options (AirBnBs, hostels, hotels, etc.), flight options, and a budget plan estimating how much it will cost. 


person writing on white paper
Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters

Lodging choices

Pricing may vary depending on the lodging route you choose. Hostels are an easy and affordable option versus hotels and rental units. There are pros and cons to each option. Hostels are set up like a communal dorm, which doesn’t leave you with much privacy. There will likely be other travel groups in the same vicinity and you may have to share a room with strangers. Luckily, there are different kinds of hostels that cater to different groups. Some hostels are only available to women in order to ensure their safety. Websites such as Hostel World are helpful for finding the right place for you. Rental units are definitely the pricier option but are worth the extra cost. They are more private, larger in size, and include plenty of amenities such as private bathrooms with showers, kitchens, living rooms, and bedrooms. 

TIP #2

Remember: rental units will up-charge for cleaning fees, service charges, and occupancy taxes and fees. Renters in European countries will almost always charge city/tourism fees for international visitors. These fees will rack up!

Flights

The trick to finding affordable international flights is simply planning in advance. The closer to the dates of your trip, the more expensive tickets will probably be. The specific flight and airport you choose to fly from will depend on the dates of your trip, the time you prefer your flights to depart/land, if you prefer nonstop or wouldn’t mind a layover (hint: while this may take longer, it usually makes the flights cheaper!), and finally, which airline you choose to fly with.

TIP #3

Searching for departing flights from different nearby cities will help determine the cheapest option with the most ideal times. Overnight flights are essential for avoiding jet lag; you don’t want to be exhausted on the first day! The airports closest to West Chester that have international departures/arrivals are PHL (Philadelphia International Airport), EWR (Newark International Airport), and JFK (John F. Kennedy International Airport).

Getting around the city

Any big city you visit will have some form of affordable public transportation. Taxis, metros, and trams are all common and easy ways of getting around. Even if you are of age, I would not recommend renting a car in European cities unless you have experience doing so. Driving etiquette is much different there than it is here in the States. Walking and renting bikes or electric scooters are excellent alternatives if you are simply exploring and enjoying the scenery; it’s part of the authentic European lifestyle.

time lapse photo of bus passing by people
Photo by Fernando Lavin

Things to do

After booking flights and places to stay, you are ready to create your itinerary. European cities are incredibly historical and offer a multitude of educational opportunities. Art museums, historical sites along with shops, restaurants, and various other activities will be in the palm of your hands. Regarding food and restaurants, it is essential that you try the iconic dishes and treats of the country you visit. Crêpes and croissants along the Seine in Paris, tapas and paella in the heart of Madrid, cheese fondue and bread for dipping in a Swiss chalet, arancini followed by gelato at the Trevi Fountain in Rome… I could go on and on. The nightlife scene in European cities is highly prevalent, especially in Barcelona, Amsterdam, Berlin, Ibiza, and Prague.

TIP #4

BRING YOUR STUDENT ID! Most museums, historic sites, art exhibits, and anything that can serve as an educational experience will offer student discounts.

Planning ahead

Planning ahead will ensure a safe journey from start to finish. Remember to exchange U.S. bills for Euros before departing. You can take out as little or as much as you’d like. It is essential that you contact your bank prior to your trip and inform them that you will be traveling abroad. Inform your mobile carrier if you plan on using an international data plan. Most data plans will charge you for surpassing the daily 5GB data limit. Download apps that you can use without data. For instance, Google Translate app has an option to download the entire vocabulary of a language for translating without the use of data or wifi. Even though most locals in cities are proficient in English, they are appreciative of tourists who attempt to communicate using their language. Be sure to print a photocopy of your passport and any important documents you are bringing.

What to bring

PACK LIGHT! Most rental units/hostels will provide some basic amenities like soap, shampoo/conditioner, and a blowdryer. European electric outlets differ from ours, so investing in an outlet converter. Comfortable shoes are ideal to bring, especially if you plan on walking and adventuring around the city. Walking 5+ miles daily is common in larger cities. My health app collected data from my trip to Spain reporting that I walked 12 miles in one day. Making a checklist to ensure you aren’t forgetting anything is crucial in the packing process. I recommend following The Ultimate Europe Travel Packing List for additional packing advice.