Monday, March 16, 2015

Marion and Colin in Staffordshire, England!

Greetings from Staffordshire, UK! My name is Marion, and my dragon Colin and I are going to offer you some tips and tricks when traveling while studying abroad. 

I decided to take a risk and spend a week in London by myself before classes started. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Since then, I have had the opportunity to spend most of my weekends traveling. But there were certainly a few hiccups along the way. I wanted to share a few of the lessons that I learned and hopefully offer some advice along the way. 

Colin climbing along the town walls of Conway, Wales

Tip #1: If you are traveling with approximately one hundred pounds of luggage, you should consider booking a hotel/hostel that is close to your point of arrival. Carrying luggage on a train, the Tube, a bus, and uneven sidewalks while getting accustomed to oncoming traffic coming from opposite directions is no easy task. 

Getting lost in the Hampton Court maze
Tip #2: Maps, directions, and where in the world is this hostel? If you are in a major city, there may be maps scattered around the city. Most cities do not offer free maps (but most hostels do!), and the cheaper ones that can be purchased are often not detailed enough for tourists. If you are not good with directions (and functioning Wi-Fi hotspots can be hard to come by), I suggest screenshotting directions from Google Maps or downloading a city map onto your phone in order to save yourself some time. However, keep in mind that your directions may be incorrect. I have found that to be true when using Google Maps to find hostels. Most of the hostels that I have stayed at are in odd locations. I have had to wonder around late at night spending half an hour or more locating hostels. Maybe I’m not very good with maps. However, when Google is telling me that I’m supposed to be spending the night at a bank or a Starbucks, there must be some other factors at work. 

Walking around the Markt in Bruges, Belgium

Tip #3: Bring medicine. I decided to do a weekend trip to Amsterdam. The trip started out nice, and I was feeling great. Then the coughing started. Then a headache. By the time I arrived outside of the city, I had a fever. I arrived in Amsterdam feeling like I had been hit by a train, but I didn’t bring medicine because who would think that it would be necessary for a weekend trip? There were no pharmacies so I decided to walk around and see the sights while looking for one along the way. Four hours later, I felt like I was going to fall over, and finally, I came across a store that sold medicine. Several euros later, I finally had some medicine in my system, but the effects wouldn’t kick in for another few hours. I still wanted to enjoy the city after coming all this way. But after queuing for two and a half hours, in the rain, to enter the Anne Frank House, I started to wonder if going back to the hotel to sleep would have been a better idea (which brings me to Tip #3.5: Purchase tickets ahead of time.) Learn from my mistake. Bring the medicine with you and save yourself the embarrassment of passing out at a table in the cafeteria of the Anne Frank House.

Marion walking along the beach at sunrise in Llandudno, Wales
Tip #4: Tour companies. One of the main motivations for studying abroad is to travel. However, it can be very stressful planning all the nuances of the trips. There may also be instances where you cannot find anyone to come with you, and you have to choose whether or not you want to travel alone or skip the trip altogether. Luckily, there are several tour companies that will eliminate several of these problems. They will plan all the details for you often for approximately the same cost as booking transportation, hostels/hotels, and activities on your own. While it may be daunting traveling with a group of strangers, it also provides a great opportunity to make new friends from all around the world who are studying abroad as well. 

Learning to enjoy travel by coach