Fall quarter of this year, I decided my goal was to get off campus every single weekend. The infamous Stanford Bubble has a tendency to swallow us all, and as an introvert masquerading as an extrovert, I knew I would be too content to spend every Saturday sleeping in and watching Stranger Things, and every Sunday catching up on all the work I hadn’t done the day before. I thought I should make the effort to periodically appear in the world not bordered by Campus Drive, to get away from dorms, dining halls and classes.
I accomplished my goal. Afterwards, I thought, that was great, that was so much fun. I saw musicals and concerts, hiked in the Muir Woods, camped in Henry Coe State Park, drove to Tahoe, spent a day meandering in San Francisco and went to Disneyland with Crothers. And then I thought, I’m never going to do it again — that was exhausting and kind of expensive.
Studying abroad in Florence is like that, but on steroids. Twice as much fun, but pricier too. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Everybody says it’s so cheap getting around Europe! You can fly to any major city in another country for, like, one hundred dollars! It’s great! I’m going to go to London/Madrid/Amsterdam/Paris/Berlin while I can!
This is true, to an extent. It is cheaper flying within Europe than having to cross the Atlantic with every plane ticket, and it’s smart to take advantage of the opportunity to explore other cultures while abroad. But it isn’t free. And if you’re anything like me, sometimes you just need a day to sit and breathe and do some homework (it is study abroad, after all), rather than traipse around another city with your cohort.
Just as there’s value in winding your way to a variety of places, there’s also value in getting to know one place intimately. So don’t feel pressured to zip all around the continent just because it seems everyone else is doing it. You shouldn’t feel that any more than you should feel pressured to go to every frat party and football game. But in case traveling is something you’d like to do in the future, in Europe or the States or anywhere, here are nine things I’ve learned about traveling during my time in Italy.
- Focus on what you want. If you like museums, go to museums. If the foodie life is what you’re all about, go stuff your face. This is your experience. Fill it with the types of places and activities that excite you, and don’t feel guilty if it’s not always the same as what everybody else is doing. Chances are there are other people who feel the same way you do. All you have to do is ask for some company.
- But don’t just focus on what you want. Part of the point of traveling is to expose yourself to new ideas and ways of living. Maybe you wouldn’t normally be into staring at paintings for hours, or clubbing or going to professional soccer games. But you can’t say you don’t like something until you’ve tried it.
- You don’t have to spend a lot to have fun. Really. Enjoying gardens, window shopping, checking out street art, doing some photo shoots, wandering into out-of-the-way shops and more can all be free. Sometimes these activities can give you a better sense of a place than all the tourist attractions put together.
- Purchase what you can in advance. For trips you’re sure you want to take, book tickets ahead of time. Train spots can be sold out if you try to buy them the day of, and airlines generally have better deals the further out your departure date is. Big tourist attractions (like the Duomo or the Colosseum) can have enormous lines just to enter a location, not to mention the wait for buying tickets on-site. If you’re going to be a tourist, spend your time actually looking at things, not just waiting to look at them.
- Know how much you’re willing to budget for what. Expect there to be unexpected costs, especially when going to other cities. For example, one must pay to enter public bathrooms in Venice, and asking for water at an Italian restaurant can be more expensive than purchasing a bottle of wine. Even if transportation is relatively cheap, when you factor in lodging, food and maybe some impromptu souvenirs, trips can cost more than expected.
- Get informed. Can Stanford refund your ticket if you take a trip related to a class? Does a monument have strange hours, or close early on Saturdays and Sundays? Where do the locals eat? How reliable is public transportation from the airport to wherever you’re staying? Would an Airbnb, hostel or hotel be cheaper or more convenient? Is a train ticket to Rome plus a plane ticket departing from Rome cheaper than flying straight out of Florence? What are the luggage requirements for that crazy cheap airline you just found?
- Google is bae. Besides allowing you to download maps and translations for when you don’t have wi-fi or data, there is tons of accessible information online on the best places to eat, shop, see and sleep, wherever you’re going. Other people have had terrible experiences and written about it, so there’s no need to repeat their mistakes.
- Plan ahead to be flexible. Depending on where you’re going and how long you’re spending there, try figuring out all the places you absolutely must go to and set aside time for doing just that. For the rest of your time, just pin places in Google Maps you might be interested in visiting. If you happen to find yourself nearby, then you can check them out. The goal is to enjoy yourself! You can’t control everything, so have an idea what you want to do and leave room for some unexpected but (hopefully) fun adventures.
- Traveling with others is convenient, mostly. Having friends to split costs with for things like renting places to stay is awesome, and oftentimes, people will have insider info on places to go that you don’t. But be patient with the inevitable hiccups that will arrive. If you’re planning to go someplace and people have expressed interest but no commitment, find lodging with a flexible cancellation policy. Or if other people have different priorities and budgets in the city than you do, be fine with everybody splitting up to pursue their interests and then reconvening later. But trust me, if you get lost in Belgium in the middle of the night and you don’t speak Dutch, you’ll be glad you’re with a group of equally clueless Americans rather than all by yourself.
I think that just about covers it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go plan an itinerary for a trip to Rome.
Contact Katiana Uyemura at kuyemura ‘at’ stanford.edu.