Perhaps one of the most frustrating and unyieldingly irksome aspects of the study abroad experience in Europe is travel. Travel in Europe seems to be guided by Murphy’s Law: what can go wrong will go wrong. Such has been the case for me all around Europe. Just two weeks ago, my friends and I found ourselves trapped on the Greek island of Santorini as high wind speeds halted ferry travel. While there are of course worse places to be trapped, it is still beneficial to plan ahead and be prepared to face obstacles while traveling. If you visit Venice, Italy, expect to get good and lost, and do not expect any help from a GPS, map or a guide of any type. If you have a bike, expect that it will get stolen sometime within your four months abroad if you leave it near a park, train station or pretty much anywhere that is not a garage. Here, I give some tips to help those studying abroad manage the bumps in the road.
Planes — The challenge with flying is striking a balance between convenience and cost. As any poor college student knows, travel expenses can be a real burden on one’s wallet, which may lead one to attempt flights with discount airlines. I do not discourage this, but it is important to note that discount airlines, such as Ryan Air and Easy Jet, come with a fair set of inconveniences. The good people of Ryan Air, for example, are known as notorious sticklers for weight requirements. Before every flight, they drag out a terrifying metal bin that your carry-on must fit into or you pay their less-than-reasonable checked bag fees. Also, do not forget to print your ticket ahead of time, as they will charge you to print your tickets at the airport. Furthermore, many discount airlines do not fly out of main airports, a fact I learned the hard way when I booked a flight to Madrid via a discount airline and had to take a two-hour train and an hour-long bus ride to the airport.
Trains — Trains are one of the most convenient methods of travel in Europe, although there are many rules to keep in mind. Subways operate quite differently than they do in the United States, for example. The tram that runs through my city of Padua requires that riders purchase their tickets at a specific type of store, known here as a tabaccheria, in packs of 10 tickets or so. Once on the tram, you must scan your ticket in a machine or face the possibility of a fine. On both trains and subway/tram cars, there are patrollers that hop on at anytime of the day and ask to check riders’ tickets. In France, a friend of mine was charged €50 on the spot for having lost her tram ticket, and on train cars, the charge for failing to stamp a ticket is even more costly.
Automobiles — One of the most prominent causes of death among college students studying abroad is motor vehicle-related death. I therefore do not recommend that students rent a car or drive ever. The rules of the road are vastly different from country to country, and there are other better ways to travel. One such option in Europe is BlaBlaCar. Using BlaBlaCar’s website, you can hitch a ride with someone going to the same place or in the same direction that you are. Another good service that the students of Boston are surely familiar with is Uber, which has recently made its way to Europe. Buses are similarly a good and usually cheap method of transportation for Europeans. For airports in Europe, you can often find shuttle buses that will take you from the airport to your city of residence for much cheaper than a cab from the airport, for example.
Bicycles — The first movie I watched in my Italian film course this semester was the classic tragedy “The Bicycle Thief,” and just last week, I had the chance to live out my own version of the story as I came to find my bicycle stolen from the street. With bicycles, there is a trade off. You have the convenience of quick and easy travel throughout your city, which is cheaper than public transportation and more time effective than walking. On the con side, however, there is the risk of the bicycle being stolen, with the stolen bike industry being a thriving one in Europe, and also the risk of dealing with foreign roads and drivers. While Europeans are generally friendlier toward bicyclists in the city than the drivers of Boston are, roads are often not as clearly marked as they are in the states, thus those biking should proceed with caution. There is also the question of what to do with your bicycle once your semester abroad is finished. While a few opt to ship their bikes home, an expensive undertaking, others instead choose to sell their used bikes to other students, for example, or gift the bikes to their host family if they have one.