First off -I have friends – my study abroad program is made up of 13 students all from different parts of the US. We all became great friends but as the semester went on I never had a best friend this was also coupled with the fact that everyone had different financial situations and different opinions of traveling. I knew that while I was in Europe I wanted to see as much as possible without wiping myself out. While other students were content to hang around the city each weekend. There is nothing wrong with either option, but since I knew what I wanted to do and had a limited 3 1/2 months I knew I needed to just go.
I must make a side note on why I had no data or phone usage for the entirety of my trip.
The international plan is great if you travel abroad often, but since this stay is only 4 months the significantly larger cost to my phone bill was not worth it. The next option is a sim card which is kind of a town by town thing in terms of where to get one. My professors were not too familiar with them. Once I found where to get one I faced the challenge of communicating what I was looking for to the employee who didn’t know English. I ended up with an Austrian sim card that only worked in Austria and with data that very soon ran out. (It was however only 10 Euro). By this time I was already halfway done with study abroad and had gotten used to getting on without one so it wasn’t worth spending more effort on it.
Part of my travel success is attributed to the fact that I learned how to travel step by step.
My first trip was to Munich Germany with the whole group and lead by our Austrian professor. It was my first time on a modern high-speed train and I was absolutely clueless. But, every step of the way our professor showed us what to expect: where to buy tickets, how to know what platform, when to switch trains etc. He also showed us what to expect in hostels.
The next trip to Hallstatt,Austria was with a small group of friends but without our teacher to guide us. This was ideal because it was a short train ride within our”home country”.It was also such a small town that we did not need to worry about navigation or local forms of transportation – the focus (other than of course enjoying our time in Hallstatt) was to successfully use the train by ourselves.
By mid-February, I went to Prague, Czech Republic with most of my classmates. Here we had the train thing down but had to exchange currencies and navigate a large city on our own. I also did a little prior research on what and where were the top attractions. Most of my friends had hit the clubs hard and ended up sleeping until 2pm so I decided to strike out on my own. We were in Prague after all and I wanted to see it! Thus my first time exploring a city on my own and only using the paper map the hostel gave us! Success.
On the train ride home from Prague was my first time using the train alone. (I had made the unpopular decision to get back to Salzburg when my bus to my host home was still running). Though I may have missed out on a couple more hours in Prague I got to see the countryside we passed through and even met an Austrian family who helped me with my German. Late night trains, though practical in the sense that you get to spend more time at a destination don’t allow you to see the countryside, may be running off schedule by then, and there tends to be creepier people on the train at this hour.
The next weekend I took an entirely solo day trip in Austria to see how I would function completely on my own. And it was great! Certainly, it is more fun to have friends to share and experience with and manage traveling with but don’t not go just because your friends aren’t going.
After that the remainder of my trips, no matter the length were all solo.
They included a week traveling in Ireland (Galway, Clare, Mayo, and Dublin).
Krakow and Tarnow, Poland
Hohe Tauern, Austria
Naples, Amalfi, and Venice, Italy
(disclaimer my sister toured me around Rome and the Vatican and I went to Vienna, Austria with my classmates)
I was slightly frightened about not having a way to make a call if there was an emergency, check google maps, or google anything if I had a question. But in this way I was forced to do research ahead of time, always get a map and familiarize myself with it, and ask locals questions(often in different languages). I learned how to use every form of public transportation for myself (rather than relying on others to figure it out). I certainly made mistakes and was lonely at times but I kept my wits about me and never felt unsafe. The saddest thing about study abroad is you will never get to go everywhere and you will have to sacrifice precious travel time for school work, but the bottom line is if you have places you want to go, go, don’t get tied down by what others want if that’s not what you want, this may be the only chance you’ll get to go to certain places.