Grace Lower | Dec 21, 2020
One of the most common misconceptions about studying abroad is how much free travel time you’ll actually have. While you’ll certainly have opportunities to explore your host city, if you’re traveling with a university-sponsored program, there’s often an academic component to consider. Balancing personal responsibilities with the desire to travel can get tricky—for me, that’s where weekend trips came into play.
The secret to successful weekend travel—either locally or internationally—is understanding that you won’t be able to see everything in 48 hours. It’s literally impossible. But once you come to terms with your physical and logistical
limits, you can shake off any unrealistic travel expectations and enjoy the journey ahead. A two-day trip is essentially a crash-course in your destination. If you end up falling in love with the city you’re visiting, you can always make plans
to go back.
Exploring any city over the course of a weekend might sound daunting—frankly, that’s because it is. But once you have a destination in mind, there are ways to make any city manageable for a 48-hour visit. All you need is the right strategy.
Step 1: Make an Attractions List
Whether you’re visiting a major metropolitan area or a small fishing village, chances are you already have a few attractions in mind. To make sure you’re not overlooking any must-sees, spend some time researching popular spots. As you browse, grab a sheet of paper and take a few notes on anything that seems interesting. Don’t worry too much about price or timing just yet—you’ll be able to revise your list later on.
Step 2: Make a Personal Interests List
On a new sheet of paper (or Word document/phone note/spreadsheet), write down a brief list of your personal interests. Anything from hiking to history, architecture to athletics, or shopping to scuba will do. From there, circle the activities that might be feasible in your destination. Scuba diving is great, but you could be hard-pressed to pursue that hobby during your weekend in Prague. Dream big, but stay realistic.
Step 3: Find the Overlaps
As you review your notes, try to determine which tourist attractions overlap with your personal interests. If you know you aren’t a big fan of art, it’s okay to skip the Louvre in favor of a walking tour through Paris. If you’re a huge beer-lover, give yourself permission to spend an afternoon on a guided tour of Dublin’s Guinness factory.
During my own semester abroad, one of the friends I made was an avid rock climber. Regardless of where his travels took him, George always managed to find a rock wall—either indoor or natural—for a few hours of climbing. For George, rock climbing was an easy way to mingle with the local community in his destination and blow off some steam. Even if you’re not a fan of heights like George was, there’s value in prioritizing activities that bring you joy, no matter where your travels take you.
Step 4: Pick Your Top Three
Once you’ve narrowed down your attractions, pick the top three activities that you would like to prioritize during your two-day trip. While it might be tempting to only pick the best-known attractions, try to balance what’s popular with what you genuinely enjoy.
Step 5: Dig into the Logistics (and the Finances)
This step tends to be the trickiest part of the planning process. Time is precious on a weekend trip, so you’ll want to take a hard look at your resources and availability. To help you decide whether your plan is feasible, here are a few key items to consider:
You may find that some items on your initial itinerary aren’t a good fit for your weekend trip—whether they’re too time-consuming, too expensive, or too far away. Although it can be tough to pass up on certain activities, focus on making the most out of your 48 hours. Revisiting your two lists can help you find a more suitable alternative.
Step 6: Don’t Forget Food!
It’s no secret that I love food. No matter where I travel, I always like to prioritize my meals. That said, without a solid strategy, eating out can be costly and can take up a surprising amount of otherwise limited time.
My favorite meal-planning strategy is to stay at a hotel or hostel that offers free breakfast—this saves time in the morning and money that would otherwise be spent at a restaurant. From there, I like to plan for one “fancy” lunch or dinner per day. Whether that’s eating at a renowned French bistro, or enjoying a three-course “menu del día” in Spain, I don’t mind paying a little extra for a memorable dining experience. For my third meal, I try to prioritize cheap, local eats. From farmers’ markets to street vendors, I’ve found that affordable meals aren’t hard to find if you do a little research in advance.
Step 7: Build Your Schedule
Now that you’ve picked your main attractions and planned your meals, take a few minutes to build a loose schedule for yourself. If it’s necessary, you can also use this time to make reservations and buy tickets in advance.
With only three main activities, you might notice that your schedule looks fairly sparse. That’s normal. Personally, I’m a firm believer in down-time during travel—it allows for a bit of spontaneity throughout your stay. But if you feel like you have too many gaps in your schedule, feel free to return to your attractions list and add another activity to your itinerary.
Step 8: Be Flexible
For me, this simple exercise was a godsend while planning my weekend trips. That said, it’s important to think of your weekend travel plans as guidelines rather than a rigid schedule. Don’t get too attached to your itinerary. Your plans will likely change over the course of your stay. Whether your bus runs late or you stumble across a restaurant with amazing döner kebab, you’ll want to have the flexibility to relax and enjoy where your adventures take you. At the end of the day, isn’t that what travel is all about?
Grace Lower is a recent college graduate with a love for writing and an incurable case of wanderlust. When she's not exploring new places, Grace enjoys teaching English as a Second Language, making terrible puns, and running incredibly long distances at incredibly slow speeds.