An American in Paris, London, Brussels, and Amsterdam: A Travel Guide
A great part about my study abroad experience was that I was able to travel to places I never though I’d see. I spent an entire week by myself exploring the European continent. In particular, I went to London, Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam. For those of you that might want to backpack across Europe, here are a few tips that should be helpful in your liberating travels:
Josh Q. Newman Plan Ahead Make your arrangements well before you go. This means plane tickets, train or bus tickets, living quarters, money, phone, etc. Besides having the security of knowing exactly what you’re doing, it might save you some money. The earlier you get them, the cheaper your transportation tickets will be. Europe has an extensive rail system and a cheap airline called Ryanair. Depending when you get them, you can get your plane tickets for free (excluding taxes and fees).
Go Hostel No, I’m not talking about the Eli Roth movie. Hostels are actually pretty cool. They’re half the price of hotels and offer the same basic accommodations. Many are geared toward younger hipster types, so it’s an ideal place for college students. Plus you get to meet a lot of cool people. You can book your stay in almost any European city; I used hostelbooker.com. Depending what you pay for, the rooms can be quite tiny. My London hostel, for example, consisted of two bunk beds with barely enough room in between to walk. It’s not the Ritz but hey, if you’re on a budget (and who isn’t?) it’s the place to go. Just be careful of your belongings! You never know whom you might be rooming with but again, it won’t be like that fucking Eli Roth movie.
Be Nice Although I didn’t encounter the dreaded “Ugly American” syndrome when I was abroad, you still have to be careful. You’re in someone else’s country; in a way, you’re a guest. So don’t make a scene or commit obvious faux pas. Try to learn the basic customs of the countries you’re in (though don’t be overly fawning – you’ll look like a d-bag). Also, if you didn’t know, America’s perception in the world has taken a nosedive over the past ten years, so be careful what you say about America and the world. I don’t think Parisians would care very much if you starting singing the anthem of “Team America: World Police”! But seriously, just be polite and the natives will act in kind.
Announce Your Travels Make sure you let people know where you’re going to be. Give your friends and family the names and addresses of the hostels and numbers you can be reached at. It would be a good idea to contact the local U.S. embassy, too. You don’t have to do it in person; you can do it online and in advanced. That way, God forbid you get into trouble, you’ll have some good ol’ American diplomatic might on your side. Get their numbers and addresses, too.
Buy a Guide Since you’re only going to be in Europe for a little while, you want to see as much as possible. That’s why you should buy a guidebook or at the very least look up stuff on the Internet. Come prepared with maps and a list of places you want to see. Most airports and train stations will have city maps that you can use as well. It would also help to learn basic words of the country’s native language. Terms like “hello,” “thank you,” “Do you speak English?” etc. You’d be surprised on how much you can see in one day. If you get bus or metro tickets, you can see places even faster. Know the places where you want to go and where you shouldn’t go. Generally, crowded touristy areas will always be safe but you never know.
Count Your Pennies Travelling isn’t cheap, especially if you go to these big European cities. Even if you stay away from souvenirs like I did, you’re going to be spending a lot on food. Make sure you allot a good amount of money before you go. Rule of thumb is that you should have at least €50 (or $70) per day. That may seem like a lot but you’re going to be tempted to try loads of different foods. Also, you have to take into account miscellaneous items (toiletries, tours and museums, metro, etc.) If you want to go out and party at night, I’d say bring more. NEVER carry all of your money with you at once. If you lose it, you’re screwed. Take money out of your bank account when need be. Find out from your Have Fun! Sounds a bit obvious but you should be cogni- bank if you can use your ATM card outside the zant of the incredible opportunity you have in States; most banks have some sort of arrangeseeing the world. Most people won’t get this ment. chance so make the most of it. That means see as much as you can and don’t be afraid of trying new things or, despite what I wrote in tip 3, spend a little money. You’re most likely only going to be in Europe a few times in your life, if that, so just go out there and grab life by the horns. Make America proud.