When I first heard about study abroad I was a freshman in high school and my sister was embarking on a journey to Paris, France for four months. She spent the first two weeks in a chauteu in the south of France doing an inclusive language excercise, then traveled to Paris for wine, croissants, and art masters. Every weekend she would call home and tell us where she had just been – Sweden, Italy, Prague… always somewhere new and exciting.
It blew my mind. I had to go. I had been to London and loved it, a complete anglophile since childhood reared on Jane Austen and Colin Firth. Four years later when I was a junior in college and able to make my own trek (Tip: when applying for school asks specifically about study abroad if you want to do it. A. Do scholarships transfer, B. Where can you go C. Are any majors unable to study abroad D. Are there mini-abroad of a month or less that those majors are able to take? Me, I was able to use my scholarship abroad and travel to exactly where I wanted to go (so did my friend who went to Thailand, no one had gone before but they arranged it for her) and all the courses I took went towards my degree. My friend A desperately wanted to go, couldn’t with her major and if she did her funding wouldn’t have covered it. It’s a major reason I went to my college.)
But how can you spend only a weekend in another country? Europe is small to say the least and from London I can easily spend a day in Paris by rail or air. Friends here have family in Germany and Holland and visit regularly; it’s pretty cheap and fast. These trips are usually city or site based. You don’t go to Italy you go to Rome. There are only 3-4 days usually so you must be judicial and do your research. If there’s something you want to see, get it done, if you just want a croissant you can do that too.
Traveling in Europe used to be all about the trains. It was the cheapest and if you talk to anyone over 30 they will insist all you need is a backpack and a railcard. If you’re backpacking 30 days straight this may still work for you but most railcard say 4 days of travel within 30 days and then you have classes and it doesn’t work. Ryanair is cheap but I’m never able to get the flight I want. This is more for when you’re thinking I have 90 quid where can I go for two days? Easyjet has more flights, at least it seems that way, and really good prices. I generally check here first. That’s the general way, here’s the princess backpacking way:
Go to Expedia. I know it sounds nuts but if there’s more than one of you and you’re a bit flexible the deals can be amazing. I’m currently looking at an offer when the airfare+hotel (like a real hotel) is only 40 pounds more than the airfare alone on Easyjet. Don’t discount them just because you think it’s your parents travel agent. Also Kayak.com is worth a try. I usually do them all, plus Hostelworld.com for accomdation, and figure out the cheapest option. I also include breakfast cost since a hotel breakfast means I don’t eat until dinner. (Although it’s never worth the 15 pound add on what are they serving golden egg omlettes!?)
Hostelworld is great. So is AirBnB apartments. You can do the 5 euro hide your valuables dorms or the 15 euro privates. It’s still about 20 euro cheaper than a hotel but often just as nice. En suite is also an option now a days. I don’t usually feel it’s worth the extra money but that’s where reviews and photos come in handy. Once I see the post “the bathrooms were disgusting” or see a picture of a sheer white plastic sheet and a room of nozzles and a toilet in the corner I shut that window real fast. Of course I once broke two of my toes in a hostel shower because I had forgotten my flip flops and I was trying to avoid the mud (omg I hope it was mud) around the outside of the shower and slipped and rammed my foot into the tile in front of about 20 naked strangers. If this sounds like a specific OCD kind of hell to you just get the en suite.
Apartments can also be a great option, especially for large groups, just be sure to use a reputable distributor and be prepared to walk away from your accommodation and money if things look weird (this goes for any hostel/hotel really). These can be rooms in people’s houses and then I feel like it falls into the couch surfing area which I stay away from.