I studied in London, so these are thought out based on that – but Europe is so small that this is a good list for most of the continent. You will have about 15 weekends during your SA, the first one (maybe two) should be for nesting and getting over the jet lag, about half can be well-spent getting to know your host country. I left England the first time knowing I’d seen Europe and England but maybe not so much of London. This leaves you with 7 weekend trips to plan (and a spring break if you go second semester ;).
1. Belgium – Brugee has great food, is cheap, and easily accessible. You can fly Ryanair and Easyjet cheap or use your rail pass. This is a fun city to lounge around and eat.
2. London & 3. Paris – these two are a bit obvious, but much more expensive. Trips are easy and touristy, filled with photo ops but can also be romantic and memorable.
4. Florence – I haven’t made it here yet, but it is a shopping mecca so visit early when you still have some money.
5. Rome – Vatican City, Naples, and Pompeii are all a stones throw from Rome so you can get travel bang for your buck here.
6. Dubrovnik, Croatia or Slovenia – this is best in the warmer months when you can swim (really what it’s all about) and party and hike. In the winter try Stockholm, Sweden to get into the early holiday spirit.
7. Morocco – This trip is best with a guide (everyone I know who has gone has been glad to have a guard/translator by their side) which puts some travelers off. If you’re not bothered, the city has great shopping and will give you an impression of life beyond North America and Europe. If this sounds too stressful try Budapest, Hungary or Prague, Czech Republic. These cities are artsy and down to party. (Prague has great jewelery shopping).
Should you have a spring break you can get really wild.
I chose to spend a week and a half in Greece, which got interesting since we were off-season and the boats stopped running, leaving us stranded on Crete. It was great fun and I got to know my destination well. Many people visit Italy or Turkey on their extended breaks because those countries have multiple cities or in-country flights for a complete tour (there are lots of great places in most countries, especially France, but tough choices must be made). Another option is to try and venture into Asia. This is EXPENSIVE. Odds are you will get plenty of Europeans who are so used to popping over to Paris for the weekend that they will scoff at the fact that you haven’t traveled Asia. A Londoner co-worker I had traveled most of Europe as a child, back-backed Asia in her GAP year, traveled Africa the summer after Freshman year, moved to Australia the summer after Sophomore year and did the same for North and South/Central America in following years. She was 30 and had nowhere on her bucket list. This is a mind-blowing extreme but it goes to show that Europeans have a different idea of travel. India and South East Asia are the cheapest Asian destinations from Europe (Morocco and Egypt are pretty cheap too) and STA has offices all over the place to help you plan. If this is something you’re interested in (or if you’re going to stay through the summer to travel) look in what vaccinations you can get ahead of time. If you get the vaccinations abroad call your doctor in the USA to make sure you have met ALL requirements. Also bear in mind these shots can run you up to a grand. ANY YES THEY’RE NECESSARY 🙂