I made the slightly stupid but still courageous decision to plan my own Fall break with my roommate and another friend. It’s a great experience; it forces you to plan the details and rely on yourself (plus other students going with you).
1. Do NOT book overnight travel— (past 1 am – before 6 am). Europe doesn’t operate that smoothly after hours, especially not Italy. The late night flights may only cost 40 euros, but the strain it puts on you when you’re dazed at 3 am, trying to find a taxi to take you to your hostel just isn’t worth it. You don’t wanna look like a zombie in your Fall break pictures. I made that mistake.
2. DO YOUR RESEARCH—Search all modes of transportation between the train and the bus, to the airport and vice versa. You don’t want to end up stranded at the Milan Lampugnano bus stop at 12:47 am with no clue how to get to the Central Train station or the airport.
3. PAPERWORK—Print out all your tickets before hand! Make sure the barcode prints out. My roommate didn’t check in one of her flights properly and the barcode never printed, so she had to buy a new ticket for an insane price. Side note— double, triple check you always have your passport on you and all ID, credit cards, etc. Pick-pockets don’t show students any mercy.
4. PACK LIGHT!!— I seriously cannot emphasize this enough. Pack only enough for the time you’re going. Always have something comfortable, and one extra item in case you ruin your shirt or it starts pouring outside. When you’re lugging around a duffle bag up and down the streets of Ibiza on a warm day, you’re going to regret bringing five sweaters.
5. LET IT SIMMER—Try to stay in a city for at least 2-3 days. Don’t rush it. it’s better to see 2 places and get a decent sense of the place rather than see 5 and feel rushed!
6. TRY SOMETHING AUTHENTIC— look for regional specialties in each place you visit; taste some zesty tapas in Barcelona or genuine pizza in Napoli. *Shout out to the bubble guy in Florence. You’re doing a great job, man.
7. ASK FOR HELP!—Don’t hesitate to speak up! And try to ask multiple people to verify that they’re giving you the right information.
Honestly, most people study abroad once in their lives. When things go wrong and flights are cancelled or you lose your passport or your duffle bag tears, just remember how fortunate you are to travel while you’re abroad. Not many people can say they lived in another country in their 20s and learned a multitude of customs, a new language, and fulfilled an endless list of personal goals.
And don’t worry if you didn’t get to hit too many famous sites in Europe over break. Enjoy Florence. I came back from break a few days earlier than expected and really appreciated the little details about Florence and its people. There were so few American students that I felt like I blended in better.
Mariam is a current student at George Washington University studying at Florence University of the Arts during the Fall 2015 term.