Student Guide to Study Abroad
Whether you’ve never been out of the country or if you’re a seasoned traveler, packing up your bags and heading to a foreign country can be pretty nerve-racking. Having once been in your shoes, we’ve compiled all of our savvy traveler wisdom together to create this guide just for you, a student participating in a St. John’s study abroad program! Throughout the site you will find information ranging from restaurant recommendations, overcoming culture shock, how to book a hostel and of course, how to travel, study and live on a budget!
Please click on the links for more information:
When, where and how do I book my flight?
Flight options vary from program to program, so before booking any flights, double-check to make sure you are booking correctly.
Western Europe Semester Flight Program
All St. John’s students participating in Western Europe Semester (WES) program are encouraged to book their flight through STA Travel. The flight price is based on flights departing and arriving from the NYC area airports and on the designated dates of the program. There will be one rate for tickets purchased through the WES Flight Program – regardless of your starting and ending city in Europe! This rate will be the lowest possible fare available. (Flights departing from and returning to non-NYC locations or on different dates can also be purchased through STA, but the rate may be different.)
Discover Italy & France Semester Programs Flight Program
All semester program students interested in flying with other St. Johns’ students are encouraged to purchase their flight through STA Travel. It is always great to see a friendly face on the plane!
How to Book Your STA Flight
STA Travel has a special website set up specifically for St. John’s students to book their flights! For full instructions on how to book through STA, visit the Accepted Students site (www.stjohns.edu/goingabroad) and click on the “Book Your Flight” section. STA will place you on a flight with other St. John’s students. You can also meet with a STA representative on campus on April 17th to book your flight! You are only eligible for the St. John’s University Flight Program if you book your ticket through the STA link on the Accepted Students Site, or in person with the STA representative on campus! You CANNOT book your flight through the STA Toll Free number.
- Short Term Programs
If you are participating in any of St. John's University short term study abroad programs, you should refer to the Accepted Students Site for information pertaining specifically to your program. Some short term programs require students to book the same flight, while others allow you to book individually. The important thing to remember is to never book your flight until you have received an OK from our office. With that being said, please call or email or office before finalizing any flight purchases.
- Exchange Programs
We highly recommend contacting STA Travel for flight options to see if they have any deals that you are not able to find on your own.
If you are booking on your own and aren’t sure where to start, head to any of the search engines listed below:
Do I need travel insurance?
Travel insurance comes in handy when the unexpected happens to disrupt your otherwise seamless travel plans – like a volcanic eruption for example. Depending on the insurance plan and the circumstance, you can expect assistance with locating lost luggage, providing emergency cash, replacing lost or stolen travel documents, scheduling new flights, finding medical care or emergency evacuation arrangements.
Travel insurance plan costs vary depending on coverage type and length but can usually range between 5-10% of the trip cost. Although it is not mandatory, we recommend purchasing travel insurance before you depart and can do so through any accredited insurance company. If you purchased your flight through STA Travel, you also purchased the ISIC card which provides some travel insurance. You can also purchase additional insurance through STA Travel.
What is an ISIC card?
An International Student ID Card (ISIC) will soon quickly turn into your best friend. This card is the key to savings on airfare, food, shopping, sightseeing and more. Benefits include discounted train tickets, accommodation discounts, popular retailer discounts, discounted museum access, and a 24-hour help line emergency service. This card can be purchased through STA Travel. Information on purchasing a card or discounts in your country of travel can be found here at STA Travel.
Planning a budget is one of the most important things you have to do before you go abroad. In order to help make the process a little easier, we've come up with some Do's and Dont's for living abroad on a budget.
What do I need to know about making a budget?
Budget, budget, budget! This cannot be stressed enough. Before you travel, try and decide how much money you will be able to spend while abroad.
We recommend that you plan on spending at least $4,500 during a full semester abroad. Some students can get by on less, whereas some have easily spent more. Consider the amount of traveling and shopping you intend to do as you structure your budget.
Make sure to consider the following variables as you set your budget:
What are the DO’S of using credit/debit cards abroad?
- DO bring a credit/debit card abroad! Credit cards can be useful for emergencies as well as travel! Visa and Mastercard are the most commonly accepted international cards, but be sure to do your research! Make sure you are aware of international withdrawal fees, surcharges, and rates while abroad.
- DO notify your bank that you will be travelling internationally! Your bank may become suspicious when purchases suddenly appear from all over the coast of Italy. You do not want them cancelling your credit card in the middle of your travels!
- DO familiarize yourself with the policies of your card, payment plan, interest rates, and general usage guidelines. Especially if you are a first time credit card user. We recommend this consumer guide from the federal reserve for tips on credit card usage.
What are the DON’T’s of using credit/debit cards abroad?
- DO NOT travel with large amounts of cash. For students participating on semester long programs, we do not recommend you travel with a semester’s worth of cash. Some US banks have international branches or affiliates, so be sure to check with your current bank. Some students use travelers checks, while most prefer to withdraw money from international atm’s. Usually your US bank will charge you a small percentage for an international withdrawal, but they also provide you with the best available exchange rate for that day. We recommend students withdraw around the equivalent of 250 US dollars at a time, to ensure you are not travelling with large amounts of cash.
- DO NOT plan on using solely credit/debit cards while abroad. Credit/Debit cards are not necessarily accepted everywhere. Depending on your location of travel, you may find yourself shopping in small outdoor markets or eating in a countryside café where they only take cash. Try and always carry small amounts of emergency cash!
What else do I need to know?
Familiarize yourself with the current exchange rate, or cost of living in your country of travel. The website XE.com provides information on current exchange rates. View a sample cost comparison of daily expenses.
For students travelling on our Discover the World program, consider the order of your travels. Paris is typically the most expensive city. Make sure to plan accordingly based on your specific rotation!
Staying in Touch
Having a cell phone that works internationally is a great way to communicate with all of your friends in the program and a necessity in emergency situations. It's also strongly recommended for all program participants. The good news is that, with the right information, getting an international cell phone can be a relatively quick, painless and (if you plan well) inexpensive process. Here are some options:
Traveler Cell Phone Providers
Some companies specialize in providing cell phones to international travelers. Many of these companies will offer you a cell phone and/or SIM cards for use abroad, a local phone number in the countries you'll be traveling in, and rates that are competitive with local providers.
Local Pre-Paid Cell Phones
It's generally cheap and easy to find a pre-paid phone in each location that you'll be studying in, and you'll have the comfort of knowing that you won't be shocked by a large phone bill at the end of the semester. Buy as much as you think you'll need at the beginning and re-fill as necessary. Keep in mind, though, that you will not be able to get your money back for pre-paid minutes not used. Another drawback is that you will not have a cell phone upon your arrival abroad.
Cheap phones are available at any wireless store throughout the city where you are studying abroad. If you’re a DTW student, all you need to do is purchase a new SIM card when you arrive at your second and third locations – the new SIM card can be used in this one unlocked phone. We recommend purchasing a cell phone just to be on the safe side; having a local cell phone can be invaluable in the case of an emergency! Just be sure to know the rates for your phone and limit your usage according to your budget. Note: most countries call “cell” phones “mobile” phones.
Using Your Current Cell Phone
Depending on the type of cell phone and carrier you have, it may be possible to use your U.S. cell phone overseas. Options include setting up an international plan with your U.S.-based carrier (this can be costly, so make sure you're aware of all fees and rates included) and purchasing a local SIM card that will work in your current phone.
Get ready, it's time to pack your life into a suitcase. Believe it or not, it can be done. Packing is stressful, but it doesn't need to be. It's all about packing smart. Beware it will take compromise and a little practice. We have created a list of the ultimate necessities, and included some do's and dont's to help. Now it's time to put on some tunes, stretch, and get packing.
I can bring how many bags?!
Depending on your program and the airline you are flying on, you are limited by the number and weight of bags you can bring. If you want to see an example of airline baggage restrictions, head to the Alitalia site for more details.
Western Europe Semester Students
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but all WES students are permitted one, and only one suitcase! The reason for this is your inter-country travel. When flying between countries within Europe, you are only permitted to have:
*1 Suitcase weighing up to 44 pounds (remember to leave room in your bag for souvenirs!), and no larger than 62 linear inches (height + length + width needs to total 62 inches or less)
*1 Carry-on bag weighing up to 20lbs and, no larger than 21 inches long x 13 inches wide x 7 inches high
The luggage rules for carry-on and checked bags are very strict. There is not an option to pay for additional luggage. Even if the airline that you will travel on from the U.S. to Europe will allow additional luggage, you must adhere to the WES luggage limitations for the flights between each city.
Discover Italy & Discover France Students
Students participating in Discover Italy or Discover France programs - to find out the weight limit for your flight, review your plane ticket and the airline’s website for your individual luggage restrictions.
- 1 checked bag per person with 1 carry-on and 1 personal item (like a purse or laptop bag)
- Checked baggage cannot be over 50 lbs – airlines will charge fees for any baggage over the weight limit
- One additional checked bag may be permitted for a fee.
- Remember to leave room for souvenirs!
- These are just general guidelines, you must contact your individual airline for your individual luggage restrictions
Seeing as you won’t be gone for an extended period of time, limiting yourself to one suitcase and one carry-on is the best recommendation we can make. To find out the weight limit for your flight, head to the airline’s website for details.
What if my suitcase if over the weight limit?
If your suitcase is over the weight limit, prepare yourself for some hefting fees. To avoid running into this problem, weigh your suitcases at home before you head to the airport.
What should I pack in my carry-on?
- Passport, Visa support documentation (for student's with French visas)
- Flight Information
- Campus Address/Welcome Letter
- Entertainment for the Flight (Book, MP3, etc)
- Extra Change of Clothes
- Contact Case/Glasses (If applicable)
- Important medication
Dietary restrictions and food allergies are a current issue in the United States! Supermarkets everywhere are developing specialty sections to serve the needs of their consumers. While this food revolution may not be taking place all over the world, it is certainly manageable during your time abroad.
Allergies, Always Ask Before you Eat!
No matter where in the world you are, allergies can pose a serious problem in deciding what to eat. The more foreign a cuisine is, the more cautious you should be when ordering a meal. Never assume anything about food based off of its visual apprearance. ALWAYS ask your server if the food you order contains foods you are allergic to.
Some tips to keep in mind:
- Learn the foreign word for the food(s) you are allergic to so you can easily spot it on a menu.
- Learn how to say, "I am allergic to..." or "Does this have any.." in the local language.
- If you are nervous about speaking in the local language, have the phrases listed above written out on an index card stating your allergies. (This is a great thing to carry around in your wallet!)
- Research popular local cuisine before your departure.
- Halal and Kosher Diets
More and more European cities are facing an influx of immigrants, which brings a new diversity to the local food scene. If you have any dietary restrictions that require you to eat kosher or halal, the best places to find these foods are at local markets or neighborhoods with a strong immigrant presence. Check out the "STJ Destinations" section for recommendations on where to look in each city.
Preparing to be a Vegetarian or Vegan Abroad
If everyone in the world was vegetarian, this wouldn't be a problem... but in a foreign country this can be a challenge. As a vegetarian, you are used to being cautious when ordering food. Not only is this task sometimes difficult in the United States, now imagine having to do it in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language! The best way to avoid accidently eating meat or fish is to be prepared. Prior to traveling, learn how to say “I’m a vegetarian” or, “ Is there meat in this?” Knowing just a few phrases will be a huge help when deciding what to eat. In addition, you should also be aware that no matter how much you try to avoid eating meat, based on the experience of other world traveling vegetarians, there is a 99% chance that you will accidently eat meat at least once during your travels.
"Accidentally eating meat was definitely not on my to do list while I was abroad, but as I sat on a bathroom floor in Poland crying for thirty minutes I realized that although I couldn’t take it back, at least I could say it happened in Poland. " - Katie, Rome Semester
Want to find Vegetarian Restaurants around the Globe?
Take a look at Happy Cow!
Global Views of Vegetarians and Vegans
Depending on the country that you are in, various cultures will have different perceptions on what it means to be a vegetarian. Some cultures may not even have a word for "vegetarian" and an explanation is often required. Learning to say, "I don't eat meat" and "I don't eat fish" is extremly useful in these situtations. Cultures where the majority of the cuisine is based around meat can often be frustrating as well as decieving. An example of this can be seen in many Eastern and Central European countries, where meat is a staple part of their diet. If you order something such as spatzel (A soft egg noodle) in Germany, it often comes drenched in beef stock, which isnt always mentioned on the menu. Cultures that are not as familiar with vegetarianism and veganism may not consider meat broths a form of meat, so always double check before digging in!
What are the Vegetarian Staples Abroad?
Okay, so now that you've been warned about how easy it is to eat meat, what are the "safe foods" that you can depend on that are still delicous? We've got you covered!
In Paris, try out the...
Delicious falafel sandwiches at L'As du Fallafel on Rue de Rosiers.
Cheese or sweet crêpes
Fresh baguettes with cheese and fresh veggies
In Rome, sink your teeth into...
Rice balls-- especially the spinach and cheese ones
Veggie pizzas: there are too many toppings to choose from
In Limerick, snack on...
Don't worry! Since you are lucky enough to be participating on a St. John's University Office of Global Studies study abroad program, we really do you have you covered.
All participants on St. John’s study abroad programs have health insurance for the duration of their time studying abroad through Cultural Insurance Services International (CISI). For information on this health plan please visit the Accepted Students page for your particular program.
What does this coverage include?
CISI provides 24/7 assistance. If you are feeling sick, are lost, no matter your situation, whatever your location may be, there is an English speaking representative waiting to help you.
Take advantage of this coverage. Do not wait until you are bed ridden and in severe pain to call a doctor. React the same way you would in the United States! The whole purpose of this coverage is to ensure things go smoothly for the duration of your time abroad, whether you think you have allergies or swine flu.
What about the St. John's staff abroad?
If you are studying abroad in Paris, Rome, or Limerick do not hesitate to ask the on-site staff abroad for help. They are you first point-of-contact for any issues you face while abroad!
For all other Study Abroad programs, contact your Program Leader. They are there for you and can assist you with any concerns!
What about visiting the pharmacy?
International pharmacies act differently than the U.S. pharmacies we are used to. For example, in most European pharmacies the pharmacist can actually prescribe medication we would need prescriptions for in the U.S. Pharmacies are excellent resources for the common cold, sore throat, and sniffles.
Keeping up with a workout schedule while in Queens is tough. Keeping up with a workout schedule while living abroad will be even harder. The best way to stay in shape while living “La dolce vita” is to start early and make it a habit you just can’t kick!
Joining a Gym
Depending on where you are studying abroad, the affordability of joining a gym will vary drastically. Gym memberships in Europe tend to be more expensive then gym costs here in New York, especially when you take the exchange rate into consideration. Finding a gym may also be difficult because certain cultures do not put as much emphasis on going to the gym as Americans tend to. The best recommendation we can make is to bring the gym to you! Check out our helpful tips and tricks for maintaining your pre-study abroad physique.
Things to Bring With You From Home
- Elastic Bands
- Work-Out DVDs
- Jump Rope
- Inflatable Swiss Ball
- Deck of Cards
- DIY Workouts
While some of our suggestions may sound silly and absurd, they actually do work!
DIY Hand Weights
Collect empty water bottles and detergent bottles and head outside to collect small rocks that will fit into the mouth of the bottle. Fill the bottles with as many rocks as you can and once space runs out, fill the remaining space with water to increase the weight. Make sure you seal the bottles with tape so you don’t have any accidental spills, and voila! You have yourself some hand weights!
Want to add some intensity to your squats workout? Empty your backpack and fill it with as many of the handmade weights as you can fit. Don’t have enough weights?! Not a problem! Not only are cans of beans high in protein, they are also great for adding weight to your work out! Once the backpack is filled, throw it on your back and you just added intensity to your workout!
Deck of Cards Workout
Break out your deck of cards and assign each suit a different exercise. For example, hearts are sit-ups, spades are pushups, diamonds are squats, clubs are lunges and face cards are jumping rope for a minute. Once every suit is assigned, begin your workout by pulling the first card from the deck until you've gone through all 52 cards.
Run, Forrest Run!
Take Jenny's advice. Running is the best way to keep off the pounds while still shoveling in the irresistible foods you're guaranteed to encounter. Depending on the country you are in, such as France or Italy, locals find it odd to see people running on the sidewalks or in the street. To avoid looking like the foreigner that you are, run in a local park instead. Parks like Villa Borghese and the Luxembourg Gardens are sure to give Central Park a "run" for its money! Pun intended.
Going to school in New York City, you probably think you know everything there is to know about avoiding scams. You also probably know how to spot a tourist from 5 blocks away. With that in mind, it's time to accept that, soon, YOU will be the tourist!
The Most Common Scams
Train stations tend to attract some shady characters, so always stay alert whenever you are in or near one. One of the most important things to remember is that if someone approaches you for a favor or proposes a nice gesture, there is probably something fishy about the situation.
As stated above, there is no such thing as a "favor" from a stranger in a train station. If you are purchasing a ticket at a machine and someone approaches you claiming that they bought too many tickets or have an extra one, do not agree to exchange the ticket for money. In fact, even if they are willing to give it to you free of charge, do not take it! Simple scams like these occur constantly! In addition, if someone approaches you trying to help you buy your train ticket by pressing a ton of buttons on the screen, kindly thank them for their help but let them know that it's not necessary. The English option is there for a reason! If you ever need help purchasing a ticket, always ask a uniformed employee or head to the customer service desk!
“The Ring Trick”
In this situation, someone will walk towards you and bend down to “pick up” a gold ring. He/she will ask you if the ring is yours (or insist that it is) and if you take it, he/she will let you walk away for a few seconds before he/she chases after you and demand some kind of reward for “finding” your lost ring
“The Bracelet Trick”
Similar to the ring trick. In this situation, someone will approach you and offer to make you a bracelet. He/she will then tie strings to your finger and use it to make a campy friendship bracelet. After the person is finished, he/she will demand payment for the bracelet, putting you in an awkward situation because you will be literally tied to him/her by your finger.
As you should already know from our "Train Travel" section, validating your ticket is mandatory! However, if you happen to forget to validate your ticket you will be fined. Recently, there has been a new scam occurring mainly in Eastern Europe where people will dress in similar attire to the train operators and will approach tourists asking for their tickets. These individuals will either claim that you didn't validate your ticket correctly, or if you did actually forget to validate your ticket, they will say that you are being fined and you must pay them a certain amount of money. If you are ever put in this situation, make sure that you're sure they are an actual employee of the train company. You can do this by observing their uniform and looking for their official ID.
NEVER accept a taxi ride from someone that approaches you. You should always head to a taxi stand or hail one from the street. Before you get in the car, make sure that the side of the car displays the designated logo for cabs in that city. Cab drivers that approach you are usually not licensed and will charge you €50 for what is normally a €15 cab ride.
Pick-Pocketing and "Purse-Pocketing"
Gentlemen, hopefully you already know that keeping your wallet in your back pocket is a big no no! Instead, you should be keeping it in either a front pocket or tucked into the inner pocket of your jacket. Ladies, we all know how much we love purses. That being said, now is the perfect excuse for you to go buy more! This time, opt for purchasing cross over bags with a zipper to prevent being a victim of purse-pocketing
Keep Your Camera to Yourself
By looking at any college student's Facebook, it's pretty easy to determine that we love taking pictures of ourselves. So staying smart about who you give your camera to is something you should seriously consider before handing it over. A good rule of thumb to follow is to only ask other tourists to take your picture rather than random locals on the street. In addition, if a random person approaches you asking if you want your picture taken, 50% of the time it will be an honest question, while the other 50% of the time you will find yourself running after the person who just stole your camera.
Bank Card Information
Realizing that your wallet was stolen with all of your bank cards can put a serious damper on your day. However, realizing that the number to your bank was on the back of the card, in your stolen wallet, will only make you feel worse. Make sure that you write down the information on the back of your card and store it in a safe place.
Recovering from a Scam
Make photocopies of EVERYTHING! Your passport, visa, health insurance card, etc. Remember to keep the copies separate from the originals. This will make things easier if you have to replace your passport if it is stolen. As soon as you realize that something has been stolen, begin calling your banks and notify the on-site staff if your passport has been taken.
To say it simply, culture shock is the act of being shocked by a new culture. Need a little more info?! Check out what we consider to be the four stages of culture shock.
- The Honeymoon Period
- The Withdrawal Period
- The Adjustment Period
- The Final Period- Adaptation
- The Honeymoon Period
Everything around you feels exciting and exhilarating. You want to see and experience all that the new culture has to offer. Days go by quickly as you get settled into your new surroundings and meet new friends.
Signs that you’re a Honeymooner:
- You’ve been taking over 200 pictures daily
- You keep forgetting to call home to check in
- You have tons of new Facebook friend requests
The Withdrawal Period
You’ve started to settle into your new lifestyle but begin to miss small things about home: 24 hour convenience stores, the English language, and even Mom and Pop! When you find yourself in uncomfortable or unfamiliar situations you may not have as much patience as you did when you first arrived, which may cause you to criticize the new culture you are experiencing.
Signs that you're withdrawn:
- After being in an uncomfortable situation you’ll find yourself going on a rant about everything wrong with the country for a solid 30 minutes
- You call home more than you did when you lived there
- You start to count down the days until you come back home
The Adjustment Period
With the Adjustment period comes the beginning of your assimilation into the local culture. You’ll no longer find yourself cursing the peculiarities about the culture that you found frustrating just a few weeks earlier. In fact, you start to mold your daily routine around the local lifestyle. You’ll even begin to say things like…”I wish they had this back home.”
Signs that you’ve adjusted:
- You start to call home to update your family on what you’ve seen instead of how much you miss them
- You plan your days around the "siesta" and even take part in the ritual
- You don’t think twice before saying "Hello" in the local language
The Final Period- Adaptation
When you hit the adaptation period you will feel a hint of déjà vu from your first week abroad. By this point you will have your own local spots where you love to eat and hang out. Your embarrassment about speaking the local language will virtually disappear and you may even start to picture yourself returning to the destination later on in your life whether it’s to visit, live, or study abroad again!
Signs that you’ve adapted:
- Instead of looking forward to the day you return home, you begin to dread it’s arrival
- You’ve made friends with natives of the country
- After a long weekend trip you say, “I can’t wait to get home,” but are referring to the city you are studying abroad in, not the United States
- Keep in mind, not everyone will experience all stages of culture shock or in this exact order.
The Titanic never saw it coming, and you might not either.
The Iceberg Theory
Picture an iceberg floating in the sea. Doesn’t look very intimidating right? To the naked eye it’s just a small piece of ice that penguins and polar bears occasionally play on. However, not until that cute little penguin hops off the iceberg to take a dip in the water does it see just how expansive the underside of an iceberg is. If you apply this theory to culture shock, it works virtually the same way.
When you first arrive in a new country your introduction to the culture will happen in two phases. First, you will be exposed to the visual culture. In other words, the “tip of the iceberg.” This consists of food, art, music, language, etc. As time progresses, you will start to experience the second phase of culture, or the underside of the iceberg. This aspect of the culture is made up of national mindsets, mannerisms, etiquette, etc.
All of the points listed above probably don’t sound like they have the ability to “Culture Shock” you, however, when combined together they can make a fairly large impact on your time abroad.
How do you Know When You've Hit an Iceberg?
Realizing that you've been "Culture Shocked" isn't always as obvious as you would think. You may not recognize the signs or mistake them for being homesick or stressed about classes.
Making sure you recognize the signs is important so you can tackle culture shock quickly, before it begins to impede on your time abroad. So, what are the signs you should look out for? Glad you asked.
Top Ten Signs of Culture Shock
- Negative stereotyping
- Feeling of Helplessness
For more information about "Crossing Cultures," check out Michigan State University's website.
What do you mean they don't speak English in France?!?
You've recognized the signs, you've got the symptoms and you are 100% sure that you are suffering from some serious culture shock. Everywhere you go, you can't stop thinking (and talking) about how much better things are in America. Unfortunately, this means you're missing out on the amazing experiences that your temporary home has to offer.
Don't worry, there's hope!
The first step is to acknowledge that when you're in a foreign country, you have to expect differences, and most importantly, you have to keep reminding yourself that different doesn't mean worse. Open yourself up to the differences and try to see them as opportunities to explore and try something new!
Second, change your mindset about your experiences. Stop focusing on the negative, and whatever you do, don't make generalizations. Say you go out to dinner in Paris and hate the food you order. If you're letting culture shock get the best of you, you'll spend the whole night complaining about your dinner, conclude that French food is disgusting and possibly waste an evening. If you're making the most of your time in France, you'll mentally congratulate yourself for being adventurous and trying something new, decide to continue on the path to finding your favorite French dish and just order dessert early (because literally every dessert in France is delicious, and if you don't agree then there might not be any hope for you). In all seriousness though, keep yourself from deciding that one bad experience is an indicator of what every experience will be like.
Third, and most importantly, explore, explore, explore. One great way to ensure that you won't enjoy your time abroad is to spend all your time in your dorm room. The more you get out there and try to experience the culture and everything the country has to offer, the more great memories you'll make. On an important side note-- remember that during your explorations, it's essential to stay flexible. Is it raining today in Limerick? Great! Sounds like a perfectly good excuse to spend the day in a cozy café sipping coffee or listening to live music.
You can spend your time abroad any number of ways, but it's important to remember that the opportunity to travel to or live in a different country doesn't come around every day. Keep an open mind, and don't let culture shock ruin what could be a life-changing experience.
When should I take a train instead of flying?
If it takes longer than five hours by train to get to your destination, you should seriously consider flying instead. Look up the cost and schedules for both methods of transportation and see which makes more sense for your wallet and your time. If you’re itinerary includes traveling out of your country of origin, flying is almost always a time saver and sometimes cost about the same as taking a train.
How far in advance should I book a train ticket?
The only time you should purchase a ticket the same day as you are leaving is if you are traveling within that country and are not traveling over a long distance. For example, if you are leaving from Rome to go to Naples, you can purchase your train ticket the same day. However, if you are leaving from Rome to travel to Venice, you should book your train ticket in advance because it is a longer journey and may require an advanced reservation.
If you are traveling from one country to another, you should first check to make sure you can’t find a flight that would be cheaper and faster! If flights are out of your budget, then you should book a train ticket as far in advance as you can to ensure a good price. You can do this by either heading straight to the train station or by checking out the train company’s website.
Keep in mind, train travel always varies from country to country, so doing research for your specific destination is always the best way to decide when to purchase your ticket!
Can I reserve seats on a train?
Reserving seats on a train can be done at the ticket machine when you are purchasing your ticket, or when you purchase your ticket online. A small fee is usually associated with it, ranging from 1€ or 2€. Reserving a seat is a good idea if your train ride is on the longer side. For shorter trips, it’s not really necessary. If you do reserve a seat, it will print which class, car and seat number you are in on your ticket. Once you head to the designated platform, there are usually signs that will show you where each car will stop on the platform. For example, if you are seated in 2nd Class, Car F, Seat 14B, you should look at the signs to see where the “F” car will stop on the platform. This will prevent you from sprinting down the platform at the last minute searching for the right car.
Overnight trains, what’s the deal?
Overnight trains can be an experience. Whether that experience is good or bad can be debated. Overnight trains are typically “overnight” because you are traveling for a long period of time, often 8-16 hours depending on your origin and destination. The term “overnight” can also be deceiving, seeing as you would assume that the ride won’t be too bad because you’ll just sleep the whole time, right?! Well, not so much. If you’ve ever ridden on a train before, you would know that it’s not the most comfortable mode of transportation, so staying asleep for the entire ride would be quite an accomplishment. In addition, you may encounter people on the train that may not be considered the most upstanding citizens around, so you should always keep an eye on your personal belongings.
What does it mean to “Validate my ticket?”
Prior to getting on the train, you MUST validate your ticket! Validating your ticket basically means that you have to get a date/time stamp printed on it. To do this, look for little machines that are usually painted a bright yellow and slide your ticket into the open slot and hold it there until you hear the stamp. Depending on the train station you are in, some ticket machines also have a slot where you can validate your ticket. If you do NOT validate your ticket, you are at risk of being fined when the ticket collector comes around to check tickets. While some tickets do not require you to validate them, you should always do so just in case!
How safe is train travel?
There are a few important rules that you should stick to when traveling by train.
Always put your luggage where you can see it
If you plan on sleeping during the trip, secure your luggage to the luggage rack with a lock in order to prevent someone from stealing it. If you place a bag on the seat next to you, such as a purse or backpack, make sure you have the strap wrapped around your arm or leg. This will prevent someone from being able to take your bag as they causally walk down the aisle.
In general, the areas directly around a train station are not always the safest and are often filled with individuals who are looking to scam unsuspecting tourists. You should always be on the alert, especially at night.
Rail Passes...Worth it! Sometimes.
Rail passes exist for group travel, day travel, weekend travel, multi-country travel and many more. In order to find out if rail passes are a good option for you, always check out the transportation websites for the countries that you are in.
Group and Day Passes
If you are traveling with two people or more, you should seriously look into group or day passes. For example, Germany’s national train system, “Bahn” is one of the most extensive in Europe and offers some of the best travel passes within the continent. Their “Linder” tickets allow up to 5 people to travel under one ticket within one region of Germany for the entire day. Averaging around €30 for one pass, it will drastically cut your costs if you go with similar options. To find out if the country you are in offers deals similar to the Linder pass, head to their website or online blogs for tips from fellow travelers.
The TRUTH about the Eurail Pass
Although Eurail passes sound great in theory, they can often be more expensive than individual tickets. Eurail passes restrict express trains from being considered an option, as well as limiting departure times. In contrast, purchasing individual tickets will give you more freedom and keep your travel costs low. Eurail Passes must be purchased in the United States and require you to know how many countries you will visit in a set period of time, leaving no room for spontaneity. There is nothing easier than walking to the train station, heading to a ticket booth, and ten minutes later be sitting on a train headed to Munich for some schnitzel.
*If you plan on traveling after the semester is over for a month or longer, that is the only time we would recommend purchasing a Eurail pass.
What does the term, “Budget Airline” mean?
Budget airlines are not as “luxurious” as major airlines tend to be. You won’t find mini TV screens displayed behind every headrest or free snacks or meals. Budget airlines tend to operate on a budget themselves. Since they don’t charge very much for tickets, many of the amenities and courtesies you may be used to on major airlines will be missing. However, despite the lack of free food and in-flight entertainment, the cost of your ticket will make you forget about those free bags of mini pretzels!
Do budget airlines fly out of the major airports?
The vast majority of budget airplanes fly out of secondary airports located further from the city centers. However, there are a few exceptions to this, so it is important when you book for flight to double and triple check the airport you are flying in and out of. Most of the airports where budget airlines are based can be as far as two hours from the main city. It is always important to look at a map and research transportation options to get you to and from the airport to the city center, especially if your flight arrives very late at night or very early in the morning, which most budget flights normally do.
Where do you find the best deals?
Thankfully, there are plenty of websites that highlight the best deals in budget travel. The sites listed below will allow you to easily navigate the web in order to find the best deals for your budget. Remember, don’t book the first flight you see. Searching around will often allow you to find a better deal!
On average, how cheap are flights?
On average, budget flights will cost anywhere from around €10 up to €200 depending on the airline, time of year and overall distance. Keep in mind while you are doing online searches, sometimes flights will be listed as costing only €1, but that doesn’t always include tax. Tax will vary drastically, sometimes only being a few Euros or sometimes be as much as €100.
Why can’t I pick my seats when I buy my ticket?
Budget airlines are unique in the fact that they typically don’t assign seats on the plane. Instead, boarding becomes a sort of free for all as everyone rushes to board first in order to find seats with their entire group. The rush to get on a plane and settle into a seat can sometimes be a bit stressful, but remember, airlines typically don’t sell more tickets than the number of seats they have on the plane. (We hope!)
Baggage, how much is too much?
Budget airlines are extremely strict with their baggage allowances. If you plan to bring a bag that is even an inch larger than their carry-on restrictions, you will need to check your bag. In fact, sometimes the cost of checking a bag may be more expensive than your entire flight! So, always pack as light as possible in order to avoid increasing the cost of your ticket. In addition, “personal” bags such as purses and laptop bags are NOT allowed in addition to a regular carry-on bag. If you plan to travel with your purse and a carry-on, plan on being forced to shove your purse into your carry-on bag, no matter how packed it already is.
Hostels can come in all shapes, sizes and smells, and being prepared for this reality will make your trips much more enjoyable when things go wrong, because trust us, things will go wrong. However, many hostels have the ability to make your trip, rather than break it. Below we have compiled a list of the most common questions in order to help you on your way to becoming your very own travel agent!
What is a hostel?
Hostels are used to lure innocent students into becoming victims in a multimillion dollar murder industry. KIDDING! Don’t believe the rumors or the Hollywood depictions, because truthfully, hostels are just as safe as hotels and much cheaper!
Seriously though, what is a hostel?
Hostels are budget accommodations that are typically marketed to students and young adults. Most hostels have an age limit to the people that are allowed to stay, while some offer their services to travelers of all ages as well as families.
How safe are hostels?
Depending on the set up of the hostel, the security measures they have will vary. Most hostels are set up so everyone that enters must pass through the lobby before they can reach the actual rooms. This allows the front desk to better observe people coming in and out of the hostel. Some hostels will require you to show your room key or an ID before heading to your room, while others have an ID scanner located outside of the main entrance or before certain wings of the hostel before you can proceed. As an effort to eliminate guests losing room keys, combined with being an extra safety precaution, many hostels will require you to leave your room key at the front desk, which can only be obtained again by showing a valid ID that matches the name associated with the room. While most hostels do have security measures put in place, there are also some that do not. In order to ensure that the hostels you book not only have security measures put into place, but are also located in a safe area, you should always consult the “User Reviews” section of the hostel booking engine that you are using.
How do I book a hostel?
The best way to book a hostel is always in advance and through an online search engine. Hostel search engines allow you to search within a specific country and city for exactly what you are looking for based on the amount of people you are traveling with and the size of your budget. Below are two of our favorite sites:
Hostel Search and Booking Engines
Customer Reviews, to read or not to read?!
YES! YES! YES! When booking a hostel on either of the search engines we provided, ALWAYS read through the customer reviews! They are updated almost daily by hostel goers and will give you fresh and unbiased insight into what to expect if you choose to book with that specific hostel. Just because the hostel claims they have clean rooms, doesn’t always mean they are telling the truth. That’s where customer reviews come in! They give you the dish on everything from the employees that work there to the type of people that lodge there. Trust us, it’s worth reading!
What types of rooms are available in hostels?
Rooms can vary from single rooms, double rooms all the way up to rooms for 18 people or more. Keep in mind, the smaller your room is, the more expensive it will be. With this in mind, it is important to remember that if you booked a room that fits 8 people, but there are only 5 of you, it means that there is a strong likelihood that 3 additional people that you don'y know will be put into the room with you. It’s also important to note that rooms are also categorized based on gender. Most hostels designate certain rooms to be female only, male only or coed.
What do the rooms look like?
Depending on the size of your room, the amenities inside will vary. Single and double rooms usually have single or double beds, while rooms with 4 or more are usually outfitted with bunk beds. Most rooms also offer large lockers, which allow travelers to store their belongings while they are out of the room. You can also choose to book rooms with or without private bathrooms. Most rooms are very simple with minimal furniture in order to take advantage of the limited space available.
What is the average cost to stay in a hostel?
Just like hotels, the average price of a hostel will fluctuate based on the time of year. Lucky for you, most of St. John’s programs are held during the “off-season”, which means that hostel prices will be much cheaper in comparison to traveling in the summer. However, prices do become steep when festivals or holidays come around, so booking in advance if you will be in Venice during Carnevale is highly recommended!Depending on the size of the room, the price per person will vary making the biggest rooms the cheapest, and the smallest rooms the most expensive. The cheapest hostel that we have personally seen while traveling was priced at 8€ a person, per night, while the most expensive rooms we found were priced as high as 70€ a night for a single.
What additional fees will I have to pay?
When you book your hostel, you should also look to see what is included in the price. It is very common for hostels to charge extra for the use of bed linens and towels. Normally the price averages 1 or 2 euro for each. Free Wifi is occasionally offered in many hostels, but if you are packing light and didn’t bring your laptop, often times there will be one you can use in the lounge for a small charge. (1€ coin will gain you anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour)
Are linens provided?
Whether or not a hostel provides linens varies entirely from hostel to hostel. If a hostel does not provide linens, you will have to pay a small fee of 1 or 2€. In addition, many hostels do not allow travelers to bring sleeping bags in order to prevent the spread of bed bugs, so keep that in mind if you do intend to travel with one.
Private Bathrooms vs. Communal Bathrooms
Private Bathrooms not only eliminate the possibility of waiting in line to shower, but they also prevent you from having to walk down the hallway in your towel and flip-flops for the world to see! However, private bathrooms may not always be what you expect. You may be lucky to find that you have a normal shower, toilet and even a bidet in a moderately spacious bathroom. You may also find that your private bathroom consists of a shower head located directly above the toilet that has a habit of leaking water into the rest of your room.
Communal Bathrooms are located off of the main hallways and house multiple stalls with showers and toilets. Not all communal bathrooms are single-sex, so don’t be shocked or think you walked into the wrong bathroom when you see someone of the opposite sex brushing their teeth at the sink! The main problem that can arise when opting for a communal bathroom is the possibility of having to wait to shower. Most of the time, hostels are well prepared when figuring out how many stalls they need to accommodate their guests, but sometimes you may have to wait if its overcrowded.
Check-In and Check-Out!
Checking In: The more you travel the more you realize things don’t always go as planned. When you book your room, ALWAYS make note of the check-in times. Most hostels require you to declare an arrival time so they know when to expect you or they will have a set time for when guests are allowed to check in. Seeing as anything that can go wrong, will go wrong when you travel, make sure you always carry your cell phone with you and have the number of the hostel you will be staying in. This will prove to be extremely important when your flight is delayed and you arrive hours after you had expected only to find out that your room was given away because they considered you to be a “no-show”.
Checking Out: Check out times are usually early in the morning, but if your flight/train isn’t until later in the day, most hostels will be more than happy to allow you to store your luggage behind the counter or in a designated “luggage room”. On the other hand, if you have to catch an early flight or train, make sure you notify the front desk the night before, just in case no one is on duty in the morning when you try to leave.
What should I bring with me to the hostel?
Shower sandals! Private or Communal bathroom, it’s a MUST!
A Lock. Use it to secure your belongings in a supplied locker.
Toiletries. Unlike hotels, hostels don’t provide free shampoo and soap.
Adapters. Don't forget, each region in Europe uses a different style plug!
Disclaimer: This section was written with European hostels in mind. If you have traveled outside of Europe and had experiences in hostels (good or bad), please feel free to contact us with more information so we can further prepare students for traveling abroad!