Tips for Planning a Whirlwind Tour of 5 Cities in 10 Days
With a little planning, organization, and thirst for adventure, you can plan the trip of a lifetime while abroad.
Studying abroad is an amazing way to immerse yourself in a foreign culture. But why limit yourself to experiencing only one different culture? Whether you’re in Europe, Asia, or anywhere else on the globe, chances are you’ll be in close proximity to a multitude of other diverse cultures and popular bucket-list locations. While studying abroad, planning weekend trips to explore these new cities is half the fun.
While I was abroad, I was fortunate enough to have a week off from classes – a study break, as the university called it. I immediately saw this break as the perfect opportunity to get out and do some traveling, so two friends and I decided to plan a trip and see as many new cities as we could during the time off.
After extensive planning and research, we booked a massive trip to five European cities in ten days. While our university took a study break, we would be visiting Paris, Milan, Rome, Barcelona and London. Five cities in just 10 days.
Planning a trip of this degree was not easy, especially for an inexperienced traveler like me. Here, are some valuable tips and tricks so that even the most inexperienced traveler can make the most of their study abroad experience and travel as many places as possible.
Planning a trip of this extent requires a great deal of organization. First, you must decide what cities you want to visit and in what order you will visit them. I suggest starting this process by creating a list of potential destinations then searching for flights to all of these places.
It is easiest to begin by searching for flights to places closest to your starting point. Skyscanner is a great website for researching and comparing tons of flights to each destination. Work your way over to further destinations and circle back if possible. Typically, the closer the destination, the cheaper the flight. For example, we left from Dublin and flew to Paris, Milan, Rome, Barcelona and finally London. We gradually made our way across Western Europe and back, because we found that flights directly to Italy or Spain were much more expensive from Ireland.
Don’t discount other transportation options either. Busses and trains run all throughout Europe, but we typically found these to be more expensive. That infamous underground train from London to Paris? Everyone suggested it to us as a cheap and convenient way to get around, but we discovered that it’s actually way out of a college student’s budget.
In order to see what will work best for you and your chosen destination, research every available option. Overnight trains may be a good option because they will save you a night of accommodation, if you can find one that conveniently fits your itinerary.
Advice about booking flights: be flexible. If a flight to Rome is too expensive, look into Florence, Milan or Venice instead — if you are flexible with your destinations, you’re more inclined to find cheaper flights.
Keep in mind that most major European cities have multiple airports. Budget airlines typically fly into airports that are drastically further from the city center, so before booking the cheaper flight, look up the cost of transportation from the airport and weigh the pros and cons. Sometimes it may be worth it to book the more expensive flight if you’ll save money on extra transportation once you arrive. It ended up taking us three hours to get into London because we went for the cheaper flight into Gatwick instead of the city’s main airport, Heathrow.
Since you won’t be booking round-trip flights, you may also want to book flights out of the same airport you flew into in each city. This will be an added convenience when you’re rushing to make your next flight, because you’ll already know how to get there. Many airport transportation services also offer round-trip tickets at discounted prices, so this is a good way to save a few extra euro.
Once you have your flight information sorted out, it’s time to find a place to stay in each city. Hostelworld is a great website to find thousands of hostels, bed and breakfasts, and cheap hotels in any location worldwide. They provide customer testimonials and ratings, and a full list of amenities for each lodging option.
Some of the most important things to look for when deciding on a hostel: location, free Wi-Fi, free breakfast, and lockers. We wouldn’t go anywhere without free Wi-Fi, because the hostel was our only guarantee of communication with the outside world or confirm the next day’s travel plans through our emails.
Who doesn’t love free food? Free breakfast is extremely common in hostels, so don’t settle for one that doesn’t offer you a free meal if you don’t have to. It may not be much (prepare to embrace Nutella!), but it will still end up saving some money in the end.
A good location is particularly difficult to judge when you’ve never been to a city before, but research is worth it. Make sure you don’t end up in a dangerous area or far away from all the attractions you’re most looking forward to in that city.
As you plan all of these different factors, be sure to write everything down and keep organized lists and schedules. Create a folder in your email for all of the confirmations and receipts you will receive. There is no possible way you’ll be able to commit all this information to memory, so make schedules and plan well.
Now that you have your trip all planned, how can you possibly pack 10 days’ worth of clothes into a bag small enough to be considered a carry on for Ryan Air?
The sad yet true answer is this: you can’t. You’re going to have to pack very light and repeat some outfits, so bring a few key, versatile wardrobe pieces that will go with anything and can be layered for different types of weather.
And this brings up another important consideration: weather. Be sure to research the climate and predicted weather conditions of each location before you pack so you won’t be blindsided and left without anything appropriate to wear. We went from 70 degrees and sunny in Barcelona to 45 degrees and rainy in London, so we made sure to pack for all of these climates to the best of our abilities.
The most important piece of advice about packing for a trip like this: make sure everything comfortably fits into a backpack. Do not stuff it to the brim and run the risk of being charged extra for overweight baggage on a flight with a budget airline. If you have to repeat the same outfits a few more times than you’d care to admit, it’s fine. The experience will be worth sacrificing your typical hygienic standards for a week or two.
For more packing tips and advice click here.
Once the extensive planning and packing is finished, the most important thing to do is to be prepared. Have ideas of what you want to do at each destination. You won’t have much time to waste making plans when you’re moving so quickly from city to city every other day. Maximize your time in each destination, and make the most out of your experience by planning ahead.
Research popular/free/touristy/off-the-beaten-path activities in each city – whatever suits you and your companions. I’ll admit we were drawn to the touristy attractions for the most part, since we didn’t have much time in each city. We fully embraced free walking tours in each city, because these suited our budget and were a great way to get out and explore a good part of the city in a short amount of time. These are often led by locals and allow you to see what they consider the best parts of each city.
Make sure to take screenshots of everything you look up on your phone, because you never know when you’ll get Wi-Fi again. I often used Pinterest to look up guides to each city before going to sleep each night, with the comfort of free Wi-Fi in each hostel. I then took screenshots of everything that interested me so I could look at them again later while walking through the city. Screenshots will be your best friend. Trust me.
This leads me to the primary con of the whole experience: you don’t have much time to get the best out of each city and spend days exploring. Sometimes quality is better than quantity, but in this case, I knew I wanted to visit each destination before I left Europe with no idea of when I’d be back. However, that didn’t reduce the immense wave of depression I felt leaving Rome after only two short days. Each city has so much to offer, and you can’t help but feel that there is so much more you’d be able to see if only you could stay a few days longer.
Now that my semester abroad is almost over, I look back on that trip as one of my fondest memories. It taught me how to travel well, organize, plan, and adapt quickly to new and different cultures. It also allowed me to cross five things off my bucket list in just a little over a week, and that’s something pretty extraordinary.