Within this past year, I’ve traveled to fourteen countries in four months and lived in my car in the Western United States for about ten weeks. I picked up a few useful traveling tricks along the way and am constantly receiving texts, snapchats, and DMs from friends asking me questions about my travels, as well as looking for advice regarding travels of their own. They are always really useful questions, so I figured I would share the seven I found myself answering most often with all of you. They should have you boarding a plane for your next destination in no time, more confidently and assuredly than ever before!
1. How do you find such cheap flights?
Jackie, Behind the Bricks team member, wrote an awesome article about traveling on a student’s budget a couple weeks ago, so I won’t dwell on this one. But, I do get asked this constantly, so I’ll throw in a couple tricks of my own. I almost always start by searching flights on my phone with an app called SkyScanner, which checks all travel sites for the best deals and reports them back to you. It is not always completely accurate, but it is a great place to start. Then, once I’ve found the flights I want, I go to my computer and buy tickets directly from the airlines. This is for two reasons. The first is that if you do your research and purchase tickets on the same device, airlines will track your IP address and raise the rates (it’s unfortunate but true). The second is that buying directly from the airline ensures your ticket will be valid, as there is no middle man. Research when the best times to buy certain tickets are, and be ready for some early mornings or late nights, because in my experience, the cheapest flights are around 3-7 in the morning when everyone else is asleep.
2. What should I do for phone service?
It depends on how long you will be traveling for, but you have a few main options. If you’re only traveling for a few days, most US providers offer pay-per-day plans that will give you everything you need; AT&T’s is $10 per day, for example. If you’re traveling longer than a week, it is worth getting a monthly plan from either your home provider or a provider in the region you are traveling in. I personally stuck with AT&T; their plan was more expensive than one through a European provider such as Vodafone, but it meant that I had service no matter where I was, as it worked through utilization of data roaming. I also had unlimited texting, a reasonable amount of data per month, and it wasn’t too expensive to make calls if I needed to in a pinch. Many of my friends bought plans with Vodafone, which was cheaper and was similar to a plan you would have here in the US, but it also meant they only had service in places that Vodafone covered, so they had no service in some countries. No matter what route you take, remember that Wi-Fi is your best friend.
3. How hard is it to travel somewhere where you don’t speak the language?
I won’t lie; it can be disconcerting at first, but it’s not the end of the world. I am only bilingual – I speak English and Italian – so I was out of luck in every other country I went to (except England, of course). However, I found that most people in Europe speak English, so I had no trouble getting around and asking questions. I would still recommend doing your very best to learn some of the language of the region you’re in because you should never expect the locals to cater to your needs if you’re not making a genuine and respectful effort yourself.
4. What do I do if I get sick while traveling?
This is a tough one because it depends on a lot of factors, including the severity of the sickness. When I was in Europe, there were only two times I was legitimately sick. The first was when I got pink-eye, luckily I was home in Italy when that happened. In Italy, pharmacists don’t need a prescription to give you eye drops for pink-eye, so I would recommend doing research if you can afford to before taking action. If I had not known I could just walk to the pharmacy for what I needed, life would have been much more difficult. The second was when I got a bacterial infection in Morocco. I definitely should have gone to the hospital when I returned to Italy, and many of my friends did, but I stuck it out. Therefore, my next piece of advice is to be smarter than I was. I caused myself a lot of unnecessary pain by being stubborn. Of course, your ability to receive certain treatment in certain countries depends on many things, such as insurance or quality of care in that country, so I would recommend just making sure you do your research and take necessary precautions before leaving to make sure you’ll be safe.
5. How do you balance traveling with being a full-time student?
If I’m being honest, I lucked out a bit on this one. When I studied in Italy, I was able to stack all my courses on Monday and Wednesday and travel from Thursday to Sunday. However, I still had to navigate homework and meetings. I took a Skype interview in Barcelona, a phone interview (for Behind the Bricks!) from my apartment in Rome, and doing a lot of homework on planes, buses, and trains. It’s not always easy to do your homework on a bus twisting and turning through the Swiss Alps at 2 AM, but it’s just what you have to do. Having said that, I don’t have an all-encompassing answer for this one, because it’s very dependent on your personal situation, but I guarantee it can be done if you’re willing to make sacrifices and burn some midnight oil.
6. What advice do you have for people traveling alone?
I personally think it’s always better to travel with friends or family, but I’ve still done my fair share of solo traveling to places like Spain, France, and England. My number one piece of advice is to make sure someone always knows where you are and what you’re up to. Obviously the hope is that nothing will ever go wrong, but on the off chance that it does, it’s really important that a friend or family member knows where you are. My second piece of advice is to stay in hostels, because they are fairly safe and cheap, as they are charged per bed, not per room. Past this, just always be very aware of your surroundings and try to avoid being out too late alone in an unfamiliar place. I’ve found that the world is a lot safer and kinder than people make it out to be, so you shouldn’t be scared or worried, but it’s still important to be as safe as possible.
7. Do you ever miss your family and friends?
Every single day. Not a moment went by during my travels when I didn’t wish someone from back home was there to enjoy them with me. (I played Jon Bellion’s New York Soul a lot when I missed home.) However, it’s really important not to dwell on this, and even more important to make new friends along the way. Of course, you can never replace someone you love back home, but you can make new friends while traveling who will make you feel more at home than you ever thought somebody you met on the road could. When it’s all said and done, you’ll feel like you’ve known them your whole life.
Traveling isn’t so scary or difficult as long as you’re prepared and you have a few handy tricks up your sleeve, so get out there, search some flights, and take off on your next adventure!