Studying abroad is one of the grandest opportunities a student can have, and it is worthwhile to ensure that the experience is unforgettable. I would encourage exchange students to grab their dreams of traveling by the horns and take advantage of any chance to travel you come across. One way to travel to many different destinations in a reasonably short amount of time is by going on a road trip. Based on my own experience with this, here are some tips on how to plan and execute a successful road trip.
Make a plan, but don’t be afraid of change
Exacting a tentative itinerary of the countries, cities and sights you’d like to visit allows for you to better plan your trip as a whole and ensures you’ll be able to see as much as possible within an allotted time frame. However, be willing to acknowledge that even the best laid plans need to be altered. Taking a road trip can be a rather taxing experience and sometimes you need to give up going to a city or skip seeing a sight just to guarantee yourself the time to eat, sleep a little extra or spend some more time in a city that you find particularly captivating. Plus, your time in each place will be limited so it is important to prioritize the things you want to see most.
Prepare the necessities
It’s easy to forget simple things when planning a trip this big, and easier to forget them when you’re already on the road. I strongly suggest you keep a well-stocked supply of snacks in the car. Stops may be infrequent save for gas and bathroom purposes, so make sure you have something to eat on hand, from cookies or candy to sandwiches. This will save you time and money, and prevent you from making more stops than is necessary.
Aside from food, guaranteeing yourself a bed for the night is also wildly important. There are many different platforms you can use to book a room such as CouchSurfing, Airbnb and HostelWorld. These are all relatively inexpensive alternatives to hotels and often have much friendlier, welcoming atmospheres — not to mention convenient locations near city centers. However, it’s important to read reviews and check the location of where you’re staying in advance so that there are no misunderstandings and confusion is minimized.
If you don’t have the advantage of having phone service while on the road, downloading the maps of the cities you are going to will save your skin in a tight spot and make your journey easier. Regardless of your service, your GPS will still function. This way you can mark spots on the map, see where important sights are located, and generally have a safety net in case you get lost while wandering around.
Most importantly, you should be aware of the type of currency that is used where you’re traveling and know that you have a way to pay for the things you will need either by card or in cash. Most places accept big-name credit card companies like Visa or MasterCard, but having cash is really useful because you may encounter shops that don’t accept cards.
You may encounter more fees than originally accounted for
Some places have regulations about foreign vehicles entering, and you may need to pay a fee for a window-sticker that will allow you to drive in the country. On top of that, some countries have toll roads. You may encounter tolls where you pay to pass through the gate or you may encounter tolls where you take a ticket that you later feed back into a machine at a different toll station where you then pay for the time in between, which is another reason to keep different forms of payment on hand. Parking your car will usually cost you money as well, unless your accommodations offer free parking. Be aware of the parking regulations where you are and make sure you’re parking in a designated public parking area as to avoid being ticketed or towed. Most places you go will have limited access to public restrooms in stores or restaurants, so keep some pocket change on hand because often you will need to pay to use the bathroom.
Get lost and explore
The primary tactic used on my road trip was to find the center of the city and get lost. Sometimes it is less important to see the main tourist attractions and more important to wander the city and find beauty in the things you stumble upon.
Go with someone you care about
In my original planning, I had every intention of going about my trip alone, but I can say with certainty that I’m glad I didn’t. This is not to say that I would not have enjoyed myself regardless, but I certainly had much more fun having someone to enjoy every experience with. So, take someone you care about and revel in the adventure of it all.
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