One thing remains true about studying abroad: That semester, you want to do everything and go everywhere. For possibly the first time, you're experiencing and living in another country, and going beyond your comfort zone. It's beautiful and a little overwhelming all at the same time. You walk down the cobblestoned street that your apartment is on, and recognize the views from pictures you've seen somewhere on social media. You have thoughts like, "Is it possible to see it all and then some in just a few months?" Absolutely. I traveled to eight countries during my semester abroad, and it's way more attainable than you might think.
I remember hopping on the plane, and wondering where my wanderlust would take me. The summer before, I saved up a lot of money working two jobs and added a bunch of destinations to my bucket list. But, I knew that the next four or five months were hard to predict from my window seat. Like a movie, I gazed out at the clouds — watching the sun go down, turning the sky from blue into pastel shades of pink and purple — and decided to just see what would happen.
Stepping out of the airport in Florence with my big suitcases and bags, I was completely overwhelmed. Culture shock and jet lag made me want to find a warm slice of pizza and take a nap as soon as possible. Within a few weeks, though, I fell in love with the city and started thinking about exploring the rest of Europe. I booked train tickets and flights elsewhere, and racked up even more places that I had to go. Before I knew it, I was seeing the world with my best friends, one weekend at a time.
Girl, grab your passport, because you're going to need it. Got it? Good. Now, let me tell you how I traveled to eight countries during my semester abroad, so that you can activate your wanderlust mode and have some once-in-a-lifetime experiences, too.
Here's how I traveled to eight countries during my semester abroad.
First things first: The eight countries that I went to during my semester abroad included Italy, Croatia, Germany, France, Spain, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, and Belgium. There isn't a country on that list that I didn't absolutely love — for its food, culture, art, or excursions. But, I did have a few favorites, as you can probably imagine. (We'll get to that in a second, OK?)
Right now, you're likely wondering how I did it. Eating baguettes under the Eiffel Tower might seem so out of reach. It's not, assuming you know some tip and tricks and are smart about your travel plans.
I was able to make it to eight different countries, because it's actually very easy to travel on weekends when you're studying abroad in Europe. Most programs offer classes between Monday and Thursday so that you have that extra day to explore. You also leave from central train stations that can get you just about anywhere. Most of my teachers encouraged my best friends and I to travel, and gave us guides and spots to go that were off the grid — the restaurants in the city that only locals know about, or the places that they vacation.
In addition, I signed up for a lot of group trips with student tour operators like Bus2Alps and EuroAdventures. These trips had pre-planned itineraries and saved me a lot of money on experiences and excursions that could've cost much more. Accommodations, transportation, guided walking tours, and more were included in each package. I also learned that sleeping on a bus is totally possible when you're going to Croatia and it's going to take around 15 hours. (Worth it.)
Last but not least, I kept the same mindset throughout my entire time studying abroad: It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Not everybody gets the opportunity to spend a semester in another country, and I felt so lucky to be living and breathing that Italian air every single day. Whenever I was second-guessing a trip or hitting "purchase" on another trip package, I told myself that this opportunity was rare and not one to miss out on.
I had once-in-a-lifetime experiences in each country.
The experiences that I ended up having in these eight countries were worth the pennies and time that I spent riding a bus. But, some stand out more than others and remain the stories that I tell over and over again, even though it's been three years since I studied abroad.
Seeing the waterfalls of Krka National Park in Croatia up close is probably my favorite highlight. The guides told me and my best friend that we were doing something truly unreal and would want to pull our cameras out when we walked through the lush forest. I never expected to see something so magical and postcard-worthy.
I had a similar feeling of being blown away every time I took a bite of pizza with fresh prosciutto on top in Italy, or posed for a photo against the East Side Gallery in Berlin. Walking through the Christmas markets in Prague was another huge moment for me. That was our last weekend trip, and every bowl of goulash was extra tasty because it was so cold outside.
What countries should you visit during your semester abroad?
So, what countries should you visit while you're studying abroad? Well, I'd highly recommend underrated spots like Croatia and the Czech Republic. Take some time to explore the City of Brussels in Belgium, and eat waffles amongst the detailed architecture. And whether you're studying abroad in Italy or not, be sure to leave plenty of weekends and time for day trips in this country.
I've been all around Europe multiple times at this point in my life, and Italy remains the most beautiful country I've ever seen. From the colorful houses in Cinque Terre to the artsy districts of cities like Milan, this country might just be your favorite passport stamp, and will always leave you wanting more.
Just promise me one thing: You won't limit yourself during your semester abroad. The world is so big, and you have to see it. More importantly, you can see it. Your big dreams of seeing everything Europe has to offer are attainable, and I know because I've been there, and done that.