By Laura Davison
A Mizzou student who went on this exchange program before me gave me this advice: You are never going to be as close to Spain as you will be this semester. Take advantage of that.
This advice served me well. There are so many places to visit in Europe. It is easy to spend every weekend traveling to another place in Europe and not enjoy the scenery and activities that are right around you.
Part of studying abroad is getting to travel and cross things off your bucket list. But another part is learning about what it means to live, and not just be a tourist, in another culture.
I found it was most time and cost-effective to go on a few longer trips and spend the majority of my weekends going to events in and around Pamplona. I visited Italy and Ireland and spent a week in southern Spain. But most of my traveling consisted of day trips and weekend outings to Bilbao, Madrid, Bilbao and smaller towns near Pamplona like San Sebastían, Estella and Olite.
There is easy bus service from Pamplona to many places in Spain, but one downside is there isn’t an international airport close. Bilbao’s is the closest, but rates are usually cheaper out of Barcelona or Madrid. The logistics involved getting to and from an airport make international travel hard for just a weekend. However, many students take time to travel before or after the semester or during the 12-day spring break over Easter.
1. Plan ahead. A semester goes by a lot faster than you would think. Early on in the semester, start planning out what places are on your must-see list and build a schedule for yourself to make that happen. Flights on budget airlines like EasyJet and RyanAir are also most economical when booked in advance.
2. Go to festivals. There are a ton of fabulous festivals in and outside of Spain: Semana Santa in Andalusia, Las Fallas in Valencia, Tamborrada en San Sebastían, Carnival in Venice and Queen’s Day in Amsterdam are just a few of the events that happen from January to May.
3. Pick travel buddies who have similar interests as you. Trips go much smoother if you both have the same goals in mind. If you love art, it’s probably not a great idea to travel with someone who has limited interest in it. Traveling in big groups can be fun, but it can also limit the number of things you can do in a day. As you plan the places you would like to see, also consider what kind of experience you want to have while you are there.
4. Configure your class schedule so you have the flexibility to travel. It’s relatively simple to plan your schedule so that you don’t have classes on Monday or Friday, giving you a three-day weekend. Because Pamplona isn’t the most convenient place to travel from, that extra day gives you a lot of much-needed travel time.
5. Things are much cheaper before April. Of course, it’s also much colder then as well. A hostel room that can run for 8€ in February, can be 25€ in May. It’s also much less stressful to travel when cities aren’t overrun with other tourists.