Dream vacation

The planning starts now

Meagan Flynn
September 24, 2009

Have you ever dozed off in class, wishing you were relaxing in the French Riviera, touring Europe's most famous museums, or exploring the pyramids of Egypt? Well, wake up!  Fall break is fast approaching, and it is time to turn those dreams into realities.


As study abroad students, you will have your fair share of opportunities for weekend excursions, whether they take you as close as Venice or as far as Ireland. These trips are usually rushed, planned only days ahead of time, with students cramming into the cheapest hostel available or sleeping on overnight trains. However, fall break is the one time during the semester when you will have extended time to travel. So make sure you do it right! Planning your dream vacation starts right now.


The first order of business, after getting those pesky midterms out of the way, is making sure you have the dates nailed down. There is nothing worse than booking a flight that coincides with your last test, only to have Ryanair.com inform you that the only way you are getting out of that credit card charge is by presenting a death certificate. Once you have triple-checked your schedule, it is on to step 2: choosing a destination.


As you pick your destination, consider your preferences. Some people prefer hitting every major cultural and political landmark possible, while others prefer relaxing on a beach, hiking in the mountains, shopping, or enjoying the best nightlife Europe has to offer. If you are traveling with others, make sure you have the same goals in mind and work together throughout the planning process. If you are traveling with a large group, be sure to choose a destination that offers something for everyone involved.


Another important aspect of choosing a destination is transportation. Short flights and trains are generally cheaper, and you will spend less time traveling, leaving more time to do and see everything you want. If you are travelling to more than one country or city, try to choose practical pairs.


For example, Paris and London make a good pair for one trip. The weather will be a bit chilly this time of year (pack a coat and an umbrella), but these cities have a wide range of things to do and see around the clock. The Eiffel Tower is obviously a ‘must,' as are the Louvre, Notre Dame, and, as a day trip, Versailles. There is so much to see and do that even when you are not visiting these main attractions, you will never be bored. If you plan to see a lot of museums and landmarks, consider getting the museum pass for about 30 euro: it pays itself back within a few trips. Also, check out the Latin Quarter for great shopping, restaurants and cafes.


London has an entirely different atmosphere. You might devote slightly more time to London if you want to see as much as possible. The main attractions include the Tower of London, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, and so much more! Consider taking a bus tour, or look into the ‘big ticket,' which provides access to several of these main attractions. For the fashionistas, be sure to stop by Harrods, Carnaby Street, and the various markets throughout the city. It is also very easy to buy theatre tickets for some of Broadway's hottest, biggest shows. Like Paris, London offers something for everyone.


If you want to spend time by the beach, Spain is probably your best option. It is one of the few places in Europe where you can enjoy ‘bathing suit weather' during the fall. Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia, Ibiza, and Seville are all hot spots with much to offer, and visiting more than one or two of these cities is entirely possible in the span of fall break.


Greece is another popular destination. Although Greece is more accessible from Italy than it is from most other European countries, getting there inexpensively involves several different forms of transportation (and time); otherwise, you might find yourself spending a good portion of your spring break allowance. Most of the budget airlines do not offer many reasonably priced flights to Greece this time of year. A good option to consider is traveling through a student travel company (see box). These companies offer transportation, accommodations, and certain meals at a student price.


If you want to see as much of Greece as possible, from Athens to the islands, this is probably your best bet. However, some students find that travel time consumes too much of the vacation, and the weather at this time of year is not what they expected. As with all trips, conduct thorough research before you book anything.


These are only a few suggestions: there are many, many other places accessible from Italy that offer beauty, culture and entertainment. Once you decide where to go, it is important to have your arrangements for accommodations firmly set as far in advance as possible. Even for a short stay, your trip will be much less stressful if you know you have somewhere safe to put your bags upon arrival. Be in contact with the manager of each hostel or hotel so there is as little confusion as possible when checking in or out. Finally, make sure you know how you are getting there. It's likely that checking in will be the first thing on your agenda, and you don't want to find out at the last minute that your hotel is actually 45 minutes away from the airport and you have no idea how to get there. For your exit, plan trains, buses, or airport shuttles for any departures accordingly to avoid missing any flights.


With all of these technicalities out of the way, all that is left is to start planning your time in country. Use websites, travel forums, and guidebooks to find the best museums, restaurants, hotels and attractions. Get a tentative game plan in your head before departure, and once you are in country, figure out how much of it is feasible, and plan a rough day-to-day schedule so you do not miss anything you wanted to see.


Now, after all that planning, you have one more task, one that you will not find in any guidebook or at a tourist information point: be spontaneous. Having a schedule is great, and even necessary. Yet if your schedule and your attitude are not flexible, you could miss many of the hidden gems of the place you are visiting. You will have more pictures that are interesting, richer journal entries, and lifelong memories if you allow yourself to slow down and explore rather than power through as many tourist attractions as possible.



NEED IDEAS? Check out two local student-oriented travel agencies for some exciting group trips with great group prices.


FlorenceForFun Travel Agency



European Tour: Prague,

Amsterdam and Paris (10 days)

Departure: October 15 or October 22

Early Bird Special: €590 (payment before September 30, 2009)

Regular Price: €625

after September 30, 2009)



Corfu Island and Athens  (7 days)

Departure: October 16 or October 23

Price: €450



Snow or Sand



Greece: Athens, Mykonos and Santorini

Dates: October 23-31

Price: $731


Spain: Barcelona and Costa del Sol

Dates: October 23-31

Price: $796.00


Africa: Morocco

Dates: October 23-31

Check website for price






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