Travel is an integral aspect of the study abroad experience. It allows students to explore and experience difference and beauty in people, places and things. Of course, it is by no means a requirement, but I’ve failed to come across an exchange student who doesn’t also want to push past the boundaries of the city in which they live.
After finishing up the last of my travels around Peru earlier this week, I’ve come to realize that everything humanly possible that could have gone wrong, did, in fact, go wrong. I missed buses. I overpaid. I over packed. I got lost. You name it, and my friends and I likely did it.
So, rather than wallowing over my empty bank account or stressing further about future trips, I’ve decided to compile a list of five travel tips for those planning their own, so that anyone studying abroad can avoid my painful mistakes and enjoy their own experiences to the absolute fullest.
Check, Re-Check—& Check Again
Whether it be prices or times, never allow one glance at a number to be sufficient. Prices of flights and hostels change regularly, and being exact with when the times a bus, plane or train leaves is essential. Twice my friends and I assumed a bus left at a certain time, when it in fact left earlier than we had thought—leaving us with no choice but to purchase additional tickets to make it to our next destination. The second time it happened, I had been completely sure our bus was set to leave at 10 p.m. However, when I glanced down at our ticket as we prepared to leave, I discovered it actually left at 8:30 p.m.—and at the time, it was 8:24 p.m., leaving us in a mad frenzy to get to the bus station.
Always check your tickets multiple times, and make sure you’re reading the departures and arrivals correctly. When it comes to prices, make sure you are equipped with the amount indicated at the point of payment, in order to avoid any uncomfortable, embarrassing situations.
I cannot stress this point enough. Planning ahead is critical to the success of a trip. Don’t get me wrong—sometimes the spontaneity of last-minute trips is just what the doctor ordered. When it comes to longer, more complex trips, however, I definitely recommend making arrangements in advance and asking around to find out the best way to do it. For example, my friend, her sister and I planned a trip to Cusco and Machu Picchu—the trip of all trips to take while in Peru—and we ended up stressing ourselves out throughout the entire four days, because we had organized everything just a few days before leaving. We ended up carrying out the trip opposite of the way most people do it and leaving ourselves completely on edge.
Don’t make our mistake—your trip will go a lot more smoothly if you put the time in beforehand.
Avoid Rash Decisions
In many of my own experiences, rash decisions meant paying more money than I had wanted to. This tidbit of advice goes hand-in-hand with planning ahead. Selecting a hotel because it seems to be the only one you can find is rarely the truth. Purchasing a flight on a whim doesn’t necessarily merit the best price. Joining in on a tour group won’t always provide the experience you’re looking for. Again, while in Cusco, my friends and I hopped in on a tour group for a city tour, only to be herded along like sheep, with limited time at each location and urgency to fit everything in before the sun went down.
Basically, make sure you are aware of what you’re getting yourself into, at all times, to ensure that you enjoy your travel experience to the fullest.
Dedicate Time to Find the Best Price
As these all seem to be connected, hunting for the best price relates to avoiding rash decisions and planning ahead. When you’re on a budget—as I am sure most university students are—going cheaply but comfortably is crucial. Don’t select a lodging area simply because it seems to be the only option. Trust me, there are plenty of options out there, and likely cheaper ones at that. Following our trip to Cusco, my friends and I headed to Puerto Maldonado to spend a couple of days in the Amazon Rainforest. Again, we hadn’t spent much time looking into lodges we can stay at, so we selected the first when we came across in a Google search. The rashness of this decision left us dropping a huge chunk of change on an experience that most likely could have been better.
Always, always, always look into various options and their prices in order to get the best deal possible.
Research Your Destination
When I first came to Peru, I knew little to nothing about the tourist attractions the country has to offer. Aside from Machu Picchu, I wasn’t sure what I’d be doing or seeing in my travels. So, when we had a long weekend just a couple of weeks into our study abroad experience, I jumped at the chance to travel with IU students—yet did not have the slightest clue what I was getting myself into. We traveled south of Lima to Ica, Huacachina and Paracas, relatively cheap locations that offer adventure, relaxation and nature all rolled into one, easy trip. However, as we had just arrived in Peru and knew little about average prices for locations or how to go about getting to, from and around different cities, we ended up staying far longer than necessary there and spending way more than we should have. Thus, I strongly recommend gaining a sense of where you’re going prior to setting anything in stone—your wallet and your schedule will thank you for it.