Perhaps this is not the best time to speak of this topic, considering there’s still two more weeks of exam to go and having fun should be the least of our worries at this period of time. But travelling abroad is most probably not an impromptu thing and to make the best out of it, one has to plan ahead.
Last year, I spent my Christmas and New Year’s in Amsterdam and Salzburg, Austria. It was a trip with a friend of mine who’s also studying at the UK. We came up with the itinerary, booked our flights and accommodation all by ourselves. Since neither of us are frequent travelers, this experience comes off as refreshing. At the same time, as I am gaining more autonomy in deciding my own life, it helped me to realise (yet again) that I am progressing towards adulthood, which is both exciting and bittersweet.
I’m posting this to share a few travel tips that I think will be especially relevant for students who are travelling on their own and also highlighting a few places worth going in these two places. 🙂
Tip 1: Research, know where you want to go
Although the idea of spontaneous trips sounds wonderful, doing research beforehand ensures that you won’t miss out the best travel benefits. It also prevents you from wasting too much time and money. For example, upon arriving at Amsterdam, the first thing we did was to purchase the iamsterdam City card. It allows free entry to some of the major attraction sights (Van Gogh museum, Artis Royal Zoo and even a free daylight canal cruise, just to name a few). Public transport at Amsterdam is also free when you have this card. All this for around 55 euros (valid for 24 hours). The benefits this card offer totally justify its costs. We got this information from the official tourist website. So yes, research is definitely important.
Tip 2: Expectations and Reality are most likely to be different from each other
As mentioned previously, we DIY-ed the itinerary and our (oh-so-naive) plan for the first day at Amsterdam was to visit the famous attractions which are free due to the iamsterdam card. This means visiting the Artis Royal Zoo and the Van Gogh museum plus the complimentary canal cruise in less than 24 hours (these attractions are only available till 5pm). We underestimated the time it would take to get from one attraction to another, and also the time we would spend in each of the attractions. At the end of day one we only managed to cover the zoo and the Van Gogh museum. We missed the free canal cruise and since Amsterdam is the city of canals, we believe canal cruising is a must. Hence we had to pay an extra 8 euro on the subsequent day for it. From here, it shows how important it is to pace the itinerary appropriately. Not too ambitious (like my friend and I) but not too slow either. Logistics and personal preferences should be taken into account during planning as well.
Tip 3: Ask your family and friends
If browsing through multiple tourist websites and TripAdvisor reviews are too cumbersome for you, asking friends and family members who have been to the places you are about to go is a much more convenient and direct method. They might provide you with insight no tourist sites are able to. Also, you might get some unexpected surprises along the way! My friend was offered a Museumkaart by her friend. The Museumkaart is essentially an annual pass for all the museums at Netherlands (there’s nearly 400 museums in the country!). This card normally costs 59.90 euro and now she got it for free. Whilst I needed to pay for the tickets to Anne Frank House and the Rijksmuseum, she got in free of charge. Time to put your social circle to good use, everyone.
Tip 4: Lastly, have fun!
Having an itinerary is definitely ideal as it makes the whole trip more organised and therefore enjoyable as you will not be running around like a headless chicken. But ultimately, the whole point of going for a trip is to have fun, to experience the local culture and to know more about the world we live in. Therefore, in my opinion, instead of sticking to the pre-planned itinerary rigidly, allow some flexibility around it. This is exactly what we did when we were at Salzburg, a small town near the Austrian border. We spent most of our time at the Old Town, where most of the tourist attractions are located. We just wandered from one street to another, visiting shops that interest us, entering museums and churches whenever we saw one and basically just enjoying ourselves. This is quite a different experience as to the one we had at Amsterdam. Salzburg is also the birthplace of the musical prodigy, Mozart. We had attended a few classical concerts. One of them was the Mozart Dinner Concert at Europe’s oldest restaurant, the St. Peter Stiftkeller.
It was an enjoyable and meaningful winter break. Coming from the East, this was the first time I got to explore Western culture. The trip itself was an eye opener, and the preparations prior to the trip equipped me with the skills on how to plan an enjoyable trip. If given the chance, I would definitely visit Amsterdam again for the museums, and Salzburg for the classical operas and concerts. But for now, it is back to the university life, which I equally enjoy.