When you’re abroad during the fall semester, there aren’t any big vacations that you can take. The Madrid Institute for International Education for Students (IES) schedules all classes Monday through Thursday, which theoretically gives you Friday to travel.
What they fail to mention is the fact that we have to make up every canceled class — on Fridays. These start to add up, especially after your professor gets the flu, misses a whole week of class and then has to make the students recuperate the lost hours.
But, through lengthy planning and sophisticated communication throughout all involved parties, a group of friends and I scheduled a trip to Paris, France. I wasn’t exactly interested in Paris, but more than half of the Trinity group was going, and I didn’t want to miss out on the fun. Traveling with friends is always a fun experience, even if the shit hits the fan on occasion.
Some background about traveling while abroad in Europe: A system called the Schengen Zone allows you to travel within certain countries in Europe without needing to go through customs each time. As a generally ignorant American who had never traveled to Europe in my life, I was completely unaware of this. When I landed in Paris, they let me walk off the plane and into the country without so much as a suspicious glare.
I flew through Transavia, one of many cheap airlines that runs throughout Europe. While trying to find cheap flights to travel while abroad, I used the Skyscanner website, which has now become my best friend. This service tracks flights and will give you the information to determine where the cheapest flights are, or when your flight is cheapest.
While Europe has an abundance of cheap airlines, they all come with their own baggage of problems. Recently, Ryanair has been forced to cancel many flights due to massive strikes over working conditions. While I sympathize with these workers, it’s frustrating to have your flight cancelled a week before you take off. (They refund you, but your trip is still cancelled.)
Transavia had its own set a problems. My friend and I were allowed one carry-on luggage included with the ticket.
“That’s a great deal!” I thought, “We’re so lucky!” I assumed.
Yet I didn’t read the size 6 font detailing the fact that we weren’t allowed a personal item, like a purse. This might not seem like a big deal, but after shopping for souvenirs in Paris, my bag didn’t really have room to hold my tiny purse anymore. Instead, I hid it underneath my coat and hoped the flight attendants didn’t notice my abnormally large hump.
Once in another European country, you will need an affordable and clean place to sleep. In my case, I prefer to stay in Airbnbs while traveling. But in Paris, during a long weekend? That was impossible, unless I wanted to pay in gold bars.
Instead, we all found some hostels, which aren’t nearly as terrible as Americans make them out to be. Hostelworld.com is by far the best service I’ve found for finding cheap and quality places to stay.
The hostel I chose was listed as having “excellent cleanliness,” which was really all I wanted. The sheets were clean, my pillow flat and the bathrooms cleaned daily, so I was happy.
They didn’t mention the fact that my hostel was also a club, and actually had a line to get in after 9 p.m. It was funky. They had a live musician singing 2000s pop on Friday.
My impression of Paris, however, was not what I expected. I had imagined beautiful skylines, impeccably dressed passers-by and wine raining down on the streets.
Instead, I was shoved by multiple strangers, served overpriced food and drink, and a man on the metro coughed on me. Honestly, I had a culture shock just realizing that Paris was a real city, and not something out of a fairytale.
Also, the rats on the metro were not cute.
But traveling is an experience, and if you have the money, time and energy, you should always take advantage of going a little further outside your comfort zone. Even though I didn’t particularly enjoy Paris, I still enjoyed my friends.
I also ate a macaron on top of the Eiffel Tower, for the bragging rights.