“Two Seats Left.” My friend McKenna and I stared at the screen on the ticket machine, overjoyed at the message we were greeted with.
“We’re going to Paris!” we screamed. It was a Wednesday night, and we had just found ourselves a €120 round trip ticket to the home of street-side crepes, the Mona Lisa and everything in between.
We boarded the bus Thursday night, and arrived in Paris around 11 a.m. Friday morning. As soon as we got there, we hopped on the Metro to visit the Sacré–Cœur, a beautiful basilica overlooking the city that’s located in Paris’s artist district, where Picasso and Van Gogh once lived. We enjoyed beignets aux pomme (heavenly light donuts with caramelized apple dunked in sugar) and a bottle of Moscato while lying on a hill in front of the basilica.
Sure, it was a 12-hour bus ride on Thursday night and again on upon our return to Madrid, but after doing about an hour of research, we decided that this would be the most cost effective way to travel. Here are some tips to plan the perfect weekend trip while abroad:
Step One: Don’t be afraid to plan things spontaneously.
Letting go of the feeling that everything should be precisely planned out weeks in advance will really open your life to some priceless possibilities and memories. McKenna and I had found that we had a four-day weekend coming up without anything special planned since we had been bogged down by schoolwork, but after our exam and Wednesday, we decided to “carpe diem” it up.
Step Two: Look into all the possible transportation routes.
I’ve found that doing a quick Google search of “best way to go to ____ from ____” will usually yield helpful results from scores of people who have previously traveled the same route. In Europe, budget airlines are usually a great way to go, but buses and trains are also very viable options.
Step Three: Figure out where you’re staying.
We booked an AirBnB two days before our arrival and ended up staying with a friendly Argentinian fashion designer and his partner. When booking somewhere to stay, keep location, cost-efficiency and safety in mind.
Step Four: Figure out who your ideal travel mate is.
It’s probably possible to have fun with anyone when you’re in Europe, when there’s so much incredible culture to absorb, but I’ve learned that there are certain people who will help you get the most out of your experience. Personally, I’m a huge fan of museums and art and nature sites, but I also like to explore the nightlife scene. I’ve traveled with a few people in my program who like to obsessively plan an itinerary full of historical sites beforehand, and I’ve also traveled with a few people whose main priority is to party. McKenna and I have turned out to be really compatible travel partners, as we like to have a list of cultural places we want to visit but we also like to leave a certain amount of spontaneity in our trips.
Step five: Make a list of places you want to go to.
While you may find that asking locals about their favorite sites is a great way to explore a city, it will help to go into the city having a general idea of its layout and some of the must-see locations. I personally love TripAdvisor, a forum where people describe their past experiences, and I also like to GoogleMap locations beforehand to see if the order of locations makes sense for maximum efficiency.
After enjoying our afternoon, McKenna and I headed to the famous Eiffel Tower and bought a ticket to go to the very top. It may be cliché, but the view literally took my breath away. While trying to soak in the magnificent scene of lights, I could only think about how blessed I was to be living this life and experiencing such pure wonder, and I how was lucky enough to still have another midnight left in Paris.
Following these five basic steps allowed me to have the most enriching and enthralling weekend of my life.