Guest post from Katie Armstrong on her travels!

Traveling Abroad: Five Recommendations for a Trip Filled With Comfort and Adventure

Katie Armstrong

In May, I finally saw Venice, Italy. My mother had told me stories from when she studied there many years ago. And now, I’ve fallen in love with it just as she did. Every ancient inch of it. The canals. The clock tower in the square that has mechanical statues strike a bell with hammers in order to announce the time. The churches squeezed among the shops, with their doors opening onto the tiny laneways. And the way the streets emptied out after it rained one evening; tourists sat down to dinner inside, away from the rain, but I went past Piazza San Marco to an open space overlooking other islands. The buildings and their columns and artwork were reflected in puddles on the cobblestoned ground, and the light was breathtaking.

Seeing Venice (along with Florence and Rome) has been a highlight of my many travel adventures. Along with Italia, I’ve been to Australia, South America, and other countries in Europe. A lot of those trips were part of study abroad programs, and so they were planned for us. Traveling in Australia and this past trip to Europe, however, was the result of my own (and my friend’s) dreaming, planning, and budgeting.

Traveling is expensive, especially for a full-time student like myself with only a small stipend for spending money. The American dollar is weak when stacked next to the Euro or the Australian dollar, so tacking that on to general expenses makes the billing and charging that much more daunting. But there are ways to save money, and ways to spend it, in order to have a smart, comfortable, and inexpensive journey. Below, I share some steps I took to have my adventures in Italy.

1.    First, there’s budgeting at home to finance your trip. I live close enough to my university to walk, and since bus fares have climbed to almost $2 each way recently, I would trek the almost-mile by foot twice a day for about 5 months. In the end, I saved enough for financing my stay in one city.

2.    Caff√® mochas are my weakness. I’m not a fan of brewed coffee, and tea just doesn’t cut it when I need a caffeine spike. But like everything else where I live, fancy coffee drinks are expensive. For about four months I would limit myself to just one mocha a week, as opposed to the four or five I’d been used to. (I kept telling myself that caff√® lattes in Italy would be better anyway, and sure enough they were!). I figure the money I saved without mochas here was enough for me to eat healthy, good food during my time abroad.

3.    Anyone traveling on a budget knows not to stay at hotels. Hostels are much cheaper. But sometimes, hostels can be a pain (where to store stuff if there’s no luggage storage? What about clean bathrooms? What if you don’t want to share a room with strangers and there are no single rooms available?). In Italy, we stayed at convents. Found via, the convents were clean, convenient, and had private bathrooms. Only 10 Euro more expensive per night than a hostel, these cozy stays were tucked away on quiet streets. In Venice, the convent was a palace-turned-convent on the very last street on the northern part of the main island…just a cool tidbit J

4.    Whatever other money-saving ideas you may have during your trip, do NOT skimp on food. Wherever you are, not just in Italy. Food is an iconic, and often amazing, part of a culture. Ok, so sometimes fast food is necessary, like when you’re rushing to get to a train from Florence to Venice and have 10 minutes between sightseeing and the train platform. But really, eat the pizzas, and the homemade pastas, the fresh vegetables, and the coffees and gelato, and frequent the little sit-down cafes. There’s no need for high-end restaurants when budget traveling, of course, but don’t cheat yourself out of delicious, carb- and chocolate-laden memories.

5.    Sometimes, it’s not worthwhile to see everything that’s recommended in the guidebook. Instead of trying to cram in three of the most important museums in Florence into our schedule and budget, my friend and I visited just two – the Uffizi Gallery and the Museo Galileo. It meant we missed out on Michelangelo’s’ David at the Accademia Gallery, but we were also able to take our time and enjoy each of the galleries in the Uffizi, and marvel at the tools of science for more than a brief hour at Museo Galileo. Ultimately, your trip is yours – not the guidebook’s – so marvel at what you find most appealing.

In Italy, one phrase that kept popping up in my mind as I traversed through rooms full of paintings and little laneways full of glorious architecture was “To marvel at beauty.” I’m so glad and grateful I was able to marvel at all that beauty, and I hope you found my tales of budgeting and planning useful for your next trip.

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