Stories from Scotland (Part 3): Tips for Traveling Europe like a Traveler, Not a Tourist

Did you know that more than 40 percent of Gordon students study abroad at some point during their four years? Business administration major Chan Mi Kim ’16 is one of them. Having lived in Korea, Vietnam and Malaysia—and traveled extensively during a gap year before coming to Gordon—Chan Mi is no stranger to the global community. This summer, she’s bringing a three-part series on her recent study abroad experience in Scotland to The Bell. Read part one here and part two here.

5618397174824960As many of you know already, I studied abroad at the University of Edinburgh for my spring 2015 semester. While I was in Europe, I decided to make traveling a serious part of my studies. During the five months I was in Europe, I traveled to 11 countries and 25 cities. I was on 13 flights, 9 trains, 6 buses and 1 ferry, and I drove 2 cars (not at the same time). I am incredibly blessed and can’t thank God enough for these opportunities. I want to share with you some of the joy-maximizing, cost-minimizing travel tips I learned along the way.

1. Don’t be a tourist; be a traveler.
G. K. Chesterton said, “The traveler sees what he sees; the tourist sees what he has come to see.” Translation: Don’t just hit all the tourist attractions. If someone came to the U.S. and only saw Manhattan, would you say they got a fair taste of the U.S.? No. When you’re in a new country, open your eyes and see things that aren’t obvious. Observe how Athens is covered in graffiti and wonder how it’s related to the financial crisis. Notice how Spaniards eat dinner between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m., and contemplate how that reflects their value of community. Notice how barren the Irish soil is and study how that shaped Irish history. Instead of flying to each destination, get on a bus or a train and see how the scenes change at a border. Instead of staying in museums all day, simply go on a walk and observe.

2. Be tech savvy.
There are oodles of apps, websites and resources out there to help you plan and make the most of your trip. Here are just a few that I found to be incredibly helpful along my journeys.

Use This handy website and app helps you create your itineraries, and it sorts attractions by category.

Get an international data pack for your phone: If you have an unlocked phone, you may be able to get a simcard in Europe that gives you unlimited data across all Europe. I bought a simcard with a data pack from Three in the UK for around $25.

Master your map: I became a Google Maps guru during my travels. Two functions that helped me were saving an offline map and starring the places that I wanted to visit.

Find bargain flights: It may mean dealing with an extra layover, or close quarters in the cabin, but a number of discounted airlines can make traveling much more cost effective. My sister came to visit me on Norwegian Air, and paid one-third of the regular airline price!

3. Choose your accommodations well.
When you’re traveling on a college budget, there are typically three main categories of accommodations: a friend’s place, Airbnb, and hostels. Staying with a friend is the best, but there are some perks to the other options, too. Airbnb is cost-effective (if you are traveling in a group), exposes you to the local people and lifestyle, and gets you more privacy. My Airbnb hosts in Seville, Spain, were a couple who worked at La Tertulia, a local establishment. They invited me there one evening, and I got to chat with them (even though I only understood half of what they were saying) and learned their opinions on the controversies of bull-fighting. Staying at a hostel can be fun, too, especially if you are an extrovert who wants to meet everyone from everywhere. The hostel I stayed in Dublin, Ireland, had a martial arts room, free tour of the city, and hair dryers and an iron at the reception desk—plus some wacky graffiti and guest rooms packed with 21 bunk beds. This may not be a good option for everyone, as it wasn’t for me. Do some good research before booking a hostel!

4. Keep your cash in check.
From my experiences, the best way to get cash in your hand is to withdraw it from the ATM when you arrive at your destination. There is a bit of a charge for using an ATM overseas, but the fee tends to be less than the exchange rates and service charges charged by currency exchange windows in town. I learned this the hard way: I tried to exchange money in Prague, Czech Republic, and got cheated. Since I can read neither Czech nor Russian, the street teller gave me Belarus rubles instead of Czech crowns. The Belarus ruble  is considered an “exotic currency,” and the 500 rubles he gave me were worth 3 cents. I only found out when I was paying my bill at a restaurant. Ouch! Lesson learned.

5. Don’t forget.
I kept a journal with me when I was traveling because I want to remember who I was and what I was thinking at age 22. When I re-read my journal in 5, 10, 20 years, I want to be taken back to the wonders and heart-flutters I experienced in Europe—like the time I traveled alone in Spain for a week, and learned so much about myself; it was both sobering and encouraging to be alone with my thoughts. I would want to reflect on whether the sincere and curious heart I have now was treasured and kept even through the many trials of life I will experience in the passing years. Remember how God journeyed with you; document the little ways God protected you; inscribe how astonished you are at his Creation.

Thank you for following along as I’ve recounted my memories of Europe. If you have any questions on traveling  in Europe, or about how Gordon supported my time abroad, please don’t hesitate to contact me at [email protected].

I want to end this 3-part series with a quote that I love.

“Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.”
― Mary Oliver

Stories from Scotland (Part 2): Soul Searching and C. S. Lewis’ Grave >>
Stories from Scotland (Part 1): Coffee and Bagels vs. Tea and Biscuits >>