I want to add a tip that took me a while to really learn how to manage. Traveling takes time. A 4 hour train trip, plus finding your way to the start station and from the end station, can easily become 6 hours. Add to that packing up, then getting a map and getting oriented, and settling in at your new destination, plus finding a meal to keep yourself alive, and you have 7 or 8 hours. Most of my 5 day trips became 4 or 4.5 days of actual city time, so that can be a disadvantage of a weekend hop down to Greece or trying to plan a really efficient trip in a particular city.
Iâ€™m finally starting to build my repertoire of travel resources, so Iâ€™ll list them below. This is definitely not a comprehensive list, you should check other studentsâ€™ blogs to find out what they know, too.
Skyscanner.com- My favorite, it searches multiple sites for the cheapest fares to and from your selected airport, including most of the budget airlines, I think. You can even pick â€œto: everywhereâ€ as your destination and let your wallet decide where you go.
Easyjet, Ryanair, Transavia, Meridiana, Vueling- Individual budget airlines that fly from the Netherlands. Sometimes offer flights from/to out-of-the-way airports, and travel budget goes up to allow transport to/from airports. It can take a lot of time to coordinate the right dates/ combination of airlines to use for a trip.
Euroflights.info- Database of budget airlines listed by where youâ€™re flying from or to. You can spend hours on here trying to coordinate the best deal.
Seat61.com- Great database of train information. Best feature- it connects you to the train site of the country youâ€™re going to, which is where most of the best prices are. I found out about a much faster train from Rome to Venice than many of the other students, some of whom flew.
Ns.nl- Dutch train site. Iâ€™ve never bought tickets from here, but the timetable can be useful.
In country- When traveling, I find that many train station employees speak English and can help you with more complex train things such as transfers.
I would like to help you guys understand hostels for those of you who have no experience about them- I know I didnâ€™t and I still donâ€™t have much. Most hostels are really professional and a great place to meet travelers like you. Most of them I’ve stayed in are similar to a hotel, with a common area, check in desk, and your own key to a room. The rooms often have bunks and lockers to put your things in, and not much else. Yes, other people sleep in the same room as you and you share a shower, but the ones I’ve stayed in are perfect for sleeping and cleaning up-what else do you need?
Hostelbookers.com- Claims to be cheaper than HostelWorld, no booking fee, offers maps, reviews, and pictures for a wide selection of hostels. I think this one will include hotels, as well.
HosteWorld.com- I think this one has a few more hostel and city options that hostelbookers, so it is a good second choice. Also includes the maps, reviews, pictures, ratings. Booking fee is something like 2 euros.
You can also go with the classic Google search- sometimes it is cheaper to book directly with a hostel, or a hostel may pop up that isnâ€™t a member with any of the database sites.
As much as I dislike feeling like a money-in-the-shoe, guide-book-carrying, single-lingual tourist, I am one. There are tourist information offices at or near most airports and train stations that will help you get a map or at least get oriented. These also make nice wallpaper for your flat after your trip is over. Hostels and hotels also have these many times- take care of them, you donâ€™t realize their value until they are lost!
Before you leave, you will ask yourself and everybody else will ask, too- where are you going to travel? For me, that was a very broad question. I had no idea what was realistic or affordable, much less really awesome. I knew that I wanted to go to Italy, so that was a start. Otherwise, I made a list of maybe 20 cities that I thought might be interesting, knowing that I wonâ€™t make it to all of them. For me, that has been a good starting point from which to narrow down. Of course, when you are here you will add cities to that list and random trips may come up- I was invited to Denmark in a few weeks and, frankly, Iâ€™ve never once considered going to Denmark up until now.
My recommendation is to search for destinations that fit your interests. If you dislike art, then I think you can bet youâ€™ll dislike the Louvre. If you donâ€™t like fashion, Milan is probably not for you. My interests lie more in what I can do at a destination, not just what I can see. Accordingly, I am not going out of my way to look at the tower of Pisa. I did, though, spend St.Patrickâ€™s Day in Dublin, have booked my tickets to ski in the Swiss Alps, and hope to see a bullfight in Spain this summer. Searching for adventures makes it easier for me to find destinations to suit me. Europe has it all, itâ€™s up to you to choose.
Although I thought I had the best no-fees card for using in the ATMs over here, I am still charged 10 dollars per transaction of any size. Therefore, Iâ€™ve gotten used to having large amounts of cash stashed in various places to avoid those fees that can quickly add up to a plane ticket. Although it may seem a bit risky and strange to carry over $1,000 cash, I would recommend transferring over a large amount of money before you leave the U.S. and bringing it with you to avoid said fees.
I think as soon as I started to learn and research the Netherlands, I heard â€œOh donâ€™t worry, everybody speaks Englishâ€. This gave me a somewhat false sense of confidence that I want to dispel for future students. Yes, your classes are in perfect English (sometimes better than what Iâ€™ve had at UofL). Yes, all of your classmates will speak English at varying skill levels. Yes, most Dutch people our age and even up to 40, and many times older, can speak perfect English. Almost everyone in a government or professional career has great English.
However, this does not mean that signs, packaging, letters from the government, the old sandwich-shop keeper, the lady at the cigarette counter in the grocery, the old crazy man who you buy your second-hand bike from, vendors at street markets, or just friendly strangers can communicate with you in flawless English. While this is perfectly normal, books and other sources can give a false impression.
If you are a tourist in the Netherlands, no problem, but if you want to live here for 6 months and somewhat integrate into the culture, a little Dutch will be helpful. I canâ€™t recommend a â€œtop tenâ€ of phrases to learn before you come, but â€œpleaseâ€, â€œthank youâ€, and a general understanding of numbers up to 20 can be helpful for spoken prices, etc. The Survival Dutch course is helpful for everyday phrases, but youâ€™ll have to go to a few classes before you have any command of them.
The grocery is where Iâ€™ve learned many of the written words I know, through trial and error of different kinds of â€œvleesâ€/meat- kip, rundvlees, varkenvlees, etc. and vegetables. Itâ€™s easy to pick up instructing signs about things that are â€œverbodenâ€/forbidden and it takes only one time of looking silly to learn which doors to push and which to pull. Practicing spoken Dutch in public is a test to both your will and the Dutch personâ€™s patience. Because so many Dutch speak English, it becomes very easy to just ask them to speak English and in public settings, they almost always can. Additionally, some Dutch people have told me that they have 8 years of English education, so they are ready and sometimes eager to speak English with you. In other words, the Dutch are very accommodating of your lack of language knowledge if they can be and arenâ€™t so proud of their language to force you to learn it to communicate. If you practice, though, it makes the non-English speaking situations go much smoother.
Iâ€™ve read quite a few of the B-School Blogs in order to figure out which ones I liked the best and which model to follow for my own. My favorites are the ones that offer specific travel advice that I can use and that can help students plan a for study abroad semester. As such, I will try to offer my best advice about travel in Europe and living and studying in The Hague and leave the storytelling up to the more interesting and accomplished writers. As a marketing student, some of my business observations will probably come through, as well.
Before you go
I bought a big backpack both for my trips in Europe and hiking when I get home. It was nice to have a big bag to get over here, but itâ€™s been useless ever since. Most of my trips are for 5 days or less, so a 90L pack is way too large (at least for a guy). Even the budget airlines allow a carry-on that measures around 55X35X20 cm and can weigh up to 10kg, so a soft, 4 euro duffel is what Iâ€™ve been using. It can cram into most spaces and 5 days of clothes and even a laptop and books, chargers, etc. can easily fit into those size constraints. In the summer, I expect that my bag will be more useful on longer excursions, though.
As far as clothing goes, it can be tricky. Being here from January to July ensures that I will see the entire range of weather, from really cold to mildly warm. However, I brought clothes for all situations, planning to spend time in Italy, Spain, Greece, and Portugal. I think it is important to remember, though, that even if you plan on being an ultimate traveler, you will probably still spend 75% of your time in the Netherlands while school is in session. I am averaging 1 or 2 inter-country trips per month and I think I am traveling about as much as anyone else here. Trips within the Netherlands are much more frequent, but weather doesnâ€™t change too much within the country. 75% of the time in a cool climate- keep that in mind.
Though it may be tough, I would recommend to leave your fashion at home. The basics will suffice, and the Dutch arenâ€™t known for being particularly snooty or fashionable themselves. Packing the most practical items (Jeans, walking shoes, and a sturdy jacket) will save you on luggage when flying and allow you to do some shopping here and take some things home. That being said, Iâ€™ve yet to see a pair of sweatpants or flip-flops and socks out in public and there are a couple clubs that prefer a collar and dark jeans. Besides, your focus while studying abroad is less about looking great than having a great time.