Towards the middle of your time in Brussels, you will be graced with an amazing gift: fall vacation! A full week without classes and, if your boss is generous, internships. If you need to, it can be a good chance to catch up on work you need to get done. Otherwise, it’s also a great chance to get some more traveling done! Here are some tips on how to maximize your fall break and get the most bang for your buck while doing so.
We were ambitious and did a multi-city trip going from Barcelona to Madrid to Lisbon. We were able to see three cities over the course of a week by utilizing the different travel options made available to us and configuring our options based on what was cheapest. To get to Barcelona and to return to Brussels, we chose to fly, which meant buying tickets early for cheaper fare. Barcelona to Madrid was cheapest by car. Services like BlaBlaCar are cheap and easy ways to get around and we even made a friend on the six hour ride! Madrid to Lisbon was a bus ride. FlixBus will become a staple of European travel for you, with it’s super cheap fares and relatively comfortable seats (whatever you do, don’t use the onboard bathrooms, though).
Madrid had tons of tourist traps with overpriced food near the major attractions like Plaza Mayor, but if you continued down the streets, you could find the same meals for way cheaper. In Lisbon, a local recommended Cais Madeirense where we got Bitoque (meat, rice, a salad, fries and fried egg) for 8 euros each. It was the best meal I’ve had this entire trip and it was super affordable! Walk around and use your people skills to get hot tips on the best cheap eats.
Plan Your Souvenirs
The hardest part of traveling for me is trying to stop myself from buying every little trinket I pass by. The temptation is real and while you may think that the prices are a steal, they really start to add up if you’re not careful! I thought about things that I would actually like and use in some way post trip. I know, for example, that I will be decorating my room when I return to Philly so if I can find paintings by street artists on my travels, I try to always prioritize that. I also made a list with the people who I will be giving birthday and Christmas gifts to when I get home and the exact present they will receive to avoid random gift collecting. If you can take it a step further, list out the exact amount you want to spend on each item and budget accordingly!
I did not really check the weather before heading over to Spain and Portugal. I simply assumed due to their geographical location that they’d be nice and warm for the week, so I naturally packed lighter clothes. Boy, was I in for a surprise! It was chilly in Barcelona and Lisbon but Madrid was FREEZING. So cold that I ended up dropping money on a coat while I was there. I had been wanting a coat, so for me this wasn’t a huge deal but, if you can avoid having to spend money on things you know you already own, try to do so!
As briefly mentioned in the food section, the locals will always be your best bet to cheaply navigating cities. If you’ve got the confidence (and the language skills), try to ask around for the best places to grab a bite, hang out and the cheapest attractions around. Blogs and lists may be able to provide some insights, but they’ll never do the same job as asking someone who lives there and truly knows the area. And who knows, you might just make a new buddy while you’re at it!
Most of all, don’t forget to have fun on your trip. Ours was a little ambitious and that did at times result in some stress as we tried to zip around from city to city in such a short amount of time but remember this is time to relax. If you haven’t traveled much yet and you’ve only been hitting the books, use this break to knock off some of your travel goals!