A city by city how-to guide to maximize your time and visit attractions that will soon become lifelong favorites.
Approximately a month prior to my departure I started to get extremely excited about the trip. However, I was somewhat nervous thinking about everything I was about to do. I thought to myself, “how can I maximize my time in each city and make sure I am able to see some of my bucket list items?” Thankfully around this time IBS sent each student their program overview packet, and this packet was a godsend. It contained everything from our hotels, public transportation maps, our daily itineraries broken down almost by the hour, to city by city recommendations. I used this packet as my foundation when creating my own itinerary on Google Docs and began to research each city we would be visiting. With the help of family and friends who had recently traveled abroad along with my own searching I was able to make a personalized list of must see attractions for my trip.
For some of the items, they required tickets or reservations to be made in advance and a safe rule of thumb I followed was if it’s free and there’s no cancellation fee go ahead and book 3-4 tickets. (Note: Many European museums are free to students, so make sure you pack your student ID and look for it when booking tickets online.) You might not know anyone heading into the trip but you are sure to make friends once you get there and someone will definitely want to see the same thing as you. In the other instances where you had to purchase tickets or there was a cancellation fee I booked a ticket for myself and enjoyed the time alone. It is very normal when you’re in a large city to go on a date by yourself. This was something I thought might be weird or uncomfortable prior to the trip but thoroughly enjoyed when the time came!
Additionally, I made personal maps via Google Maps for each city with the item’s location, date and time I planned to visit, and travel time for everything I had booked in advance. This gave me so much grounding and a better directional understanding of the cities themselves when I arrived because I understood the neighborhoods, had a sense of when and where the public transportation ran, and always had a good idea where my home base was.
Taking a week of my time when I did not have much else going on during Christmas break was such an invaluable time saver when the program began. I will be following these steps each time I plan a trip from now on. Once I got to each city I truly did not have to spend any time thinking about what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go, or what I was going to eat, since I had pre-planned almost everything. One thing I would mention with this strategy is to allow yourself extra time because not everything will run perfectly, trains will be late, you will forget something important, or need to make a stop at a convenience store along the way. These little unexpected delays will go over much better if you know you built in an extra 15 minute cushion for yourself.
In London I was able to see and do so much at the beginning of the trip. I thoroughly enjoyed the area we stayed in, Kensington, which had so much to offer within a quick walk from the hotel. My favorite museum of the trip was the Imperial War Museum which had displays from WWI, WWII, and a special exhibit on the Holocaust. I could have spent a whole day here alone between the vast amount of information and original artifacts they had on display. I also had High Tea on New Year’s Eve at the Savoy Hotel, this was definitely a splurge but such a fun experience accompanied with great food and tea.
Once we arrived in Paris I was able to go to the Catacombs Museum and actually get to see the catacomb tunnels themselves. This was a very chilling and eerie experience but I learned so much history about the origins of the catacombs that I had no idea about prior to visiting. Another favorite of mine was all the shopping I was able to fit in from Galeries Lafayette with IBS, to Poléne, a French handbag store, to the Pharmacies with impeccable skincare at amazing prices.
Lastly, in The Hague, I ate at a restaurant called Ethica which specializes in sustainable, local and homemade food that was amazing and I was able to have a five-course dinner at a very reasonable price. In Amsterdam I was lucky enough to get to see the floating flower market along the city center and take in the gorgeous views along the canals.