Five Things You Didn’t Know About Traveling When Studying Abroad

Written by Elizabeth May 25, 2015

Vernazza in Cinque Terre

Manarola, one of the five cities in Cinque Terre

Casa di Giulietta in Verona

The beautiful landscape of Verona

The Verona Arena


Studying abroad in Paderno del Grappa, Italy through the CIMBA program has been an amazing experience so far. This past weekend was our first to travel on our own so most took the opportunity to explore various places in Italy and a few took time to travel to other countries. I learned a lot from this first weekend as it was my first trip without my parents or chaperones. So here are a few things I learned my first week in Paderno del Grappa and on my adventures to Verona and Cinque Terre this weekend that I didn’t know before.

  1. Sleep. It won’t happen. You will want more and dream of sleeping in. As someone who hates the idea of sleeping, sees it as a waste of time, and doesn’t believe in naps, I can tell you that even I miss sleep. With homework, studying, day trips, planning trips, and weekend trips, it seems impossible to get enough sleep. Trying to get used to the seven hour time change is difficult enough, but then you must fight the drooping eyelids to study, plan, explore, and experience.
  2. Book early, early, early. The saying “the earlier the better” definitely applies to finding a place to stay. Before arriving to Italy, everyone had told me it was so easy and cheap to travel and find a place to stay. That is not the case. The first week of studying abroad is hard because everyone is meeting each other and trying to figure out a plan for the weekend. So most students don’t see an issue with finding a place to stay with airbnb or hostels later in the week once they have a plan, but by that time many are booked. This weekend many students went to Cinque Terre and were still trying to find a place to stay on Thursday night for Friday and Saturday. Some had to go to more expensive hotels or places two hours away with expensive taxi rides. So be sure to book early because airbnb and hostels can have really good deals and I’ve heard many good things about them. Also be sure to leave time for airbnb because you must be accepted by the owner or host beforehand. Sometimes people are rejected when they thought they found a place. Remember to book a place to stay before transportation as well because transportation is usually much easier to find.
  3. Road signs. The signs in Italy are different than in the US so it can be hard to navigate. In Verona, we had trouble finding our way at first so kept going into hostels and restaurants for directions. We just couldn’t find any street signs. It was not until later that we found out that buildings at the end of streets displayed the name on their side. So be on the lookout for a variety of signs that you aren’t used to when traveling in a foreign place.
  4. Trains. Have you ever traveled in Europe by train? If not, your first few train stations might be a little challenging. It seems confusing at first but it is rather simple with monitors displaying the train number on your ticket and the corresponding platform number you must go to using the subway underneath. The more difficult part is just making it in time for your trains and that your trains are on time. If you have multiple trains to take, make sure you have ten to fifteen minutes in between trains to be safe. I had four minutes to make my next train and everyone told my group that we wouldn’t make it. We were so nervous and ran like madmen to the monitor, subway, and to the train, and made it. We were so proud. After that feat, I felt like I was a master of the trains, until the next day. The train we were on was leaving Cinque Terre so there were many people getting on and off the train at the five cities. Our train ended up being ten minutes late to another train station because of all the people, so by the time we arrived, our next train had already left. The next train we could take was an hour later which pressed us for time to make the bus back to campus. Then at one stop, we couldn’t find our train and ran into other people from CIMBA looking for the same one. It was time to go so we hopped on a train that left at the same time as ours was supposed to but we soon realized we were wrong and were headed to Venice rather than Bassano del Grappa. We got off at the next stop and got our next train. Needless to say, we didn’t make the bus so we ended up getting three taxis for all of us. We also learned that the one we were supposed to get on was actually a bus which is why it didn’t show itself on the monitor. In my opinion, the trains were trying to tell me they wouldn’t be mastered or tamed by anyone. Some things are unpredictable and wild and all you can do is try your best to understand.
  5. Language. In many places—and all the places I have visited—you could travel without knowing a lick of the language and be just fine. Many people know English and are willing to help and understand you, but is that really what you want to do? You don’t need to be fluent in the language but just knowing a few words or phrases can make a difference. Knowing hello, goodbye, please, thank you, and various other words you might use are very rewarding. I learned how to order gelato in Italian and when I said it to an employee at a gelateria, she clapped, smiled, and exclaimed “perfecto”. It made me feel good that she was happy. Depending on where you go, especially high tourist areas, the people working there might be used to Americans ordering in English but you can make their day by just trying to use their language, and if you’re like me, that makes your day.

No matter what happens along the way, enjoy the ride. As we have been told by the CIMBA director, he wants us to get lost, miss a train, get on the wrong train, and somehow figure it out because that’s when you learn. As someone who has done all of the above in Italy now, I can tell you that it is the truth. Take in the view and enjoy the limited time you have when you get lost. You can figure it out, see something you didn’t plan, and be stronger for it. If you need help, go inside a hotel or restaurant and ask for directions. You can be a little scared but don’t show it. Everything will work out and even if it wasn’t on the itinerary it can still be worth it.

Once a train master,