One of my big assumptions coming to the University of Surrey for my MSc program is that because I only have class Mondays and Tuesdays, I would easily be able to explore England and Europe on my 5 off days. However, I have learned that there are differences between studying abroad and actually getting a degree abroad. These differences take many forms such as in the amount of time you’ll be abroad, the workload that you’ll have, the people you’re with, but mainly the mentality you develop about living in another country.
Before coming to the UK for my 1 year MSc program, I had studied abroad in Undergrad with my school (Boston University) in Auckland, New Zealand for 6 months. Aside from NZ and UK cultures being distinctly different, my mindset about being an adventurer when living in each country has changed. My mindset in NZ was to experience as much adventure tourism as I could (ie skydive, bungee jump, hike). Coming to the UK, I still had the notion that I would be traveling just as much in and around England. However, I quickly realized that I’m actually living for a year. That may sound like such an obvious statement, but a year is a long time and if I were to travel every other weekend, I would burn out quickly and not have enough time to do well in school or relax.
Though I have travelled a good amount while being here, most of my traveling was during our month long winter break after first semester and was with one other person. This past weekend was my first time going to another country in the midst of the semester for a self organized field trip among my cohort. There was a total of 9 of us from the Environmental Psychology gang and I must say, even though it was a wonderful trip and a great learning experience, something about being in another city, especially with so many people, is exhausting. We went to Rotterdam in the Netherlands because they’re a leading city in sustainability, and I would recommend visiting it along with Amsterdam (only a 30 min. train ride between the cities) if you can. Though I encourage the traveling bug, you should try to be smart about it, so here’s some advice that my mother would give me.
Always overestimate how long everything will take. From traveling by plane, train, or walking to eating a meal, it’s better to overestimate how long everything will take than underestimate the amount of time and miss a connecting flight or something. When traveling, I always think there will be some down time to get some work done, but with the small down time that you do have, you would rather be exploring or sleeping than trying to get work done, especially because traveling itself is tiring.
With each added person you travel with, making decisions becomes exponentially harder. Though traveling with a big group is fun and exciting, it is usually more work than you expect, even just to find a restaurant because everyone will want a different outcome.
If you have the opportunity to do something in advance, take it. This advice ranges from things like checking in for a flight early (you can check in for an EasyJet flight a week or two early online), or even going to the bathroom because you never know how long it’ll take to get where you’re going next. This also includes taking out cash in the new country’s currency as soon as you can because you don’t know when you’ll see an ATM or currency exchange next.
Always bring a little extra. One of the most uncomfortable things while being in a new place is not having enough clothing to keep you warm, so it’s always better to be safe by bringing extra layers/an umbrella. This also goes for snacks; being hangry in another country is the last thing you want to happen, so carrying a few granola bars/bananas is a must for emergency situations. Also, in a lot of European cities, they don’t regularly give out water like the US, so bringing a water bottle can be a life/money saver, like in the Netherlands where you have to pay for water in most places.
So to briefly answer the title question, can I travel on the weekends? I would say just be smart about it. It’s a lot easier and less draining to do a day trip to a nearby area such as London, Brighton, or Portsmouth during/on the weekend. Though venturing to other European cities sounds more enticing, it takes much more planning, energy, and time, which can be risky if you have a lot of work to do, so I would recommend saving those trips for winter or easter break, both about a month long. It can be easy to burnout if you try to pack in a lot of traveling on the weekends on top of work.