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Study abroad : Once you arrive

Seeing Europe while you study: Q&A with Eurail

A guide for students travelling in Europe, including where to go, how to stay safe and proper travel etiquette.

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Erika and Anne Marlotte from Eurail give us their advice for students studying overseas in Europe about what to see, how to stay safe and how not to be a nuisance.

 

What would you say to students who might be wary of travelling through Europe on their own for the first time?

Erika:

Locals are actually very friendly and will do their best to help you if you ever get lost. However, don't assume that they will come up to you to tell you this. Don't be afraid to go up to one and ask; if the first one doesn't help just ask someone else. Also, even if they don't speak English well, just show them a map of where you need to go. However, please don't lose your patience (i.e. raising your voice) as people are very sensitive on how they are treated and this could show a lack of respect.

Look up which hostels are popular. You'll find that there are a lot more solo travellers that are often very keen on sharing their experiences or going out for some drinks in the evening.

See if you can get a fellow student to join you on a trip; that way you will never feel completely alone.

Anne Marlotte:

Travelling alone is a wonderful experience. You will find that people in Europe in general are friendly and eager to help you out when you are stuck.

Also in Northern European countries and most Western European countries the majority of people speak English – which helps a lot! When alone, rather than in a group, you are forced to open yourself up to the environment and people you meet along the way which will lead to – and I promise you this – great and sometimes even unexpected encounters!

Train stations in Europe are very well organised and usually have digital screens with train information in multiple languages as well as pictograms which are universal and therefore easy to understand. You will surely find your way!

In Eastern Europe it’s a little more challenging to find your way since screens and signs may be in local languages only (Cyrillic alphabet). Train and railway staff might not speak English, or if they do, it’s very limited English. Especially in these countries, I would recommend having a plan before you start traveling – have accommodation pre booked, find out how to get there by public transport and print out city maps. In Sofia, Bulgaria, for example, I found myself in a very dark basement area where the metro supposedly departed from, which made me feel a bit unsafe. A little research beforehand could make a difference.

Pay special attention to your belongings on a night train – especially when you travel with people you don’t know in the same compartment.

There are many ways to meet fellow travellers on the way such as in hostels, through “couch-surfing”, on various blogs and travel forums, our own Eurail and InterRail Facebook pages, as well as on the trains itself!

 

Is there a city or region which you think is underrated and deserves more attention?

Erika:

Try to get “off the beaten path” and visit countries like Montenegro or Croatia. You'll find that these countries are as beautiful as Italy or France, but they are still relatively tourist-free. You will also notice this in the money you spend here.

Anne Marlotte:

Definitely Eastern Europe! Prague, Berlin, Belgrade, Budapest, Krakow all have undiscovered treasures that seem overshadowed by the Eiffel tower, the Coliseum and the Alps, but are well worth a visit! Apart from this, Eastern Europe is very budget-friendly, and even on a small budget, you can easily stay in 3 or 4 star hotels.

If you would like to step into a whole new world (magical even), take a night train from Sofia to Istanbul. It’s a rough journey (which is part of its charm) and at some point you will need to transfer to a bus – since there is no train travel into and out of Istanbul due to construction works. The minute you enter Turkey, it feels like you’re part of ‘One Thousand and One Arabian Nights.

 

Any travel etiquette for European trains which non-Europeans may not be aware of?

Erika:

In general proper behaviour is expected, even though few fellow travellers will address this directly with you. So here are a few things to keep in mind:

Use “inside voices”; loud conversations are not always appreciated.

If you are traveling in a group, try to sit together. For example, taking up two rows when you are just with 3 travellers is a no-no.

Your luggage or your bags are not actually human beings, so make sure that they don't take up a seat during the busy hours.

Being comfortable during your trip is very important, but putting your feet on seats is not the way to do so.

Anne Marlotte:

Try to look up some local etiquette before visiting a country – guidebooks always provide a nice section on this. What to do and what not to do. Don’t be loud on trains – especially not on night trains since people try to sleep. Although it’s not allowed to smoke on the majority of trains in Europe, in Eastern European countries there are trains on which you still can. Always try not to bother other travelers!

On some night trains you might be asked to give your pass and passport to the train conductor before you go to sleep. On night trains in Eastern Europe immigration staff will step into the train to personally check your passport – this may seem a bit overwhelming in the middle of the night, but if you cooperate calmly, this is over in a second. 

 

Now that you’re more content about moving through Europe, start browsing courses so you can study there....

 

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About Author

Paul Ellett is the editor for Hotcourses Abroad. His role is to plan, produce and share editorial, videos, infographics, eBooks and any other content to inform prospective and current international students about their study abroad experience. When he's not thinking about student visas in Sweden and application deadlines, Paul is an avid fan of comedy podcasts and Nicolas Cage films.