As we head into the summer months, thousands of students around the continent will begin their training or study period through the Erasmus Plus Program. In doing so, many young people will be moving to cities and countries that they haven’t spent much time in, or indeed places they’ve never been to at all. This can be a daunting and overwhelming thought, but even so, it is extremely important to get out and about and start exploring your new city, wherever it may be. Thankfully, there are a number of ways to save money and make exploring your new area easier, more efficient and even doable within a tight student budget.
Take Advantage of Student Discounts and Aid
Most countries will offer a range of different discounts and offers to help students make the most of their university experience. For example, France offers housing assistance to many students, including Erasmus Plus and international students, which can reduce your rent and leave you with more disposable income to help you explore your new home.
As well as this, the Erasmus Student Network card entitles you to a host of special offers, including money off accommodation sites such as Spotahome, as well as phone, transport, and luggage shipping services. You can obtain your card from your local ESN section for a small fee. ESN also entitles you to discounts on Ryanair, including 10% discounts on the Ryanair website, and a complimentary check-in bag on four one-way flights (or two return journeys). This is a fantastic way to save money, and may allow you to travel around the continent during your exchange year, or even fit a few more visits home even with a tight student budget.
If you are interested in travelling around during your Erasmus Plus period, travelling by train is another great way to do it. Train stations tend to be more accessible from city centres than airports, and it’s also a more environmentally friendly way of exploring the continent. As well as this, as a student, you can purchase Interrail passes at a reduced price which can save you a lot of money. Some routes will require seat booking in advance, so make sure to check this beforehand!
Be sure to thoroughly investigate any options that you may have to save some money well in advance, as some governmental aid may require you to submit an application within a short space of time after moving to the country.
Enjoy the Local Food
Food is a very important aspect of many cultures, so it is extremely vital that you take the time to try any local delicacies that are available when exploring your new city. Some cities will have markets on dedicated squares weekly, whilst others will have cultural restaurants dotted around the streets. Food can give you a great insight into the history of a country, through cooking methods and spices, as well as the other ingredients used, cooking reflects far more about an area than meets the eye.
Dining out is an essential part of many European cultures, and it is possible that restaurants may be cheaper abroad than in your home country, so you may be able to fit quite a lot of dining into your student budget. As well as this, food markets or stalls in less-touristy areas can be very good value, and will allow you to save money whilst also experiencing the culture. For example, many Italians will eat out a few times a week. Food is a huge part of their culture, and dining is just as much about eating as it is about socialisation, and meals can take a couple of hours to get through.
Get to Know the Public Transport System
Public transport systems can be a confusing maze, but this system is likely one of the cheapest and most accessible ways to get around and start exploring your new city. Taxis or Ubers may be sparse or expensive depending on where you go, and it may not be feasible to walk or cycle throughout the entire city.
As an Erasmus Plus student, you may be entitled to a student rail card or student travel card, which can reduce the cost of public transport greatly. Some cards will require a monthly or yearly payment for unlimited trips, whilst others are prepaid and must be topped up or credited before your journeys. In the case of the former, it is important to think about how often you will be travelling. If, for example, you will be living quite close to your university, you may not use trains, buses, or metros enough to justify a large yearly payment. However, if you do plan on travelling around the city or the greater area, these cards can be a brilliant option to save some money, as they end up cheaper in the long run in comparison to paying per trip, another way to save money when you’re on a student budget.
In addition to travel cards, many transport services offer mobile applications which can be very helpful when travelling around your new city. They may comprise metro, bus, or train maps and timetables, options to top-up or credit your transport card or buy tickets, as well as route and journey planners. These specific applications are often more reliable and accurate than, for example, Google or Apple Maps, as they are run and updated by the given transport authority.
If you can manage to make sense of your local public transport system, you will have an extremely valuable and cost-effective method of exploring your new area, and even the surrounding country.
Invite Visiting Family and Friends Along
Inviting family and friends to visit you at the beginning of your exchange can be a great way to feel a little bit less alone when settling in and exploring your new city. It can be difficult to make friends and meet people in your first few days or weeks abroad, especially if you are planning on moving over before your university starts.
There can often be a lot of pressure to ‘make a home’ for yourself abroad, which can make it quite difficult to get out and about and explore the area. Bringing family and friends along can allow you to view your host city and all it has to offer through the eyes of a tourist and can mitigate some of the pressure and expectations that you may feel when moving to a new country. You may decide to visit an important landmark, museum, or building, or even take a day trip to another area nearby, allowing you an introduction to the culture of your new home, with all the comforts of familiarity around you. These excursions are not always expensive, it is very possible to save money and fit them into your student budget!
However, if this is not an option, you can use the internet to your advantage, and find friends in your new city online. The UNBLND application is an amazing way to build relationships during Erasmus, as it connects like-minded people based on their interests, such as cooking, travelling, and even language learning. If you are feeling anxious about your move, making friends through UNBLND in advance can make you feel more at ease, and can set you up for a fantastic Erasmus Plus experience.
You can download UNBLND on the Apple Store and Google Play.
Explore the Culture and Museums
Even if you don’t have anyone with you, exploring the culture of your new home is extremely important. It’s not easy to move across the continent alone, and you may feel a sense of culture shock or confusion due to different customs or norms. Going to museums, exhibitions, and cultural landmarks can help you to understand the culture of your host country, which can help with these initial feelings of disorientation.
Many countries in Europe offer free museum entry or reduced ticketing fees for popular attractions if you are a student, or if you are under a certain age, so they are a great and affordable way to start exploring your new city. For example, if you are in Paris, you can enter almost every museum for free if you are under the age of 26, providing you can show a passport or other identity card to prove it. In Ireland, many art galleries and other cultural sites are free for everyone. Wherever you go, make sure to research which attractions are available for free or at reduced prices, so you can save money and truly make the most of your time away, even when operating within a student budget.
Conclusion: Be Flexible and Open to Everything!
Whilst the Eramsus Plus program is first and foremost a study and train abroad program, it is also a cultural exchange. Therefore, it is just as important to explore the city, language, culture, arts and everything else Erasmus Plus has to offer in addition to your studies. Though it may seem overwhelming and a little bit scary at first, you must remember that every exchange student is feeling the same way, and students before and after you have gone- and will go through- the exact same experience.
It is vital that you remain flexible and open to everything during your exchange, particularly in your first few weeks. Other students will likely do the same, and will be more open and willing to make friends than usual. Due to this, you should step out of your comfort zone a little and ask others out to museums, bars, and other activities, as well as saying yes to offers from your fellow classmates too!
At the end of the day, you only get out what you put in, so making a little effort into exploring your new city goes a long way to having a fruitful Erasmus Plus experience, despite being on a student budget.