Going on an exchange can be a thrilling experience for a variety of reasons. Maybe you want to learn a new language or meet new people from other countries and cultures. For E&M author Rebekah O’Reilly, born and raised in Ireland, landing in Bologna, Italy, for a semester meant more accessible travel opportunities than back home on the island state.

When beginning the adventure of a lifetime in the quaint echo-chamber of Ireland, I had little expectation of what was to come.

There was only the ambition to keep learning through dancing, seeing, speaking, and tasting all things local to the place that was to become my new home.

It had been 6 years since I ventured out of my motherland by the time that I landed in the beautiful labyrinth of Bologna, Italy- and I was so ready for more.

If, like me, you’re somebody that is used to the isolated life of an island dweller, you’ll know that the hunger for new experiences and fresh perspectives is one of the driving forces behind your decision to take the great leap into the unknown of study abroad.

Nothing quite says Erasmus to me like the freedom to explore Europe by train or bus. Let’s be honest, we all fantasize about spending our days exploring the continent, and soaking up the finest local cuisines on offer. Breaking away from a classic roast dinner on a Sunday may be difficult, but it will be oh so worth it for what you will find!

Whether you’re looking to see as many countries as possible in 6 months, or into soaking up the regions closest to your new home, the possibilities are endless once you set foot here.

By Bus

While you’re abroad, you better accept your fate that you and your local bus station are about to become great friends.

The bus is the cheapest way for you to explore your new country, and even to explore other destinations that border with it.

In Italy, there are a number of different companies which offer varying fares. From Flixbus to Itabus, you’re bound to find a ticket to any city within the country for €25 or less.

Yes, these cheaper fares will mean waking up in the night- but nothing quite beats the experience of opening your eyes to the sight of a brand new city or town waiting to be discovered.

Another benefit of the night bus? You’ll arrive so early that you more than likely will have the entire city- and all its most sought after sites- all to yourself.

I can tell you from experience that arriving in Venice at 6AM to the scenes of carnival revellers capturing their outfits against the rose coloured sunrise was a truly special moment I will never forget!

Venice carnival in February 2023. Photo: Rebekah O’Reilly

By Train

Trains in Europe are much more inter-connected than those that you’ll find in Ireland. You can get pretty much anywhere you want in total comfort if you’re willing to spare a few hours, and a little extra money.

The extra cash for the train is well worth it, however, with the option for 1st class, which offers a bed to sleep in perfect for those longer journeys!

High-speed trains are cheaper than flying, and even offer the advantage of picturesque views framed only by the window as you set off on your adventures.

Capture some jealousy-inspiring snaps from the comfort of your seat as you venture further into the dreamscape of Erasmus.

Travel across the country in a matter of hours, or arrive early for your exchange and spend the time inter-railing between some of your dream destinations all over Europe. And fear not- transport tends to run on schedule here unlike at home!

Alternative Routes

Looking for a cheaper way to see as much as possible? Or seeking ways to make some friends along the way?

Joining your local ESN group is a fantastic way to see as many cities as possible whilst making new friends along the way.

These trips are often more affordable than going alone, and enrich the experience by allowing you to meet other students from your university, and to learn about the customs and cultures of their countries.

ESN trips typically last between 1-5 days, and are priced accordingly. Keep in mind, the pressure of planning is taken off your shoulders entirely, and you get to simply sit back and enjoy the ride.

From experience, I can tell you that whilst these trips can be tiring, there is little more awe-inspiring than travelling across 3 countries in 4 days with a set of brand new friends.

From ski trips to city tours, these organisations are present in almost every university city in Europe, and offer the rare chance to mix and mingle with students from different universities against some of the most stunning backdrops imaginable.

Think picking fresh oranges from the trees in Rome as you arrive just after 7AM (yes, this is real life!).

Heading off on my Erasmus exploration, I had never imagined that I would have seen 10 of the most coveted cities on the continent within the first month. The railways will take you anywhere from Venice to Rome to Naples as you take in the history of this wonderful country.

You can even cross the border with ease into Slovenia, and onward to the stunning cities of Budapest, Hungary, and Zagreb, Croatia if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous- because these are the moments that make study abroad a truly unforgettable experience. I can tell you first hand that you won’t regret a single minute.

And even still, there is so much more to explore, and I can’t wait for you all to take it all in for yourselves too.

 

Cover photo: Piero Damiani (Flickr)

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    Rebekah was born and raised in Ireland, and still calls the Emerald Isle home. She studies Journalism and English at the University of Galway and is currently studying in the University of Bologna in Italy for a semester. Rebekah loves all things travel and pop culture related, and is always keen to keep up to date on the latest news.

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