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What is the best way to maximize your time in Europe when on a short-term study abroad? Two words: day trip. Depending on your location, there are likely a number of cities only a short train ride from your destination. It is also likely that you can get a taste of what these cities have to offer in just one day. Last week, a couple of my friends and I utilized a day off of class to get a taste of Belgium – chocolate, waffles, and all!

Less than three hours from our home base in Maastricht, Brussels was an ideal candidate for a day trip. Moreover, we found Brussels to be an easy city to navigate by foot with many sights, sounds, and tastes. The parks were filled with the beautiful music of street performers and the restaurants were chock-full of the delicious food for which Belgium is widely acclaimed.

So, how can you become a practitioner of the art of the day trip?

Plan your trains!

If you have spent any time in Europe, you probably know the importance of planning your travel schedule ahead of time. First, you will want to consider how far you are willing to travel for only one day – our group was willing to travel up to three hours. From the available options, we chose Brussels for its reputation as a political and cultural hub in Europe (have I mentioned the food?). Next, we used Rail Planner (available on the App Store and Google Play) to plan which trains we would take. We chose a departure from Maastricht around eight in the morning and planned to return around eleven that night.

Pack your bags (or don’t)!

Depending on what you need to travel with for a day, you may or may not need to bring a small bag or backpack. Some in our group choose to pack a day pack, while others (including myself) opted to carry only a camera. If not everyone decides to bring a bag, remember that it is helpful to have a traveling companion with a bag who can carry newfound treats and treasures!

Prepare for a great day!

Finally, you will want to consider what your main objectives are in visiting the city without stretching yourself thin. In short, plan, but don’t plan too much. It is important to leave time for the unexpected craft market or chocolate shop along the way. In the case of our day trip, our group decided before we left that we wanted to enjoy some Belgian delicacies and see the palaces and gardens for which the city is known. We were fortunate to accomplish these goals – largely because we planned, but we didn’t plan too much.

Day trips are an incredibly effective way to maximize your time in Europe when you’re on a limited schedule. While there is no better way to get to know a place than by staying there for a few days or weeks, a quick day trip can give you a greater appreciate for a city, its customs, and its culture. Plan your trains, pack your bags, and prepare for a great day.

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