Some six months ago in the middle of 2013, I was in the process of narrowing down a smorgasbord of universities to pick my preferences for an exchange. England promised the historic heartland of London or Edinburgh, France offered long afternoons in cozy cafes along Parisian streets or the rural charm of the provinces. In the end, Washington DC won out and whilst the winter blues and the gradual weight of research papers and midterms begin to bear down (and you grow a strange sense of gratitude towards the city’s inability deal with more than four inches of snow) perhaps one of the great pleasures of being in DC is quite simply the fact that it is such a convenient launching point to explore all across the US east coast. With this in mind, I think it pertinent to perhaps write down some lessons learned over the course of the past few weeks of travel for the reference of future to-be exchange students and eager city-hoppers in the semesters to come. So for Part 1, two points:
On the taking of busses:
You can thank Cold-War paranoia and fear of Soviet paratroopers raining down from the skies for the creation of the internet through which you can now watch videos of cats with their head stuck in cereal boxes. You can coincidentally also thank the Cold-War for pushing the development of the sophisticated and well planned highway system which in turn allows cash strapped students to travel rather cheaply and comfortably throughout much of the east coast in particular. So unlike in Australia or Europe, it appears as though budgets airlines are not really a thing here so skip the grumpy air hosts and the $5 optional peanuts for a relatively comfortable bus ride to New York, Philadelphia, Boston as well as other notable cities which will no doubt be on some sort of travel checklist you have devised. Best of all, these busses are cheap – book early and they won’t cost you more than $30 for a return trip and most will have both power outlets to keep you phone charged up as you furiously tap away at several dozen games of flappy birds or do some causal browsing with the onboard Wifi. A trip to New York is four hours which passes by pleasantly enough and sometimes even quicker if you happen to manage a driver who lovingly disregards speed limits.
On planning where to sleep:
A city must be pretty cool to have Frank Sinatra and Jay-Z release catchy tunes solely dedicated to it; and countless films and pop culture references made to it; and filmed in its streets – in other words, lots of people pine after the Big Apple and you will be hard pressed to find someone not wanting to visit New York at some point (unless they already live in New York in which case they simply shake their heads at all the crazy people lining up to see a shiny ball drop in the middle of the freezing winter at the end of each year). In turn, the competition for accommodation in New York as well as any of the big city drawcards along the east coast can be fierce – fiercer so for cheap, well-located and decently comfortable accommodation particularly around the times when most people are travelling, be it during long weekends or during the Christmas period. In other words, do your research and book your accommodation well in advanced. You can thank a German schoolteacher looking to establish cheap accommodation for travelling schoolchildren in the early 20th century for the chain of hostels you can find in most major cities – these are always a good option for a basic place to put your head and unless a personal butler in the presidential is really that important for you, it is more than enough.
So in summary, take a bus (it isn’t that bad) and make sure to plan ahead and look for cheap, well-located accommodation early (unless you plan some Steinbeck-esque hobo adventure) and give thanks to Cold-War paranoia and long dead German schoolteachers.