Usually when one thinks about studying abroad, they immediately associate it with travel--and they are right to think about it initially. Traveling is one of the most important factors about going abroad. Traveling will open your eyes to everything and anything. This is how you learn abroad--most of the academic work you do will be slim to none in comparison to what you do in the United States. There are certain tips and pieces of advice about traveling I wish more people had talked to me about before coming abroad. For starters, DO NOT travel every weekend. I know you want to get in as many trips as you can, but you must also get to know the place you are living in! This is why I recommend the year program, but this advice even pertains to those doing semester programs. I know it seems as though you do not have much time to really get to know your city inside out and also travel everywhere but I highly recommend a balance between the two. When you stay wherever it is you are studying abroad for a good chunk of time, you become a local. For example, my friend and I go to the same café together everyday to grab coffee and they know us there now! We even met the owner and get free stuff from him. I really want to emphasize how important it is to immerse yourself in the culture of your "permanent" location. Talk to locals, learn.
This being said, I also deeply recommend traveling everywhere that intrigues you. I will post about specific trips later on and give you more precise recommendations on where to go, what to see, where to stay, etc. For now, I'll give general tips. Plan in advance. Write a list of all the places you want to go to before coming to Europe. Then cut that list down by half. I will have been here for the entire year and will still not be able to go everywhere I want to. Look on every website, weigh your options. A great website to use is Kayak.com. What I usually do is to see which airline offers the cheapest price and then go to the website of the airline to purchase it, since the travel agencies offered on Kayak sometimes cheat you out of some of your money. Ryanair is always a great option. It is really cheap. Some recommendations for Ryanair is always pack light, they are really annoying about the size of your carry-on. Always print your boarding pass before, always bring your passport (even when traveling domestically), and always make sure you stamp your boarding pass before going through security. Ryanair has started to implement some regulations that are less strict than their previous ones, but I would still check and make sure. For the most part though, Ryanair is a good airline to use if you want to save. Easyjet is also good. When planning trips, I always buy my train and bus tickets beforehand. Most of the time it is cheaper, and it always helps you avoid waiting in long lines to buy tickets or kiosks being unreliable, etc.
In terms of hostels, I recommend Hostelworld.com. It is the best bet and gives you some great hostel options for very cheap. Hostels are not as big a deal as people make them to be. They are actually a great way to meet people from all over. Make sure to always check the reviews and ratings that the website provides for you. Otherwise, you should be fine. Do not necessarily choose a place just because it is the cheapest, often times those are the ones with bed bugs, bad service, etc. ALWAYS check the reviews before booking. Like I mentioned, hostels are a great way to meet people. There are usually common areas where people hang out. I encourage you to talk to people during your stay. In Amsterdam for example, I met really cool Canadians at our hostel. We ended up going out for drinks with them and watching a live band all together and it was a lot of fun. We remained in touch and even met up on our trip to London! Be open to everyone you come into contact with, you never know how they can influence/teach you.
I have not been everywhere but I'll recommend a couple places that I have been to. Amsterdam, Madrid, Barcelona, London, Paris, Brussels, Southern Spain (Granada, Sevilla, Cordoba) are all great travel destinations. I'll be sure to add more posts about each place and my more specific recommendations. Below is a picture of the view from the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. It is not one of the 7 world wonders, but in my opinion, it should be. It's so beautiful! If you get the chance, I definitely recommend visiting it.
My best advice is to come abroad with an open attitude. If you budget really well you'll be able to Travel, Travel, Travel!