Look left & mind the gap

Many of the lasting memories from your experience will come from the times you got outside of your home away from home. Not only is travel within the UK cheap and easy, but throughout Europe as well. Depending on when and how long you choose to study abroad you may have ample opportunity to do some exploring. There are many ways to get out of town. Here is a break down of travel both within the UK and abroad.

Travel within the UK

It is possible to get from any point via bus, train, or ferry. While booking you own independent adventure, also consider traveling with planned tours. Many times there are international student organizations which organize excursions near and far from your home university. Also, in most British students unions, there are travel agents or advisors who will help you get out of town. Finally, it’s worth noting that the UK is especially renowned for its walking trails. These trails, which can be found throughout the UK, are perfect for walking or bike-riding, and are an excellent way to see the country and visit some of Britain’s underappreciated tourist sites.

The British Rail System

British Rail is a remarkably well-organized train system. There are various divisions of British Rail which generally operate within a defined region. (ScotRail is mainly Scottish, Regional Railways North West serves northwest England, InterCity operates between major British cities, and so on). Most cities and even small towns have train stations, from which you can connect with other lines and traverse nearly anywhere in the UK.

Tickets can be purchased from any rail station, or online at through Britrail or National Rail.

Taking the Bus

Similar to the rail system, but more extensive, taking the bus can be an even cheaper form of transportation. Nearly every British town has at least a bus stop with connections to nearby cities. Larger towns have stations from which you can purchase tickets and plan trips. There are even some bargain bus lines which offer cheaper fares between major cities, but generally the cheaper the deal, the bumpier the ride!

Check out Megabus for sample destinations and prices.

Getting Around Town

Chances are you will be studying in a large town or big city. Many British people do not own cars, and you’ll be surprised at how few have even learned how to drive. This is simply because British culture is much less reliant on cars to get around because public transportation is much more abundant. Taxis can take you nearly anywhere, bus lines (though sometimes confusing to learn) can e reliable and affordable, and in the bigger cities, the subway system can be very handy. Within London, for instance, the “Tube” offers stops at many locations, and maps and routes are easy to understand. Take a look at one of the Tube maps located on the UK shelf in the resource room to see for yourself, or check in out at the London Underground web site.

Travel outside of the UK

Student travelers in Europe have varying desires for their travels. Some take part in a whirl-wind, multi-stop, been-there-done-that adventure that offers the most site seeing possible in the shortest amount of time. Others opt for a more focused tour of a particular region, where rather than concentrating on the most popular spots, they seek out the paths less traveled and take in full culture of a country or area. Either method of travel can be the right approach for you, or even a combination of two. The key is to decide before you leave what you are up for, and plan according. Not doing so can cost you time, stress, and possibly most importantly, lots of MONEY!

Getting Abroad

Again, there are options for how to get across the channel to mainland Europe. The most common and cheapest way is to take a bargain airplane company. The two biggest are Ryanair and EasyJet. Watch these websites often, as special offers on selected flights are common, and a good way to help decide where and when to travel!

You also have the option of taking a train through the channel tunnel into France which is exciting but also expensive. You can buy tickets for the Eurail system online or at most major train stations. Yet another option is to take a ferry. These can be closer to a mini-cruise (and are often marked as such) and are common between the UK and Holland, France, Belgium, Spain, and Ireland. Various carriers offer special prices between popular cities. A good resource for information is online at DirectFerries.

Travel by Train

Many students believe that the best way to get around is by purchasing a rail pass. This may be appropriate, but it is also important to consider exactly what kind of vacation you would like and where you want to go before you purchase a pass.

The flexibility of rail passes is the most valuable feature. Rail passes allow you to hop on and off any train in the specified region. You can also travel wherever you want with in that region. Most importantly, you can go wherever you want. This is especially useful for travelers who do not want to be impaired by a rigid travel schedule. It also allows you to spend more time in places you like, and even to return to favorite cities before you return to the UK.

However, rail passes are expensive! There is no question about this and no way around it. However, this is where pre-trip planning can really pay off. If you plan to only see a small number of cities, it may be cheaper to forgo the pass and purchase point-to-point tickets as you go. Trains in Europe are generally reasonably priced and reliable, so don’t be afraid to consider this option. Use travel guides or agents to estimate the cost and time tables of individual journeys.

If a rail pass is the way to go, the most popular is the Eurail pass. Many travel options are available, including regional passes. Make sure to understand exactly what your train pass entitles you to, and where you can go. There are various other multi-national passes available. Use travel guides to determine the most appropriate one based on cost and flexibility.

Travel by Car

Many student travelers attempt to get around by renting a car. While this offers the most freedom and flexibility, it comes with its own new set of precautions. Auomobile accidents are the major cause of death of study abroad students. Before you set out, make sure you learn the rules of the road and the meaning of the local traffic signs for the area you will be driving in. Also, unless you need the feel of the open road, for small groups renting a car is not the cheapest option. Plan wisely. Finally, remember, in the UK and Ireland, drive on the left side of the road.