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Study in the UK, travel Europe and do it all on a budget

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Written by Natalie Warren, 3rd year Law (Bachelor of Law) ​

Two years ago when I packed my bags and moved from Canada to the UK, everyone at home would ask me where I was going to travel while living in the UK. At first, everywhere within a reasonable flight time was on my list. However, soon the reality of adulthood and the cost of living hit (especially with the current exchange rate… ouch!).

I soon discovered that one of the amazing things about being so close to Europe is that I can go there for a weekend or a few days – not every trip has to be weeks long. Keeping this in mind, I created an “at uni” bucket list and started ticking destinations off. Below are some tips I’ve learned along the way…

​Nail the timing – when should yo​u travel?

​1. Avoid the local celebrations

Make sure you’re not visiting during a festival or national holiday! For example, Carnevale happens in Venice in February – so prices for hotels, restaurants, museums and everything else will be much higher! It can be hard to know when exactly when it is the lowest season: sometimes visiting during a special festival or event cannot be helped. I travelled to Prague this past Easter and, although it was busy, it was just as beautiful and I got to experience the outdoor Easter markets that I would not have seen if I went at a different time.

​2. Identify the cheaper ‘seasons’

Travel in low-season (late fall (autumn!) to early spring, especially in hot countries). A warning though – this does mean that some restaurants and museums may have reduced opening hours, so do your research about the places you want to visit. On the plus side, you will save a lot of money and you can enjoy the city with the locals – who have come to reclaim it from hordes of summer tourists! I went to Venice during November and there was hardly anyone else in the main square (Piazza San Marco) – whereas in the summer it is packed wall-to-wall with people.​

​​Getting prepared

Book in advance! Most airline and train tickets are cheapest about 3 months in the future, and once you’re booked, you have something great to look forward to!

At the beginning of every semester you will know when you have time off, longer weekends and when assignments are due, so it gives you the perfect opportunity to choose when to travel and get the good deals. Now is the time for very careful planning!

Deciding how you like to work in the run up to a deadline will help you figure out when to book your trip. For example, I love planning a trip or a stay-cation for right after an assignment is due as it gives me something to look forward to while I’m writing. It doesn’t need to be a big vacation, even a day trip to Cardiff or Birmingham gives me something to really look forward to!

Knowing exactly when the workload is going to peak can be difficult. However, if you plan your trip and your travel arrangements way ahead of time, you’ll know exactly when you’re leaving and what needs to be done and dusted before you go.

Airport tip: from Gloucestershire, I try to fly out of Birmingham or Bristol. Although the ticket price may be a little more than London airports, it’s cheaper to get there– so the cost evens out. I use apps like Trainline to find the cheapest and quickest trains and buses to the airports. 

Four ways to make it work on a tight student budget

1. ​Be flexible about exactly when you can travel

Be flexible about your travel dates and the time you’re happy to fly at: there are a lot of flights that leave at 9pm or 6am that are usually cheaper for the simple reason that most tourists don’t want to arrive in a different city super early in the morning or late at night.

2. Avoid the fees for checking in a suitcase

Only pack a carry-on bag: this is a common travelling trick! You pay way more if you need to check in a big suitcase – plus you’ll have to waste time waiting at baggage collection when you land. If you can handle only having one carry-on bag, not only will you save money but you’ll also avoid the hassle of rolling a big suitcase around everywhere.

3. Look for the ‘alternative’ accommodation

If you’re travelling with a group of friends, look for AirBnB and hotels for accommodation: the obvious option when travelling as a student is a hostel, however, I have found that if you are travelling with a couple of friends it can be cheaper to get a nice apartment… plus, you get the added bonus of having a kitchen, so you won’t have to eat out all the time. I have planned a short getaway to Paris this upcoming November and the first accommodation options I looked at were hostels and AirBnBs. Surprisingly, we found a cute hotel in a good location, significantly cheaper: thankfully, websites like Trivago let you compare hotel prices to AirBnBs which you can then compare to hostels found on Hostelworld.

4. Exploring on foot and buying at ‘student’ rates

Get a map so you can travel around on foot, use public transport and download the Uber app: make sure to check the prices of all your options before setting off somewhere. Most cities I have been to have all been accessible on foot. However, when I went to Venice I stayed at a hostel on the Giudecca and had to get a pass for the water buses. Using my student ID I was able to get a three-day pass for way cheaper than if I bought single-use tickets at the regular price. Always remember to ask if there is a ‘student’ or ‘youth up to 26’ pass.

​​​​Now you’ve got the cheapest trip you can find – you need to make sure you have enough cash to actually go!

Be aware of where your money during term time goes. The little things like an extra take-away this week, one last drink at the pub before heading home, or that cute shirt from Primark… it all adds up. While at the time it seems like a few quid here or there is not much, over a month, or even a term, it adds up to a considerable amount – which could just be that flight to your dream destination.

My favourite European destinations (so far!)

My two favourite trips I have been on were to Italy and Prague. I was in Prague for five nights and loved every moment of it! It is definitely a place I would love to travel back to if I ever get a chance.

The second for me is Italy, especially Florence. I did a semester abroad there (when I studied at my previous university in Canada) and I try to get back there are often as I can.

Bucket list tip: Even if you can only spend two days in a city or country, still go! While you won’t be able to check everything off your bucket list, it will be a fantastic start and will give you an idea of destinations that you HAVE to go back to. Take a couple of days to discover the area and keep it on your list of places to return to.

Don’t forget how beautiful the UK is

Sometimes I think we forget to explore our own backyard when we’re on a mission to see the world! Travelling within the UK can be a lot cheaper, and just as beautiful, than travelling outside of it. We are often blind to what the area we’re living in has to offer.

As I’m entering my third and final year of studies, I am realizing that there are numerous places in the UK I would still love to visit while studying here. I have spent a couple days just going to various villages in the Cotswolds and still feel like there is so much to see.

The University of Gloucestershire is right on the edge of the Cotswolds, so it is just a quick trip to get to a sweet village and back. We’re also close to the Roman city of Bath, and the jewellery quarter in Birmingham, Stratford-upon-Avon (Shakespeare’s birthplace) and the historic city of Oxford. This past spring, I also went a little further to Edinburgh and fell in love with the history and architecture there – it’s just so different to anything at home. I am still hoping that I can get to Ireland for a weekend before I graduate, too!


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