If you are a travel lover, studying in the UK will be an amazing opportunity as there are many places in the UK and Europe that are worth visiting. Here are a few tips for you if you want to enjoy some relaxing moments away from your busy university schedule.
- Plan ahead – Plan at least where and when you want to go. The perfect timing for a long trip would be one of the longer holidays in the academic year: Christmas, Easter and the summer holiday. If you want to go for a short trip, then maybe a weekend is enough. However, in all cases, be sure to book your tickets well in advance. One of the first things I learned after I came to the UK is to book tickets as early as possible because it can save you so much money. Unlike the metro system in Hong Kong, the price of train tickets depends on the demand; the prices tend to be more expensive if the date on which you intend to travel is close. From Durham to London, if you book a month in advance, it may be around £30 for a return ticket, but if you buy your tickets an hour before you set off, the price might have soared to more than £100 for a single trip, can you believe it?! The same idea applies to flight tickets and accommodation: the sooner you book your seat or your room, the cheaper it is.
- Get a Railcard/Coach card – if you are a frequent traveller (within the UK), you can save a lot of money with a Railcard/Coach card. These cards are made available to certain categories of people, like those between the ages of 16 and 25. If you meet the criteria, woohoo. Get one! It will get you one-third off rail/coach fares throughout the UK and will pay for itself quickly. Just remember to bring the card with you when you are travelling, because the customer attendant may check your discount card when he checks your train ticket. If you forget to bring your discount card, you’ll have to pay the full price.
- Look out for Deals and Discount – There are multiple train companies that run trains to the same destinations. Big stations like London King's Cross are served by many train companies; but some smaller stations might be served by only one company. You can buy tickets directly from the train company websites (sometimes they have special promotions), and you can compare prices using ‘Journey Planner’ websites like NationalRail and TrainSplit, though the prices might vary between websites. Also, it is possible for two single (one-way) tickets to be cheaper than booking a return (round-trip) ticket. So why not spend a bit of extra time buying your ticket so that you can have more money to spend on food and clothes?
- Don’t try to do too much within a trip – I know planning trips is very exciting, sometimes even better than the trip itself. But try and avoid having an overly-packed schedule. Sometimes, accidents happen. Be prepared for delays and even train cancellations (I was shocked to learn that sometimes the cancellation is due to a lack of train drivers). Reserve some extra time for unexpected situations and always have a Plan B in case you cannot reach a place on time. Alter your plan a bit and don’t let the delay ruin your wonderful trip. Also, check whether you can get compensation. For example, if the train is delayed for an hour or more, you can get a full refund from the train company.
- Bring some snacks with you – You cannot rely on the food on the train. They sell basic snacks but the variety is pretty limited. Plus, the snacks on offer are often overpriced compared to the local supermarket. So, I would recommend bringing some snacks with you, even a chocolate bar is good enough when you are hungry (sometimes the food bar only has crisps, which is depressing).