There'll always be more to do with whatever limited time you have while studying abroad, so learn to make the most of it! Hannah serves up 6 tips to help you focus on where you want to go and how to get there without sacrificing your sanity and the quality of your experience. Have a travel buddy in mind? Get them to read this too.
Like many global cities, London is incredibly lively. During orientation week, I believe one of the CAPA team members referred to it as a “higgledy-piggledy Gothic mess”—endearingly, of course. London stretches for miles, and there are so many events, museums, historic sites, new openings, and precious hidden gems that you could spend your entire semester in the city and not see everything.
That said, if you have the chance to take a weekend trip or two, I would highly recommend it. Traveling around Europe can be fairly affordable, and it could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience to get some more stamps added to your passport and see what another country has to offer.
In my time in London, I visited Scotland and Ireland. I immensely enjoyed both of the experiences, but I also feel I have learned a lot more about traveling that could help my fellow students considering weekend trips abroad.
Before I dive into my advice, I should note that although I visited two countries, I will be mostly referencing my experiences in Scotland since it was a longer trip that required much more complex planning. I also traveled to Scotland with Clare Weigel, the illustrious CAPA Instagram TV Vlogger for London Summer Term I. Clare and I became friends in our Writing the City class, and since we both wanted to visit Scotland, we decided to collaborate for CAPA World Blog. If you would like to see some of the video highlights from our trip, check out Clare’s video!
Here’s a little sneak peak of our day trip to the Isle of Skye.
Clare and I snapped a picture in front of Urquhart Castle.
Without further ado, here are my top six tips for college students traveling abroad on a budget.
1. Compare Methods of Transportation
First, I recommend comparing options for transportation. What is the price and travel time for buses, planes, boats, or trains to your destination? I feel it’s important to note upfront that the cheapest option isn’t always the best one. Sometimes, you can find inexpensive tickets that involve inconvenient travel times, multiple transfers, lengthy layovers, or a long overall journey.
For instance, when I traveled to Dublin with my roommates, we booked two 6:00 AM flights on RyanAir to and from London Stansted. This meant that for our first departure, we had to leave our apartment in Camden at 2:30am for Kings Cross, where we caught a coach bus to the airport. Because the flight was before peak travel times, we were able to purchase our tickets very cheaply, but it also was also relatively inconvenient and incurred extra fees for transportation.
Another question to consider is how much you want to travel within that country. When Clare and I visited Scotland, we decided that we wanted to see Edinburgh and the Isle of Skye. Because these two places are over two hundred miles apart, we had to plan multiple legs for our trip. We ended up booking two return train tickets between London and Edinburgh as well as Edinburgh and Inverness. We also purchased tour bus tickets, which I will discuss later on in this post.
When Clare and I visited Scotland, we traveled by train from London Kings Cross into Edinburgh Waverley.
Lastly, it’s a good idea to look into travel options around your destination. For example, since most of what Clare and I wanted to see in Edinburgh was near the Royal Mile, we ended up walking from place to place. That said, if you travel somewhere else, like Paris perhaps, you might want to look into bus or metro tickets to give you access to more of the city.
So, if I had to boil it down into three questions, I would ask:
- How much do you want to see?
- Which modes of transportation are most worth your time and funds?
- How will you get from place to place while you are there?
2. Book Your Accommodations
Personally, I would recommend a hotel or an Airbnb. Plenty of students also choose to stay in hostels, which is also an option, albeit one that I find stressful. That said, if you are going for more than a day, I would recommend booking overnight accommodations. Here’s my cautionary tale: when my flatmates and I visited Dublin, we made the decision not to stay overnight. Instead, we booked two early departures, spending about 24 hours in Ireland. While we saved some money this way, it also meant that we were running on very little sleep and were utterly exhausted—and in my case, sick—by the end of the trip. While traveling on a college student’s budget is a challenge, I don’t recommend forgoing a night’s rest. You will enjoy the experience much more thoroughly if you are well-rested.
Portree is the capital of the Isle of Skye. Although Clare and I didn’t stay here, this quaint and aesthetic town has a good deal of places to stay.
When booking your accommodations, I advise referencing maps to see how close your lodgings are to methods of transportation and important sites you want to visit. For example, when Clare and I visited Inverness, we stayed at an Airbnb that was only a 10-minute walk from the train station in the heart of the city as well as our Saturday tour bus meeting point. Our central location made traveling between points more convenient and less costly.
Nothing like a glass of cold water to refresh you after a long day of traveling and sightseeing.
Before you book your stay, read reviews online so that you can get an idea of what to expect. For Airbnbs, I would advise checking to make sure your host has a good rating as well as numerous reviews. Superhost badges are also a good sign. It’s also smart to run a Google search and/or check the street view to see if your lodging is in a safe, well-lit area. Lastly, to prepare yourself for an emergency or change in plans, familiarize yourself with the cancellation policies of your accommodations ahead of time.
This is a picture of Inverness taken at 10:30pm.
Clare and I were so enamored with the sky in Scotland, which stayed light almost all night!
3. Research Ahead of Time and Decide What You Have to See
While spontaneity does have its charms, I can’t escape my love for planning. Luckily for me, neither could Clare—one of our many commonalities that made us ideal travel buddies. Therefore, we would highly suggest researching your destination ahead of time. Dive deep into articles and lists. Search your destination on Pinterest. Watch travel videos online. Clare and I did all of this, and it really helped us narrow down what we wanted to do with our time in each of the places we visited in Scotland. While we were in Edinburgh, we climbed Calton Hill, ate lunch at The Elephant House, shopped on the Royal Mile, meandered through The Writers’ Museum, gazed up at Scots Monument, and dazzled our eyes at Camera Obscura. We also took our taste buds on an adventure, trying haggis and deep-fried Mars Bars for the first time. Because we researched what we wanted to do ahead of time, we were able to develop and stick to a game plan of sorts, doing all this and more over nine hours across two days.
Unfortunately, we didn’t see the real Loch Ness monster, but Clare and I drew a cartoon representation of what we think she might look like.
This brings me to another important thing: check maps! Street maps and transport maps can help you familiarize yourself with the layout of your destination. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the prospect of traveling to a new place, looking at maps can create a sense of calm and clarity. Additionally, when you arrive, you will recognize street names, which can help you feel at ease and find your way.
If you’re traveling over a national border, it’s also a good idea to exchange or withdraw coins and cash in that country’s currency. This can come in handy for places that do not take cards.
If you have time while you are traveling, I would also recommend researching a day trip. When Clare and I were in Inverness, we took a tour bus to the Isle of Skye. This was an effective way for us to see many of the sights around the Highlands area, including Loch Ness and Eilean Donan, as well as the Fairy Pools, Old Man of Storr, and Portree in the Isle of Skye. Our day trip was a unique and affordable experience, and on the ride back to Inverness, Clare and I gushed the whole time about the majestic mountains and the cool, clear blue waters.
I climbed out over the rocks to get a picture above one of the waterfalls at the Isle of Skye.
The water was so cool and fresh, and you can drink it!
If a day trip sounds appealing to you, I recommend searching for one on a legitimate, reputable website. Be sure to read the full description to see what the tour includes. Sometimes, these tours will have great deals, wherein they will cover entrance fees and lunch as well as provide transport and commentary. Before booking a day tour, check out the ratings and reviews to see if the company appears to deliver what it says it will. I would also recommend setting aside a full day for the tour so you are not scrambling to catch a train or plane at the end of the day.
The rooftop of Camera Obscura offered beautiful views of Edinburgh’s skyline.
4. Pack as Lightly as Possible
When taking a weekend trip, try packing as lightly as possible! Clare and I each brought a backpack and a purse with us to Scotland. The former held clothing, toiletries, and other important documents, while the latter held items we would need to access throughout the day like wallets and sunglasses. Clare and I also made sure to leave space in our backpacks for any purchases along the way (like galaxy artwork and Nessie sculptures).
Clare and I had beautiful weather for our trip to Isle of Skye. Even though it was supposed to rain all day, we only got a little bit of drizzle at the end of our day when we visited Eilean Donan.
In any case, I sure was glad I packed an extra waterproof layer!
As for clothing, be sure to check reliable weather sources to guide you in your packing process. Since it was summer, Clare and I brought light layers with us—short-sleeved tops and a jacket or sweatshirt for the cooler weather. Ironing your laundry will also get it to sit flatter in your bag. In addition to the more obvious necessities, Clare and I suggest packing the following items: snacks, water, hand sanitizer, bandaids, sunglasses, and good walking shoes. It is also always a good idea to have some extra cash stowed away somewhere other than your wallet in case of an emergency.
Packing light also made our hike in the Isle of Skye much easier.
Here I am by a ledge overlooking the fairy pools.
5. Leave Plenty of Time
This might sound like a given, but you can’t control everything (although, wouldn’t that be nice?). You can’t predict public transport delays or road closures, and you never know what challenges might arise. Therefore, check the hours of operation and whether or not tickets should be purchased ahead of time to skip lengthy lines. Aim to be early to any bookings, and leave some cushioning for excursions and experiences to take longer than you anticipate.
We budgeted enough time to climb up Calton Hill to see the monuments and a view of Edinburgh from above.
It was absolutely astounding.
For example, Clare and I had planned to climb Arthur’s Seat on Friday, but after looking further into it, we realized that it would take us much longer to get there and back in time for our train to Inverness. Instead, we decided to do Calton Hill because it was much more central to where we were in the city and also provided breathtaking views of the capital’s famous skyline. We budgeted an hour-and-a-half for Calton Hill before lunch, and since it did not take this long, we had a bit of extra time to find The Elephant House and do a little bit of shopping later in the day.
Clare and I always tried to be early for our tour bus, which frequently allowed us time to explore the Isle of Skye on our own. Here’s a scenic moment Clare captured. Would you believe there was a tour bus right in front of me?
6. Document Your Trip
I’m a sentimental person, so I cannot emphasize this enough! Take plenty of pictures, save ticket stubs, write notes in a journal, grab souvenirs like flowers to press or little fairy crafts for your friends from a local shop.
I took notes throughout our trip in Scotland so that I could look back on everything I learned, felt, and observed.
Here I am writing about the sound of the water rushing over the rocks by The Old Bridge over Invermoriston.
Luckily, Clare has an awesome camera that can take pictures like this one at the end of the mirror maze at Camera Obscura. Because of this picture and other ones like it, I will always have photo evidence of how many times I walked right into my reflection on a wall.
Above all, live in the moment! Nothing will ever be exactly the same as it will be when you’re there, so squeeze as much as you can out of this experience. Make memories that will last a lifetime, stories to tell for years to come.
Hannah Woodruff is an official CAPA blogger for summer 2019, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. With a double major in English Literature and English Writing at University of Pittsburgh, she is studying abroad in London this semester.
Hannah's journey continues all semester so stay tuned.