Holidazed and Confused: Student Travel Guide

The long summer holidays of university offer an opportunity for travel that will go unmatched until your retirement. How do you make the most of the time on your limited resources? We asked The Skinny team for advice. Some of it was useful

Feature by Faye Cation | 15 Sep 2016

Everyone says students are super hard-up, but with the combination of loans and part-time work and no tax and discounts, you may find you’re equally badly off when you’re in full-time entry-level employment post-graduation. So make the most of that scant resource, time, and get yourself adventuring.

How do you choose where you’re going to go when the world is at your fingertips? You could start by letting the transport cost dictate your choice and take it from there. Our production manager recalls, “I once booked a Megabus sleeper to Paris for £3 return, it was horrendous but Paris was alright.” It’s often been said that Paris is alright. If you’d like to see for yourself, head to the Megabus website. When you’re there you can follow in the footsteps of backpackers across the ages and stay in the Shakespeare & Company bookshop. They let people stay in exchange for a bit of working in the shop and a lot of talking about literature. Other accommodation can be a bit pricey, even for fleapit dorm beds.

Photo: Moyan Brenn

Continental Megabus also offers choices beyond Paris. Destinations include Lille, Rotterdam, Cologne, Brussels and Barcelona. You can get the cheap rates because you’re a student and can travel when everyone else can’t. Take advantage of it.

Another good source of cheap transport is Skyscanner's 'Everywhere' feature, which lets you find the cheapest flights from any location for any given dates. It takes the pressure out of picking somewhere, introduces you to places you might not otherwise consider and makes it dead cheap into the bargain. Be flexible – look at flights into one city and out of another nearby one; our Food editor went to Bremen and Hamburg a couple of years ago, largely because it was £50 cheaper to do both than just fly in and out of one or the other.

Interrailing and currency cards

Interrailing has long been a rite of passage, and with the looming Brexit threatening the reintroduction of visas maybe a means of travel that allows you to take full advantage of the Schengen zone is the way forward? Students get a discounted rate and you choose your zones and your timeframe. It’s a good idea to limit your zones – you might think you can travel from Amsterdam to Istanbul overland in three weeks but realistically that’s going to mean skipping over a lot of amazing things in between.

The beauty of the rail and ferry travel you access on your interrail pass is the opportunity to explore a country slowly, to go to places you haven’t heard of and appreciate life away from the tick-’em-off tourist trail. Another reason to take advantage of the interrail pass now is that under 25s get in free or cheap to many of Europe’s finest galleries and museums. You’ll be kicking yourself if you try to get into the Prado at age 26 and realise you could have saved yourself $$$.

From a practical point of view, in this time of madly fluctuating exchange rates it may be a good idea to get a currency card, like the Caxton FX card or the Travelex Supercard. Put pounds on it from your UK bank account, then use it like a regular debit card when you're away. “You get a better deal on exchange rates, you don't get stung by the bank for £2 plus 2% every time you want to use a cash machine, and you don't have to carry wads of cash around with you like a luddite or drug dealer,” says our digital editor. “I used mine all over the world with no problems, you update the balance via the app, your transactions all show up right away; it's boss.”

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Hang on a minute, we’ve been talking about cheap travel and we haven’t even mentioned hitchhiking? “I did some hitchhiking when I was still a student, which cost me zero pounds! We went during Easter break, took a tent and some oat cakes and persuaded truckers to drive us to southern Spain,” says our Scotland music editor. “It was lovely. We met delightful people who made us sandwiches and let me ride their horse! The only oversight we made was accidentally camping in the Pyrenees one night, and waking up to find our tent frozen solid…”

Another Skinny staffer fondly remembers a different trip across Europe. “I hitchhiked to Morocco and raised money for a charity doing it and so the travel was free... except when we accidentally invaded a pimp's turf in suburban Barcelona and made his lovely prostitutes very angry and we had to get out of there very quickly.” Tread carefully while hitching, folks. There is a bright side though: “Also most of the people we hitched with brought us food and drinks and gave us drugs and booze.” The take-homes are: avoid the pimps, take the free booze, know your altitude.

Photo: Klim Levene

Maybe you want to do more with your summer, to go back to nature and work as a volunteer doing something you’re unlikely to be able to do again? Our general manager has the batshit answer. “I volunteered with the Scottish Wildlife Trust on the Isle of Eigg in the Western Hebrides for a month one summer, that's a pretty sweet way to enjoy some of the most beautiful scenery in Scotland and have BBQs on the beach every night for free.

 “Basic caveats: you've gotta spend at least four hours each day wandering the shores counting eggs in nests, throwing a scythe at some unruly bracken or, if you're really unlucky, doing the sunset bat counts. Sounds fun but if you've ever been to the Western Hebrides in summer you'll know the midges are absolute murder. You have to wear a full midge (beekeeper) suit, which at least ten of the buggers will somehow get in, not be able to find a way out again and eat you alive anyway.”

Travelling and playing music

Maybe you’d like to travel on the cheap while hanging out with your mates and pursuing your dreams? “Virtually all my travel over the last decade has come through touring in DIY bands,” says our music editor of the North. “It can be a pretty cool and relatively cheap way to see the world (and virtually guarantees you'll meet locals / end up somewhere with beer at the end of every night). Admittedly it does make for whistlestop tours of most places, so it's worth picking sights you wanna see in advance.

“Our petrol/van hire were covered by the money we earned each night (budget sensibly to break even), and we were fed at most venues AND sorted with somewhere to crash. So our money only went on one or two meals a day, booze and other bands' records, basically.” Living the dream.

Finally, as the 19th-century French writer Xavier de Maistre discovered in his seminal work Journey Around my Room, sometimes travel is about the journey, not the destination. Perhaps your best option is to fully explore your locale rather than running off on some foreign jaunt you can’t possibly afford? “When I was young I hitchhiked from somewhere in Edinburgh to Easterhouse. I forget why. I was drunk,” says an unnamed staff member. We do not recommend drunken hitchhiking from Edinburgh to Easterhouse, but every experience makes for a story and now’s the time to start accumulating them.