Tips and Tricks for Studying Abroad: Travel

I am currently sitting the Boston airport waiting for my connection to Detroit which isn’t going to leave for another, what, four hours? Probably a bit less than that by now, but the point is still the same: it’s long. So I thought why not begin my series of posts that are going to both regale you with the stories of my travels (I made that sound so nice, but they’re basically going to be useless–you know, the usual), while also providing helpful information if you’re planning to spend any significant amount of time abroad. For me this will be geared specifically toward England and the few places I visited in Europe and the UK: Scotland, Ireland, and France.

Since I am at the airport now, I thought the best topic to start with would be travel. During my month and a half abroad I have literally taken just about every single possible mode of transportation known to man: bus, car, train, boat, plane, trolley, subway (underground/metro), my own two feet (there was a lot of walking), more buses (so many buses), escalator (I’m counting this as a mode of transportation because of the sheer number of times I used this), and then some more walking. I’m sure there were more but I can’t remember them.

I plan to make a separate post for luggage/things you should take with you while traveling; more specific things. This one will just be in reference to the actual modes of transportation that I took to get to England, and how I got around while there. There will also be posts coming up later on getting through customs, checking luggage, and all of the stereotypical “intimidating” stuff that occurs while flying. (Like how I almost didn’t make it through UK customs when coming back from France–what? Who said that…?)

First thing’s first: plane. I flew Delta to London Heathrow, stopping once in Boston for a layover (it was about $150 cheaper to do it this way vs. a non-stop). I really enjoyed both of my Delta flights. This was my first time flying international, so I’m not really sure what’s typical on one of these flights; because of this, I will just tell you what happened to me.

Upon entering the plane I received a blanket, pillow, darkening eye mask, ear plugs, and a set of headphones. The first of what I’m going to refer to as a “snack wave” came about 30 minutes into the flight when the stewardesses and stewards came around with hot towels to wash our hands with, and then snacks and drinks. About two hours later we were served dinner (which I did not eat because I was sleeping–I had an overnight flight). Then, periodically, we were served water before receiving breakfast and coffee/tea etc about 1 hour before landing. On my return flight (because these are always longer when coming to the US over the Atlantic) the same thing occurred, only I was served lunch instead of dinner, and there was on extra treat (ice cream!) in between lunch and our final snack.

Is flight food the best? No, but no one is claiming it is either. I mean think about it…or maybe don’t…

On both flights the staff was super friendly and there were no issues with weather, etc. Although, leaving on July 4th (ironically celebrating America’s independence by flying to the country we were trying to gain independence from) there was supposed to be a hurricane hitting Boston. Luckily, we snuck out just in time.

Travel in England was significantly different; but I’m sure you’ve already guessed this.

Walking was my main mode of transportation throughout Oxford. From Oxford to London, I took a bus–the Oxford Tube–which costs 11 pounds with a student ID or 13 pounds for a regular adult, which leads me to a small but important digression: IF YOU ARE A STUDENT, BRING YOUR STUDENT I.D.!!!) This can get you discounts all over the place in the UK and Europe. With the Oxford Tube, however, you can also buy a twelve pack of bus tickets for 60 pounds which, if you are going to use all twelve, definitely saves you money. The bus runs 24 hours a day, so whenever you need to leave the city (either Oxford or London) it is available, and it has air-conditioning and wi-fi (two novelties in the lovely British land for foreigners who are not used to anything different). I highly recommend this as a mode of transportation from Oxford to London or vice versa. Taking a taxi would pretty much make it necessary to sell body parts on the black market.

To get to both Scotland and Paris I took the train. As Scotland is part of the UK, I rode the National Express which took about 5 hours (you can also fly, but again, expensive). For Paris I took the Eurostarextremely expensive: book far in advance. The Paris train took approximately 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Unfortunately, unless you want to spent enormous amounts of money on a plane ticket, the Eurostar is your next best (yet still pricey if you’re not careful) option. (I was not careful, it hurt to see that money go away!)

For Ireland we took a plane which was about a 45 minute flight, but saved us from taking an 8 hour train ride. I took Ryan Air which has a reputation for being both a bit dingy and hard to get on (seat wise). For us, we spent an extra 5 pounds per person in order to get a seat assignment but you do not have to. If you don’t, however, make sure you get to your gate as early as possible and when they give you the all clear…run! It wasn’t a horrible flight and it wasn’t a great one, it was 45 minutes of snoozing and resting. Altogether, it was exactly what I was looking for to get me from one point to another, so it was fine.

In all of these cities, walking was the primary mode of transportation (except in London with the underground). There are free maps all over the place, especially at hostels; don’t be afraid to pop your head in and ask for one.

Tips for the underground: hand sanitizer and airborne preventative vitamins. There are so many germs and the air has been recycled countless times. Do not let your guard down! Beware or be sick!!! Same goes for the public buses which uses the same form of payment as the underground: the Oyster card.

If you plan to spend a significant amount of time in London, this is definitely something worth having. There are several plans that you can purchase, but I will tell you only of the ones I know about. For me, I put a select amount of money on my oyster card (about 40 pounds), and every time I used it for entry on a bus or the underground, it would be charged 2 pounds 50. This is very expensive (about $5 every time I wanted to ride the subway), so if there were days when I knew I would be on and off constantly, I bought a day pass for 8 pounds 90, which gave me an infinite amount of rides between 9:30am and midnight when the underground closed. For people living in the city (not visiting like I was), there are options like a monthly pass for 200 pounds (or dollars; I didn’t look that closely so I’m not sure if it’s 200 pounds or 200 converted dollars)–anyhoot, a lot of money–which will give you infinite rides throughout the month.

London has the most expensive/ one of the most expensive public transport systems out there. Paris is much cheaper, though not quite as nice.

If none of these options work, walking can get you places for free, but expect to spend an hour or two (if not more) getting where you need to go on foot depending on where you need to be.

Paris was the only other city where we took public transportation instead of walking because it is sprawling. The fare was about 1 euro 80 per ride, but, unlike the London underground, the Paris metro sometimes forces you to buy another ticket during line transfers which was super sucky for me as I had neither cash nor a credit card with a chip in it.

Oh! That’s another digression that I will make in this and in future posts! If you are travelling to Europe, make sure to get a credit card that has a chip in it. While most card machines handled by an actual living, breathing person can take slide cards, just about anything that is self service requires a chip card. I ran into a lot of trouble with this, and it is one thing I wish I had known about before going over. If you already have a credit card and don’t want to open another account, see if you’re bank is switching over to chip cards and would be willing to upgrade you early. I know for me, my American Express card expires at the end of this month and my new one will have a chip in it (one month too late). But of course :p

I believe this is all I have for transportation/travel at the moment. I’m sure there are things that I’m missing, so there will probably be more information on travel in upcoming posts. If you have any questions for me or would like more specific information about my travels, feel free to ask me questions in the comment section. I will do my best to answer anything you might be curious about.

If you have any tips you would like to suggest and/or if your experiences were different than mine (or if I got some of my info wrong–like pricing and stuff) feel free to comment about that too! I want this to be useful for as many people as possible!

More travel posts coming soon. Chat with you later gators.

Mel

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