By Harriet Willis
Almost every student is likely to have the words ‘travel the world’ etched on their bucket lists. This is often accompanied by crumpled, orange train tickets pinned on a notice board or a map of the world taped to the wall, serving as a temptation to throw some items into a suitcase and get on the next plane. But this dream to travel is typically followed by the condition of it being after graduation. Too little time and too little money often suggest that we, as students, are confined to Durham during term time. However, it turns out there are still some affordable ways to see the world as a student.
How to get around
A lot of people instantly think that Interrail is the best way to travel around Europe. With scenic views of the continental landscape, partnered with trains that pull up to stations early, it initially appears to be the obvious option. However, it will put a huge dent into your allowance for the trip, as passes start at around £200. If you don’t mind spending a longer time travelling to your destination, then a bus will get you there for a fraction of the price. If you’re exploring Europe, why not try Flixbus? A bonus of this mode of travel is that you’ll get a socket to charge your phone, as well as free WiFi. Another way to get around is with BlaBla Car, a carpooling app that lets you hitch a lift with strangers for a cheap price. Just make sure you read the ratings about the drivers before you jump in.
If you’re still not swayed by buses or cars, then look at cheaper alternatives to buying train tickets, such as sites like Ouigo.
Where to stay
Booking through sites like Hostelworld may be favourable, since they are quick and easy. But if you find the hostel’s website you can book directly. This will often save you a pound or two, which could be money towards your first meal of the trip.
It may seem too good to be true, but free accommodation does exist
A lot of people have also heard of Airbnb horror stories. However, after spending two nights in Strasbourg with two university students, I would highly recommend it. Since you’re staying with locals, they can also double up as a free tour guide, filled with knowledge on where to eat the best tarte flambée.
For a more adventurous option, you could stay in a monastery. For around €15 per night, you can bag yourself a bed (and breakfast) in one of Paris’ most picturesque areas, Montmartre. The only catch is that you will be woken up by the nuns at 2am to visit the Sacré-Cœur. Here, you have to either pray or just reflect to ensure someone is praying in the church constantly.
It may seem too good to be true, but free accommodation does exist. Couchsurfing, a website set up to help budget travellers, lets you book a sofa to sleep on, instead of your typical hotel bed. Most Couchsurfing hosts enjoy showing guests around the local area and introducing them to the region, which is a perfect option for solo-travellers who want company.
Seeing the sights
Nearly all attractions will give you a small discount on entry fees if you show your student ID. Even better, all national museums (think: the Louvre or the Musée d’Orsay) are free in Paris.
To get a better idea of what a gallery or a castle is like, you might be tempted by an audio guide or a tour. Instead of letting this set you back a tenner, have a search on your phone’s App Store to see if there’s a free audio tour app for the attraction. They are a good substitute and allow to you rewind bits you want to hear again. For exploring the city, ditch the pricey bus tour and look out for free walking tours. But don’t be fooled: they’re not completely free. Prepare to leave a tip worth a few pounds at the end of the tour.
Eat like a local
It is a well-known fact that the most authentic restaurants are not kept in the parts crammed with tourists and the city’s most famous sites. Instead, they’re usually tucked away in quieter alleys, away from the centre of the city. Spending 5 minutes googling “best local eats” or asking the receptionist at your hostel could cut down the price of your meal by half. Also, don’t be tricked by “pay by weight” schemes. After being told by some fellow travellers that we would be eating in a cheap canteen for German students, I carelessly threw a bunch of old, mass-produced food onto my plate. At the till it was clear I had misjudged the weight since the price didn’t mirror the quality.
Another way to find a cheap eat is to look out for street food. This is the ultimate way to taste the local cuisine for a reasonable price. The other perk is that you are free to enjoy your food wandering around the city, with a guaranteed scenic background.
Photographs: Harriet Willis