Tips (part 4) So You Want to Travel?
Traveling is probably on the mind of every exchange student; one of the main reasons why I chose to study in Scotland was because I wanted to take a tour of Europe. (I’m actually doing my tour right now! Of course if I had been updating this blog properly, you would have known about it. whoops) In this post I will talk a bit about the logistics of traveling in and outside of Scotland.
Traveling to Europe and other places in the UK is not as easy as it might seem when you first think. St. Andrews is actually quite tucked away, and is appropriately named “the bubble.” The St. Andrews bus station is right in town and your only way out of the place (unless you get have access to a car) From the station there are buses to Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, and other towns/cities. Leuchars is the closest train station, but you have to take the bus to get to it. If you want to take a flight somewhere, you’ll have to take the bus to get to Edinburgh city, then Edinburgh airport, and finally to your destination. (OR take the bus to the Leuchars train station to get to the city to the airport and then your destination). Be sure to take these factors into account when making your travel plans.
Please don’t dismiss Scotland as a place to travel around! Try to see a lot of Scotland while you’re here, it’s a small country but a lovely one at that. After visiting a few Scottish towns you get a sense of what exactly unifies them and also what makes them distinct. The natural landscape is absolutely stunning up north, please visit the highlands at least once, and go to the Isle of Skye if you can. These places are a quiet reminder of how beautiful nature can be.
Other than Google maps, Traveline is a great tool to see how to get around specifically in Scotland. It will list several options and give you very precise directions. If you enjoy hiking at all, look into joining the Breakaway society. It’s a great way to take a weekend to see Scotland, while still being a part of the St. Andrews scene. (If you remember my post on hiking in Glencoe).
Transport by bus: The bus might not be the most comfortable, but if you’re going to Edinburgh or Glasgow it might be the cheaper and more convenient option. There are several buses that leave right from the St. Andrews bus station several times a day, and you get a student discount if you show your ID. If you just need a quick dose of city life, Dundee is about 30 minutes away by bus. It’s also useful to note that megabus operates out of Dundee to several places in Scotland, and even to the UK and other parts of Europe starting at just 1 GBP (if you book way in advance)!
Transport by Rail: The rail is also a good option, and if you buy your tickets earlier they will be cheaper. The 16-25 railcard is worth looking into, depending on how much you’re planning to travel. You pay 30 GBP to get the card and you get 1/3 off all your rail tickets. If you’re going to the highlands or the Isle of Skye, railway is the best way.
Outside of Scotland
If you’re traveling outside of Scotland, planes come into the mix of transport options. Skyscanner is a great way to find cheap flights. You also have the option of leaving the destination blank, just to see where you could go for the cheapest and have a spontaneous adventure! Incase you didn’t know, europe has a number of budget airlines that make traveling really inexpensive, especially if you book in advance and on odd days. Tip: use google maps to see how far the airport is from the city center, sometimes with the added fees and time traveling to and from the airport no longer makes it such a great option. Also keep in mind that getting from St. Andrews to the airport is quite indirect, requiring a series of trains and buses pieced together. Though I will point out that you can get from Edinburgh airport to Dundee through megabus for great prices. Again, the best transport option will be dependent on each particular situation, there is no obvious winner.
When to travel?
Obviously being in a study abroad program, studying is the first priority and that leaves the weekends to get traveling done. As I hinted at before, if you’re going anywhere, transportation time might take up more time than you think, and you might not get much time in the place you’re visiting. I chose my classes strategically so that I would have Friday free, which made many of my trips easier. I decided to travel around Scotland on the weekends, a trip to London and Dublin during revision week, and a tour around Europe after the semester ended. (I extended my stay about 4 weeks). Doing it this way I think allowed me to be more focused on getting to know and internalize Scotland. It also gave me more time on campus, and to be a St. Andrews student. Because don’t forget, there is actually a lot to do on campus, especially the first few weeks, there are a lot of events and being there on weekends is essential. Also leaving the further trips all for a compiled period of time saves money and time since you’re not flying back and forth between destinations. That said, I know a lot of people who got to do weekend trips to various European cities and had great experiences, so don’t let me discourage you!
I know all this traveling information is definitely a lot to wrap your head around, but it’s not too terrible. There are just a lot of options, and you can choose based on whether you value your time, money, or comfort.