UK travel: worth considering for a student getaway?

Aboard the ferry to the Isle of Arran, Scotland.
Aboard the ferry to the Isle of Arran, Scotland.

Why your university years are ideal not only for trips to far-flung lands but for discovering the unexpected wonders of our own country.

As students we’re at the perfect stage in our lives to start exploring the world we live in, either independently, as a couple or with friends. Long breaks between terms, combined with discounts on transport and accommodation, enable us to make use of the freedom gained by moving away from home for the first time. And the unexpected challenges travel presents us with contribute as much to personal development as a degree.

Most of us would define travel as visiting a different country, whether that involves being constantly on the move or settled in one place for several months. Gap years, studying abroad and interrailing appeal to many students, as can the prospect of going travelling after graduation, perhaps to teach English as a foreign language. But if none of these opportunities appeal to you, it’s possible to have an equally rewarding experience without leaving the UK.

Pembrokeshire, South Wales. Photo: Emily Dunn.
Pembrokeshire, South Wales. Photo: Emily Dunn.

Avoiding the cost of plane tickets, combined with not going too far away, means you don’t have to commit much time for it to be worthwhile. It’s possible to fit travel around your studies or summer job, in the form of weekend breaks or even day trips. These can complement longer trips abroad in the university holidays, giving you the chance to get away mid-term if you hate being stuck in once place for months. (That being said, it’s also possible to spend weeks travelling around the UK without getting bored – but I’ll come to that later.)

If you’ve not done much independent travelling before, your own country is the best place to start. There’s no need to worry about learning a language, changing money, getting health insurance, or figuring out the ins and outs of the transport network. However, it’s still valuable confidence-building experience of finding accommodation, meeting people from different backgrounds, and dealing with setbacks.

But does any of this really count as travel? We forget sometimes why tourists come from all over to world to sample our cities, landscapes and heritage. York is a perfect example of a popular holiday destination being right on our doorstep, but even less well-known cities have something to offer. Manchester and Newcastle are only an hour away, but if you want a real sense of arriving in a bewildering new place after a long journey, try Cornwall or Inverness. You can even travel to these places by sleeper train from London. If you want to be immersed in different culture, don’t forget that there are countless regions with their own distinctive character and traditions, and in Wales or Scotland you’ll be surrounded by signs translated into different languages.

The Caledonian Sleeper train, heading for Fort William. Photo: Emily Dunn.
View from the Caledonian Sleeper train on its way to Fort William. Photo: Emily Dunn.

The unfamiliar is closer than you might think. Everyone finds their hometown boring, so it all depends on what you’re used to. I was fortunate enough to grow up on the edge of the incredible Lake District national park and enjoy frequent family holidays to the west coast of Scotland. I’ve never stopped appreciating the beautiful scenery, but have gotten used to its remoteness which would be much more impressive to someone who had lived in a city all of their life. By contrast, rare visits to the South of England used to genuinely feel like a foreign country until I began to explore it – mainly the South West and London – bit by bit, throughout my time at university.

So if you’re someone who’s never been north of York, use that as a starting point to discover new destinations. Or pick somewhere completely random on a map that you’ve never visited; that you know nothing about. Research it before you go if you want to, but there’s no need. All you need to do is buy a train ticket; that to me is the magic of travelling without leaving the country.

Keswick and Derwent Water in the Lake District, North-West England. Photo: Emily Dunn.
Keswick and Derwent Water in the Lake District, North-West England. Photo: Emily Dunn.

Of course there are countless other destinations on every continent that I want to visit, or travel through, during my lifetime. But whilst I finish my degree and attempt to find a job, I’ll still be able to get cheap, easy travelling experience in preparation for bigger things. Top of my bucket list is Oxford, closely followed by Cambridge, East Anglia, the Outer Hebrides and the far north of Scotland, plus a variety of other places that I want to explore in more depth following a fleeting visit.

UK travel is not a substitute for visiting the rest of the world. In this time of uncertainty it’s more important than ever to go to other countries, especially those in the EU, while we can still expect freedom of movement. However, when setting off to far-flung places it’s easy to forget what’s close by. Travelling around the UK is something to consider if you’re short of money or time, aren’t yet confident enough to travel abroad alone, or just want to pick somewhere different to visit. The experience might pleasantly surprise you.

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Emily Dunn

Third-year history student. Enjoys creative writing, rail travel and amateur photography.