How to travel cheaply during your year abroad
Monday, 15 August 2022
In this article, Chloe, who has just finished her year abroad in France, offers advice on how to travel both within and outside your host country without spending a fortune or even relying on air travel.
Living in your host city for a semester or a year always presents numerous opportunities for immersing yourself in local customs and activities, but sometimes you may fancy a change of setting and want to explore the country (or perhaps some others). Contrary to common perception, travelling during your year abroad needn’t be expensive provided that you plan accordingly and learn some tips which enable you to live and think like a local in your host country!
Sign up for a rail card
If you are working or studying in a country for a semester, it is easy to assume that investing in a rail card is not worthwhile, but rail cards tend to be cheap and barely make a dent into your pocket. For example, I only paid 15 euros for a regional ‘Grand Est Primo’ card during my year abroad in Strasbourg, France which reduced rail fares by 50% during the week and a mind-blowing 70% at weekends – needless to say, I used the card as often as I could because French regional rail travel is significantly cheaper than in the UK! The card even included trips to Switzerland which was a novelty since it wasn’t even in the same country, let alone the same region.
Owning a rail card definitely incites you to explore your local region and sometimes appreciate a change of scenery. However, if bigger cities or further-away areas are more appealing to you, a general youth discount card (valid on long-distance trains) might be better suited which offers generous discounts for trains booked in advance (although last-minute deals can also be found). In France, the Carte Avantage Jeune (49 euros for a year) offers significant savings on TGV or fast-speed trains, which broadens the spectrum of cities that you can visit relatively inexpensively (see the below image). Even though it is a bigger investment compared to the cheaper regional cards, the Carte Avantage Jeune pays for itself within one or two trips!
Travel by coach or bus
In an era of increased environmental awareness, travelling by coach is advantageous both for your budget and for the environment. Flixbus and Blablabus are two of the most well-known coach companies in mainland Europe, making long-distance travel more accessible (and somewhat comfortable with free Wifi and charging points on board). Alternating between coach and rail travel can be a good compromise if travelling completely by coach doesn’t appeal to you, especially for day trips; during a recent visit to Luxembourg, I travelled there on regional trains then returned home via a Flixbus in the late evening.
Watch out for special deals
In between your work placement or studies, you probably don’t have an abundance of time to constantly check rail discounts in the hope that a special offer might come up in time for your travels! But it is definitely worth keeping an eye on rail apps for your host country (DB, SNCF, etc.) to see if there are any sales for particular routes which may usually be quite expensive. I finally managed to get discounted tickets to Paris not long before I finished my year abroad after months of waiting for special deals, so perseverance is certainly essential as difficult as it might be!
Bring your student card/passport
Now that you have hopefully arrived at your travel destination, you are going to plan what you are going to do there. If you are studying abroad, your student card should entitle you to discounts or free admission into cultural places such as museums. If you are travelling to another country (i.e. Germany from France), you can still use your (French) student card and be eligible for discounts, which is always much-welcomed.
However, certain cities offer discounts or free admission based on your passport status. In Paris, free admission is usually determined by possessing an EU passport and being under the age of 25. While this may prove disappointing for British passport holders (another unfortunate legacy of Brexit!), all hope is not necessarily lost. For example, I visited the Arc de Triomphe for free by showing my long-stay student visa, although this should also apply to holders of a working visa. You never know when a passport/visa or student card may come in handy for entitling you to discounts, so it is always wise to bring relevant documentation with you for your travels because why not?
These are just a few tips (but not an exhaustive list!) for travelling as economically as possible during your year abroad and gaining an insight (via culture, history or food) into other regions in your host country. Whether it is for a day trip or a weekend break, travelling is definitely one of the most exhilarating elements of a year abroad and is not to be missed!