Sunday, 9 October 2016

The Weak Bitch's Handbook: Travelling the UK



I know, I know. It's been so long since I updated with a travel post despite all my promises to. My writing took a turn halfway through my exchange when I'd experienced a paradigm shift of sorts. There was just so much more to travelling than taking photos and writing travel guides and I was happily lost in all of that. The previous post I wrote upon my return was somewhat about that - the realisation that my experiences were mine and I didn't have to feel obliged to share them.

But lately I've been separated from the last batch of friends I made on exchange (the sg warwick kids have finally started term) and waves of post-exchange nostalgia have hit me hard. Looking through my albums I realised that I've still got some photos here and there that haven't seen the light of day, so why not give them airtime while reviving this space?

So here's hoping that the remaining instalments of The Weak Bitch's handbook will allow those of you who are reading this to discover their own adventure, take a 5 hour bus ride to wherever and perhaps find themselves along the way.

I'm starting with UK just because.






Where to Go

When I got to the UK I made a list of cities and friends I wanted to visit. If you're currently studying in the UK or plan to take a trip there you probably have a few places in mind, so this shouldn't be much of a problem. If you're still brainstorming and need recommendations, I recommend Chester, Edinburgh, Devon, Stratford-upon-Avon, the Cotswolds, Oxford/Cambridge. Some of you might want to go to cities known for their famous football stadiums and watch a match there. Lake and Peak District are good for those who like a bit of nature and a hike, but I personally found the area underwhelming compared to places like Innsbruck and Hallstatt in Austria. London, of course, is a no brainer.

I've yet to visit Wales and Isle of Skye in Scotland but those are next on my list when I get the time and cash. Oh and don't go to Coventry, that is all.


Getting Around

1. Coach, Train, Flight or Car?

First of all, clarification must be made between buses and coaches. This sounds like quite an obvious thing but if you're from Singapore it really isn't. Buses are intra-city, which means you just hop on and off the bus and wait for them at bus stops, like how you would a SBS bus in Singapore. Coaches, on the contrary, take you from one city or country to another. You have to buy tickets for these in advance, if not it gets very expensive.

There are many pros to taking coaches. They're the cheapest mode of transport most of the time, and the English countryside is quite a sight to behold if you're a city kid like me. So much land!! and grass!! Cows!! HORSES!!! COTTAGES??!!

There are a few major coach vendors in the UK, such as National Express and Megabus. The coaches in UK were always roomy with reclining seats and toilets from what I remember. As a rule of thumb, the earlier you book the cheaper the ticket. Plan in advance!

The same goes for trains. Train tickets are usually more expensive than coach tickets, but sometimes the difference is so negligible (£3 difference or less) that the train ticket may actually be more value for money because it just gets you there so much faster. When booking trains, Trainline will be your best friend. I think I referred to this site every day for 2 months lol. A lot of times the places I travelled to were determined solely by price. If tickets were cheap, I went.

The reason I'm bringing in flights is because in certain circumstances, flying can actually be cheaper than taking a bus or train. Take for example this hypothetical trip from London to Edinburgh, with prices courtesy of Trainline and Skyscanner:



If I choose the cheapest timings and dates, the return trip will cost me £40. Now let's look at flights for the same dates. 



I save myself £10 and 8 hours of travelling time! Of course, £10 still isn't that much of a difference. When I was deciding how to go to Edinburgh in February, return train tickets were frighteningly expensive (£80) while a return flight was £50. The flight wasn't exactly cheap, but it was clearly the more affordable choice.

One thing to note about choosing flights over trains or buses though - if the price difference is very slight, the latter may still be more practical. This is because airports are usually located outside of the city central, so the cost of getting to and fro the airport might cause you to spend just as much as if you were to take the train. Train and bus stations are located within the city, so you could even walk from to wherever you have to get to next. Transport within the UK is ridiculously expensive and always has to be taken seriously as part of your travelling expenses. I haven't taken a single trip on public transport for less than 4SGD, even if it was just a couple of stops on the bus or tube.

Now I don't know much about driving within the UK because I've never done it. Renting a car if you're below 23 means you have to pay extra for insurance and that can add up to quite a sum. But if you have the budget and the confidence to navigate UK's narrow roads, I think driving through the English countryside at certain points of your travel could be really nice. If you have a friend in the UK that owns a car and is willing to travel with you, even better!

2. Get a bus or rail pass

For the rest of us plebeians who don't drive or would prefer not to, UK has discounted rail and bus passes for people aged 16-25. The card gives you discounted fares (1/3 off), and how it works is that you book your tickets normally online or at the station but select the 16-25 option for the discount. You will only be checked by the inspector while getting on the bus or randomly on the train. Google "rail pass discount code" and you can get the pass cheaper sometimes. I highly recommend it because I earned back the cost of the card from the money I saved on tickets within 2 trips or so. Each railcard is non-transferrable (your face is on it) and valid for a year.

3. Directions

I'm extremely blessed to be one of the few women with a decent sense of direction. I used to think it was a sexist assumption that women were bad with directions until I travelled with so many of them and realised I was the exception to the rule. So these are rules I live by, not just in UK but in general:

  • Google maps is your best friend. Get a SIM card upon arriving in the UK so that you have data, or download offline maps and save the places you want to go to. 
  • Download the Citymapper app. It tells you the fastest way to get to different places with public transport. Downside is that it isn't available for every city, upside is that the transport information can be more updated that Google map's. Tells you the cost also. 
  • When following online maps, also cross refer to street signs to make sure you're on the right track.
  • Remember where things are by recognising the landmarks that surround it. 
  • Be alert and keep your eyes open even if you're with a friend who's navigating. Humans are fallible and if your friend is me, she's likely to be very tired by the 5th day. 
  • Don't be afraid to ask for directions.

Where to Stay

Like most things in the UK, accommodation is expensive. Even in comparison with other European countries, hostels there were more expensive by virtue of the exchange rate. I mostly took day trips and went back to sleep in my flat to save cost, or lived with friends who so kindly let me take half of their single beds. In Edinburgh and Dublin (not UK but close enough) I stayed in hostels, while travelling with my mother to Lake District we stayed in a hotel. I almost always stayed with people I knew in London because hostels there are overbooked and overpriced.

I guess what I'm saying is that where you stay really depends on your budget and company. Always try to stay with friends if possible, it's free and they can show you around! When travelling alone I prefer staying in hostels rather than Airbnbs because it's safer. My friend Carina wrote a fantastic and comprehensive post about whether to choose Airbnbs or hostels and you can read it here.



What To Do

I'm a unique traveller - I plan my itinerary almost always around food. After asking for recommendations either from friends or Siri, I save food places in google maps and plot out what sights I can see along the way, in-between my meals. But this didn't really apply in the UK because if you didn't know yet, this region isn't exactly known for its national cuisine (someone had to say it, I'm sorry brits). I couldn't afford to eat in restaurants so I must confess that I had my fair share of packed lunches, meal deals, Pret soups and M&S cafe grub. The quality and variety of food is amazing in London but be careful - as my friend Jerrold will tell you, it's very possible to blow your life savings just on food here.

But food aside, there is so much to do in the UK. There really is something for everyone. Art is everywhere, even random galleries have Monets and Rembrandts in them. Museums are aplenty. A wrong turn may lead you to a charming writers' museum. The walking tours are fantastic, whether free or not. Despite the constant drizzle the countryside is breathtaking. There are always gigs to attend. Markets in London are a treat. The architecture in old cities are a sight to behold. And if you're feeling religious? There are churches everywhere.



So I guess this is it for this post! I hope your time in UK is magic, despite all its quirks and inefficiencies. When people ask me if I miss UK, I always say yes, but not as much as I missed Singapore while I was there. But now that I've fully settled into SG life (and by fully settle I mean I have 4 dance practices a week and I feel constantly exhausted) I find myself wanting all of England again. Cheap baby spinach, 1 hour sunsets, days where I do absolutely nothing but take walks and go home to my friends. How curious it is to realise that now home is in two places; and that a bit of my heart lies somewhere in a house 10,000km away.
  

4 comments :

  1. Hey Chloe! Thanks so much for sharing your travelling tips :) I've not yet traveled outside of the States but plan to do so. Your post is really insightful - definitely helped paint a picture for me to know what to expect!

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    1. hey liz thanks for dropping by! do travel when you get the chance to, I'm sure it'll open up your eyes to so much! meanwhile, I really want to visit the states sometime :)

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  2. This is so helpful! I've always wanted to travel to Europe..I'll keep this post in mind. Thanks!

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    1. glad this was useful to you marisa! x

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