This weekend, I am going to Edinburgh, the Highlands, and Loch Ness. I’m so excited! Getting to Edinburgh was a top priority of mine (partially because I want to go to all of the countries in the U.K., but also because Harry Potter), but I didn’t think I would also be able to go to Loch Ness. It’s almost unreal.
But, as excited as I am, I am also a bit anxious about it. It is already an expensive trip, and I haven’t even gotten there yet. The problem is, I jumped onto this trip fairly last minute, and the planning for it was already done. The friend whom I am going with decided to fly out of Cardiff instead of London, saving time rather than money. So, I had a choice: either travel alone, but more cheaply, or travel with my friend, but at a cost. I hate traveling along, and I am way too dependent on flaky WiFi to start my trip off separated from my friend. So, that’s that.
This trip has had me thinking about different travel values, though. From planning my trip to get to Swansea to the trips I have taken (or plan to take), my main concern is always saving money. I don’t think this is unusual for someone in my situation. Poor college student studying abroad with no source of reliable income? Of course I am going to look for the cheapest ways to do as many things as possible! If I’m lucky—or smart—I can be efficient with my time, too. Sometimes, that requires some creative thinking.
That was the case with my trip over to Swansea. Another girl from UNCW, Meghan, and I planned our flights over together. Neither of us wanted to arrive in a foreign country completely alone. (Sidenote: if you are looking to study abroad, try to travel with someone else. It will make things so much easier for you. I’ll get more into this in another post.) We were having a lot of trouble finding a good flight, though. Flights out of Raleigh had almost doubled in price since I had first looked at them a week prior. Meghan was finding some decently cheap flights, but they were on airlines I knew nothing about, and they had multiple layovers. Some of them had 24 hours of travel time, which I was not about. And with multiple layovers, you also have to be conscience of the different airplanes’ luggage restrictions. The flights seemed like they were more trouble than they were worth, honestly.
When I was first looking into flights, before I met up with Meghan, my dad had suggested I work in a visit to New Jersey (where I am originally from and where most of my family and friends still are) and fly out of Newark, where flights are cheaper. I checked, and there was a flight from Raleigh with a layover in Newark which Meghan could take, and I would meet up with her on the Newark leg. That ended up not working out, for various reasons, but I couldn’t get the idea of flying out of Newark out of my head. The flights were half as expensive as those out of Raleigh! This , combined with something Meghan said, led me to explore a new option: creating my own layover.
Flying from Raleigh to Newark cost $69. Newark to London (a direct flight) cost around $540, roundtrip. This was less than a flight from Raleigh, took less time than any of the options we were finding on discount airline sites, and seemed like less hassle. (I could have flown Wilmington to Newark for around $80, but I once again chose money and a partner over convenience.) So that is what we did! We flew from Raleigh in the morning, left ourselves plenty of time to get our bags, go back through security, and get some food (plus the recommended 2 hour buffer for international flights), and then flew Newark to London that evening.
After getting our bags, we had to change terminals before we could go back through security. That was a bit of a hassle, but I am still glad we did it. If you are going to create your own layover, you can see if the airline will check your bag through to its final destination, but they may not always be willing to or recommend it (especially if you are changing airlines, like we did). It is more likely that the bags will get lost. That was something I really didn’t want to risk. And it all ended up working out okay.
Something that I would change about my trip from the U.S. to Swansea, if I could? Taking the coach bus. We decided to do that because it was a lot cheaper than the train and the trip was barely any longer, but I am not sure those savings were worth it. First of all, we ended up waiting about 2 and a half hours for our bus. On the ride, if I wasn’t asleep, I was queasy. I’ve never been carsick before in my life, but these big buses on Wales’s winding roads…they are something else. If you are someone who gets motion sickness, I caution against taking the bus.
Whether you take the bus or the train, here’s a bit of advice: buy your ticket in advance, if you can. I didn’t want to do that, because I didn’t know when our flight would actually land or how long it would take to get through immigration and customs. If you feel confident, though, get your ticket in advance. It saves you money. Also, invest in a National Express (bus) card, and a railcard. Both provide discounts when buying tickets. I don’t have a National Express card (my friend does), but I can tell you that if you plan on taking the train twice, the railcard pays for itself.