Study abroad is one of the most eye-opening experiences for a young student who wishes to learn about other cultures during a time when they can commit to travel and education. International learning includes figuring out public transportation, especially for American students who are only accustomed to traveling by car. Additionally, traveling alone or visiting a foreign country for the first time can make students increasingly nervous. Getting lost or missing the last train or bus can leave students and their parents overwhelmed with anxiety—think sleeping on a bench in the rain and panicked calls home. Although these fears are entirely normal, they shouldn’t prevent a student from missing out on an international experience.
Like many things, traveling via train is relatively easy once you know how to manage it. Of course, American students will likely be experiencing the European railways for the first time. There are several ways that young travelers can make the best of their experience or at least get to their destination safely.
1. Ask for help
If terms like “calling at” are unfamiliar, just go up to one of the staff (usually wearing a bright vest or logo name tag) and tell them your final destination. If there is an issue with a particular route, a staff member will be able to direct travelers to the appropriate alternate route.
2. Look at the ticket
Some tickets will state “any route permitted,” which means travelers can go by any route at any time of day (until the trains stop for the evening). This is the type of ticket nervous travelers should get. If something should go wrong, e.g., a fire on the train line, a staff shortage, etc., travelers can hop on another route without penalty or additional fees for new tickets. Some countries require the passenger to show their ticket upon entering or leaving the train station only, while others may ask to see the ticket at any time. Keep the ticket handy in this circumstance to avoid any penalties.
3. Buy ahead of time (if going a long distance)
Many student travelers will find out the hard way that there is not enough room on the train for them to sit. This generally occurs during peak season (June–August) and during the winter holidays. Standing on a train for an hour or more is wretched and will likely turn off a nervous traveler for good. If traveling from, say, London to Edinburgh or Rome to Florence, buy tickets a few days in advance and reserve a seat.
(Check out Trainline.com or The Red Spotted Hanky)
Nervous student travelers tend to want to handle everything in advance, but it’s important to remember that train tickets are non-refundable, so don’t let anxiety waste precious traveling money!
4. Collect your tickets
Travelers who buy tickets in advance can either have them sent to their residence or leave them at will call at the originating train station. When traveling through Britain, nervous student travelers can follow these exact instructions: Locate the self-service machine (often dark blue), select the “pre-paid” option, follow the instructions, and make sure you have all of the tickets listed on the machine. You must insert the same credit or debit card you used to purchase the tickets and punch in your confirmation code in order to retrieve your tickets! Make sure to put these two items on your check list prior to leaving home. (This can be a problem if mom and dad bought your ticket, unless they want you to travel around Europe with their card.)
If you have not pre-paid for your tickets, go to the same blue machine mentioned above and press the “purchase tickets” option. (Tip: check different routes prior to purchasing. A ticket “via London” might be $68, while a ticket “not via London” might be $25.)
5. Save money (and help your parents' anxiety too)
Every traveler wants to save money, and anxious students are no exception. There are several ways a student can save a bit here and there.
- Pack a brown bag lunch and buy bottled water at a local supermarket the day before you travel (food and drink at the station or on the train, if available, will cost a pretty penny).
- Buy a ticket with a departure time after 9:00 a.m. to avoid peak rush-hour fees.
- Wear comfortable shoes. The more a traveler can walk, the less they will have to pay on bus, subway/underground, and taxi fares. (Keep in mind that an anxious traveler—or anyone traveling alone—should be mindful of whether it’s safe to walk in an unfamiliar city. Use common sense and always spend money on a taxi if things look unsafe).
- Pay in cash. Many merchants, especially taxis, have a hefty surcharge (usually 10%) to pay by card. Additionally, most U.S.-based banks will charge customers a flat fee or percentage when an American card is used abroad. That $5 cup of tea and candy bar can easily become $10 when all the fees are factored in.