Thursday, 27 October 2011

Saving and Spending at Harlaxton

Money is a pretty big concern for college students, doubly so for the ones who travel abroad. At Harlaxton things get even weirder as students cross currency lines throughout the semester. Right now I’m going to give a few tips on how to save money while you’re here, when you should spend money, and basically what to expect from a student’s point of view.

Thinking ahead is the single biggest way to save money here. Research your destinations. Pick a hotel near an airport, or near the attractions you want to see. Order a packed lunch ahead of time (you’ve already paid for them anyways). Many places have free attractions—find some that interest you. Travel in groups to split some costs, along with staying safe. Get a youth railcard—it will pay for itself if you take one trip by train while you’re here. If you want to go to an airport, ever, you will take that trip.

Saving money is alluring, but there are times when it is not the best option. My experience with Ryanair is pretty much the prime example of this. Ryanair and Easy Jet are the two cheap, inter-Europe airlines that college students frequent. However, I and others have discovered that one reason they are so cheap is that sometimes they fly to an airport an hour or two outside of your actual destination, then charge you for the bus fare to get to civilization. I bought into one of the ten-pound sales for Ryanair, going to Frankfurt this weekend, and ended up paying eighty or ninety in transportation costs.

Another time one should be willing to spend extra cash is when buying a hotel room or hostel bed. This is another place where research comes in. I’ve had friends who paid for their stay in a hostel, and couldn’t last through the night there because of the conditions. Staying safe is worth the money, and being comfortable is sometimes worth it too.

One final time when students should be willing to spend money is on the school trips. It is true that it’s often possible to travel to the same destinations at a better rate than the Harlaxton-sponsored trips. However, the school offers stress-free travel and stops at places you could not otherwise see, such as Hadrian’s Wall on the Scotland trip or Hampton Court on the way back from London. Independent travel is worth it by all means, but it may be worth the peace of mind and lack of stress to let the school occasionally book your hotels and travel.

Scottish-English border, which we stopped at on the Edinburgh trip.
The pound-to-dollar rate is something else Harlaxton students must take into account. Currently, it isn’t in our favor. However, it fluctuates, and the best time to buy is when the pound is at lowest possible value. Students who pay attention to this might go far.

Euros are also frequently encountered in Harlaxton travels. Despite the current unrest concerning the Euro, its value is still relatively high. Also, it is not unheard of for Harlaxton students to travel outside of the Eurozone to countries on other currencies. For example, Morocco uses the Dirham, Russia the Ruble, Poland the Zloty and Sweden the Swedish Franc. The easiest way to acquire these currencies is to pull cash out at the airport. Most people get bank fees for every overseas transaction; getting a lump sum (and storing it in small increments in different places for safety) helps to avoid these fees.

The Business Office at Harlaxton can exchange American dollars for pounds, but keeps no other currencies. Bureaus de Change are readily available, but they will keep a large portion of whatever you give them, and should only be used if you’ve already withdrawn a lot of cash and don’t want to deplete your bank account even more.

One last thing to be aware of is that, in Europe, swipe cards are going out of style. They are being replaced by chip-and-PIN cards for added security. This is usually not an issue but some students have had a hard time paying with their US swipe-style debit or credit card. This is another reason to keep cash on-hand. This is especially easy to do since Harlaxton has a no-fee ATM on campus.

Overall, try not to panic about money. Budget for travel, plan, and research. Know what you're getting into. Decide when being comfortable is worth the money and when it isn't. All of these will go a long way into making your travel more afforable and more pleasant.

-Katelan King

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