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A London Tourist on a Student Budget

A London Tourist on a Student Budget

'Hahn/Cock' by Katharina Frisch in Trafalgar Square
‘Hahn/Cock’ by Katharina Frisch in Trafalgar Square

One of the obvious expectations of studying abroad is constant traveling. Being in Europe puts a person near so many beautiful and cultured countries. I had this image of myself on a bus every weekend, ending up in the Netherlands, Germany, or France, coming home dazed and with an artifact on my lap from each city. Over the summer, I couldn’t imagine there’d be any limitations to this beautiful plan. My class schedule isn’t too full. Why not?!

I realized ‘why not’ when I started booking tickets to these romanticized places. Prices add up and a trip every weekend hits hard on the bank account.

Two weekends ago, I visited a friend in St. Andrews, Scotland and there was an error with my train ticket into the country. When I thought the original price was 39 pounds (About 63 dollars), it was 130 (About 209 dollars)!

My heart broke.

The following week, I booked flights to Spain and Paris during Reading Week – our Fall Break equivalent. Flight after flight I began to lose my excitement for taking future trips solely because I’m feeling sure that I won’t be able to afford them. I’m thinking of going on two or three more, but I’d hate to come home with no souvenirs and feeling defeated because airline companies ate all my money.

And so, to make up for the realization that fun isn’t always free, I decided a full weekend in London, doing things like a tourist would be perfect. I should get to know the city I’m living in anyway!

But there’s a catch and a challenge. Everything I did had to be free! I found this to be a challenge indeed, but here we go.

A continuously updated List of Touring London on a Student Budget:

STEP 1: Go to a Museum

THE Rosetta Stone!
THE Rosetta Stone!

I went to the British Museum expecting to spend an hour or two absorbing the usual museum painting and statues, but the British museum is huge. I visited maybe 5 out of the 32 (if I recall correctly) displays. The exhibits had art and cultures from various time periods and each different continent, sometimes individual countries. Almost three and a half hours later I forced myself to move on.

Step 2: Realize your original itinerary may change

The Westminster Abbey is large, beautiful, famous and highly suggested for all tourists. Also, entrance is  £15.00 for students. I’d really like to go see this renowned church and I was also hoping to get to the Tower of London (which was also on my To-see list for  £18.70). At this point I had to re-evaluate. My tourist weekend should be filled with popular sites in the big city that I should write home about! But I can’t afford all of these big city things in one day.

The 888,246 poppies

UPDATE: 888,246 ceramic poppies are set up outside the tower of London to honor each life lost during WW1.

Step 3: Realize there are always free events to attend

After rerouting from Westminster Abbey, I went to Trafalgar Square, known for its contemporary art installments and hosting lively events. I went for the view and stumbled into an American Football rally! IMG_0447The entire Atlanta Falcons team was there, so cheers to the NFL coming to England once a year and keeping my day spontaneous. That night, Thrill the World took place, encouraging zombie dressed persons to dance the famous Michael jackson ‘Thriller’ dance in Covent Garden for Halloween.

Step 4: Treat yourself!!

After saving some many, I’m hoping it’s okay to buy a think here or there. Turns out Trafalgar Square is a very short walking distance from Covent Gardens, which is home to shops, food, and more events. On the way, you’ll pass by some other enjoyable things, such as the theatre. London is very well known for it’s live arts, but it didn’t quite hit me until every magazine, tube station, street vendor and more brought up tickets to a new show. And since student prices are so tempting, I bought ticket! The following week I saw The Scottsborough Boys, a musical detailing the real lives of 9 black men convicted of raping two white women in the 1930s. Deep topic, but an entertaining night out.

Step 5: Research

There are always events going on in large places. There are people. There are holidays. There are people who want out the house. Join them! Don’t know where to go?  A quick google search or look on Time Out or Thrillist will help you out. I ended up at Apple Day, a local fall celebration, as well as an art installment further down the road. Local artist, Alex Chinneck, created a full sized two story house made out of wax. It was very interesting to see it being melted away.

A pound of flesh for 50p (The Melting House) by Alex Chinneck
A pound of flesh for 50p (The Melting House) by Alex Chinneck

Step 6: Call a friend!

After spending a month and a half here I’ve of course met some locals from my classes. I went bowling the other day! While it wasn’t exactly free, it’s cheap and you can spend quite some time having fun with people who are happy to show you around.

Theres fun to be found around every corner! So keep turning them and enjoy the foreign day. I’ll keep trying to explore London in my last month. More to come!



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