Travel Tips for the Oxonian

Allison You St. Catherine's College, University of Oxford, England


January 2, 2020
Currently Studying at: St. Catherine's College, University of Oxford, England
Homeschool: Northwestern University

Hello again, everybody! Currently writing to you guys from a train crossing through the Swiss Alps. Term is officially over, and winter vacation is in full swing! My family arrived in Europe a week ago, and now we’re traveling around Europe for the duration of the holidays. As a visiting student who has managed to do a little traveling while studying at Oxford, I thought I would share with my top travel tips for those of you as eager to see more of the world like me!

Pictured right: A snowy shot taken mid-ski run in Zermatt, Switzerland


As far as I know, most visiting students aren’t told their schedules for tutorials and lectures until orientation week. While you and your tutor decide on a compatible time slot together, tutors are often very busy people, and there is no guarantee that they will be available on the days when you would most prefer to take tutorials. This means that I would probably advise against booking trips happening during the term until after arriving at Oxford. Even booking weekend trips can be dangerous—if your tutorial is on Monday or Tuesday, you may want to be on campus and not traveling around during the weekends. For example, my tutorials were on Tuesday morning and Wednesday morning, so I would usually leave Oxford on Wednesday afternoon and come back Saturday evening, leaving all of Sunday and Monday for me to write my essays. 

Pictured Above: The canals of Amsterdam

However, booking trips for immediately prior to Arcadia orientation in London and after the end of term are great ways to lock down some travel opportunities early on. While I personally did not have time to travel before the beginning of orientation, I had several friends who did go around Europe for a couple weeks (Arcadia will store your unneeded luggage in their London office at no cost whenever you need it, which is so handy!) For immediately after the end of term, I booked a weeklong trip to Morocco with two college friends also studying abroad. We bought tickets a few weeks before we left the states, so around 2 and a half months before our trip, and scored roundtrip tickets from London for $57!!! This is not to say that the trips I booked during term were much more expensive—Europe has a bunch of budget-friendly airlines that offer very reasonable prices. For my trip to Amsterdam, I booked flights only 48 hours in advance!

Pictured Above: Visiting the palm groves and barley fields of the Berber people in Morocco


You might expect to be doing a lot of traveling by train within Europe, but I’ve actually found flying to be the most cost-effective way to get from place to place. Flying is usually much cheaper than taking the Eurostar to Paris (although this is not true 100% of the time, so I would still check train prices just in case), and even Scotland is usually cheaper by plane than by National Rail. The three main airports with low-cost carriers in the greater London area are Luton, Gatwick, and Stansted. Sometimes booking a flight out of Stansted simply cannot be helped, but just note that it takes a little over three hours to bus there from Oxford, while Luton and Gatwick are around two hours away. 

During Arcadia orientation, you guys will receive a free code to sign up for a 16-25 National Railcard that the Arcadia staff very kindly provides. Be sure to sign up!! The railcard takes 30% off all NationaI Rail tickets, and I can’t even count the number of times that I used it to save money on travel to and from Gatwick as well and transportation to London. Luton and Stanstead are more easily reached by National Express coaches (coach is the British term for bus), which are a little less comfortable than the train but still get the job done. Another popular way to get to London other than the train is the Oxford Tube, which runs approximately every thirty minutes and goes for £5 a ticket. 

Pictured Right: Ice skating at Somerset House in London during the holiday season


Low-cost airlines are both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, they allow us to travel without breaking the bank. On the other hand, they can definitely be a pain to navigate the first few times around, and can even end up costing more than a regular ticket if you don’t read the fine print. Here are a few of the most important things to keep in mind when flying with low-cost carriers:

  • Check-in when and how you’re supposed to: Depending on the airline, you can be charged a hefty late-fee for not checking in early enough! For example, Ryan Air necessitates that you check in online at least two hours prior to your departure and failing to do so by even one minute will result in a £55 fee at the check-in desk. Additionally, be sure to check if you can use e-boarding passes/screenshots or if you need to print out your boarding pass beforehand. Most airlines recommend e-boarding passes, but for my flight back to London from Morocco, we had to print our boarding passes out. 
  • Make sure you adhere to the baggage allowance: Some nicer low-cost airlines (like Vueling) will allow the usual one overhead and one under-the-seat bag for carry-on items, but I learned the hard way that others (EasyJet, Ryan Air) only allow one carry-on per person. Avoid the £50 fine and double-check baggage guidelines! Also, note that most European carry-on luggages are a bit smaller than the ones you’ll find in the US. And, yes, they very well might make you put your suitcase in the metal bin/dimensions checker thing if they think your bag is too large.
  • Avoid booking transfers if you can: Low-cost airlines often run a little late and will not help you out with missed layovers! I would advise against booking layovers altogether, but if it truly cannot be helped, then make sure to give yourself plenty of time in between flights.

Pictured above: Exploring the Medina marketplace in Marrakech, Morocco


While learning and soaking in everything about Oxford should definitely be the main priority, this does not mean that visiting students necessarily have to give up traveling! My advice would be to always bring some less strenuous work on trips to avoid having to do as much catch up later. Personally, I always found reading and note-taking to be the easiest part of preparing for tutorials, so I would bring a couple (of the lightest!) books or some downloaded PDFs on every trip. In order to enjoy traveling to the fullest, I would block off the entire day once I left the hotel for having fun. Work time would always be in the mornings with a strong cup of coffee before the day officially started, as well as on planes, waiting in airports, on bus rides, etc. I definitely did not have a lot of downtime at Oxford to just chill and lounge around, but for me, travel was definitely a well-worth-it tradeoff! 

Early morning coffee + reading in the café attached to our hostel in Amsterdam

WHERE TO GO: The fun part!

  • Paris: As they say, Paris is always a good idea. It’s a beautiful city with excellent food (especially if you’re a bread lover like me), incredible art and history, and the best shopping in the entire world (don’t forget about VAT refund!). While Paris can be on the pricier side, it is definitely worth a visit, especially if this is your first time. I’ve been lucky enough to go on a few occasions over the past few years, but I still can’t seem to stop going back! Paris is a great option to book for during term, as it’s close by and getting around the city to all the different sites, shops, museums, and restaurants can be done easily through the metro system. One thing to be aware of is that France often has strikes going on, so be sure to time your visit for when there will not be any delays or cancellations in anything important such as transportation.


    View of the Arc de Triomphe from Champs Elysees, the busiest street in all of Paris

  • Amsterdam: I visited Amsterdam for the first time this past term, and it was absolutely incredible! I would describe Amsterdam as a charmingly quaint city with outrageously stylish people. Be sure to do a canal boat tour (Airbnb experiences is a great way to book this), visit the many renowned museums, and eat all the amazing street food (stroopwafel, poffertjes, and the FRIES)!

    My first ever stroopwafel! As delicious as it was beautiful. 

    • Prague: Where the beer is cheaper than water! Or, so they say. I found Prague with all of its red-tiled roofs and centuries-old architecture to be mesmerizingly beautiful. I would most recommend going in December when Christmas markets start popping up around the city and the truly magnificent tree in Old Town Square is all lit up with twinkling lights and ornaments. If you have time, the short hike up to Prague Castle is incredibly scenic and the castle complex itself is also pretty neat. While the food was not necessarily my favorite (its quite heavy), the beer is indeed great and comes at a very reasonable price. Prague nightlife is rumored to be excellent as well!

Cheers! With a stunning backdrop of Old Town Square, taken from the rooftop of the Teresa U Prince Restaurant. 

    • Germany: Oktoberfest (in Munich) is a great option for before-start-of-term trips! Be sure to book well in advance because tents sell out months beforehand and I, therefore, very sadly did not get to go this year. I have, however, heard great things from friends who have been. Fast forward a few months, and Germany once again becomes a top destination for travelers worldwide when the holiday season rolls around. As the birthplace of many Christmas traditions such as the Christmas tree and Santa Claus, Germany rightfully boasts some of the liveliest Christmas markets in the world. Get ready to drink and eat up a storm!

Waffles from the Christmas markets in Munich

    • Switzerland: Oxford does an annual ski trip to the Swiss Alps during every winter holiday! I’m actually going skiing with my family in the Alps, and therefore could not go on the trip, but it’s been very highly recommended to me by friends who have gone in the past. Other than just about the most beautiful nature I’ve ever seen in my life, Switzerland is also the top destination for fondue, chocolate, and basically all the good things in life. Be sure to escape the hustle and bustle of the cities for a few days to explore the villages in the Alps (I went to both Crans-Montana and Zermatt and fell in love). After visiting the mountainsides, I thought to myself: It’s no wonder that Switzerland is known for the quality of their dairy products—they must have the happiest cows in the world!

View of the Matterhorn (the most photographed mountain in the world!) from Zermatt

Downtown Zermatt on Christmas Eve

    • Morocco: Morocco was epic. Truly an unforgettable experience. I would recommend going to larger and more touristy places like Marrakech over smaller cities like Fez that I heard were a little more unsafe. Staying in a riad is a must! These traditional Moroccan homes with inner courtyards and dipping pools are stunning and honestly look like five-star hotels. Book early, because every riad only has a few rooms and the most well-known ones are usually fully booked. The most incredible part of Morocco for me was our 3-day trip to the Sahara desert, which was one-hundred percent an out-of-this-world experience. Just note that the nights are COLD during the winter months, so bring lots of layers!

Riad Yamina 52 in Marrakech. I would highly recommend this place for excellent service, very reasonable costs, and an absolutely beautiful stay!

Sunrise in the Sahara

Bonus Tip: All of the places that I went to in Europe accepted contactless card payment on pretty much every card machine. Make your life so much easier, and be sure to get a contactless card and set up Apple Pay! Even London tube stations accept Apple Pay at the turnstiles, which is so much more convenient than having to buy an Oyster card if you’re not going to be using the tube on a regular basis. 

Trocadero, Paris

And there you have it! We’re finally at the end of my top travel tips for the visiting Oxonian. I hope you guys found these useful, and happy travels!!