The UK's capital is vast - but getting around doesn't need to be tricky
London is the 25th biggest city in the world, and navigating it as a new student can be a daunting prospect.
Whether you are attempting to travel from your student accommodation to your university, or using the transport system to experience London, there are certain ‘London life hacks’ which can make your money go further and your journey go faster.
1. Avoid travelling at peak times
Hello rush hour tube, goodbye personal space and fresh hygiene. Unless you’re a pro at holding a zen-like state for an entire tube journey and have sharp enough elbows to barge your way in and out of the tube, my advice would be avoid travelling at peak times.
Okay, so if you have a 9am lecture and have to make it across London, it is inevitable that you will have to use the tube during rush hour, but beware that your journey could take significantly longer due to the hordes of commuters. Leave yourself plenty of time, as you may have to wait for a few tubes to pass before you can squeeze on.
If possible, try to avoid peak times by planning your journey in advance. Going shopping for the day? Take the tube after the morning rush. Finishing uni for the day at peak time? Why not leave uni a little later, you could even use that time productively, such as using the library.
Not only will your mental health thank you, your financial health will also benefit. You are automatically charged a peak fare at rush hour, which applies between 6.30am - 9.29am and between 4pm - 6.59pm when you could see the cost of your journey rise by at least 40p per journey.
2. Take the bus instead of the tube
London's buses are the secret to navigating the city on a budget.
Taking the bus costs just £1.50. Whether you’re taking the bus a few stops (yes, there are those days when you just need to save your hair from the rain) or whether you’re taking the bus across London, once you tap on you are automatically charged £1.50, regardless of where you get off.
Thanks to the new ‘Hopper Fare’ you can take two bus journeys for the price of one if you touch in using the same card on the second journey within an hour.
Secondly, it’s no secret that student nights are often late nights. While the night tube is being phased in, most London buses already run 24 hours a day. Not only are London buses quicker (speaking from personal experience, London roads don’t tend to be heaving with traffic at 3am) but they are also a much cheaper alternative to taking a taxi home.
Finally, the London bus network is currently subject to extensive improvement. Many bus routes are being improved, weekend and night bus services are being extended and new bus lanes are being developed; all of which will make your journey faster and more enjoyable. The revamping of stations and stops, which display live bus arrivals and contain brand new audio-visual technology, can help you navigate your journey easily and allow you to check in advance when your bus will arrive to avoid you waiting around in the cold.
3. Get a student Oyster Card
With a student Oyster card, you can get 30% off the standard price of Travelcards and Bus & Tram Pass season tickets. If you travel frequently, a student Oyster Card is a good investment; although, be warned, a card costs £20, as opposed to £5 for a standard Oyster Card. You could also use a contactless card to travel around London with no upfront payment required. If you are only ever using pay-as-you-go fares, student Oyster fares are the same price and a Student Oyster will therefore bring you no benefit.
To be eligible for a student Oyster Card, you simply need to be over 18, live at a London address during term-time and be enrolled in full-time education. You apply online, the card gets delivered to your address and is valid for the duration of your studies.
A student Oyster Card is different from a standard Oyster Card as it includes your photo and your name; making it easier to get your card refunded and replaced if, like me, you’re prone to losing things (sorry mum).
4. Make use of 'Boris Bikes'
The most fun, and one of the cheapest ways to get around London is on a Santander Cycle, often known as a Boris Bike. Not only is cycling a convenient way to get from A to B, but it's also a great way to keep fit and experience London. All at a cost of just £2 for 24 hours.
While cycling is fast, fun and affordable, the process of hiring a Santander Cycle is somewhat confusing on your first time. Here’s how to do it.
1. Find a Santander Docking Station
2. Go to the docking station terminal with your debit/credit card, touch the screen to begin and follow the steps on screen
3. Take your five-digit release code to your chosen bike and type it into the docking point’s keypad
4. Once the green light appears, pull the bike out (and take note of the time)
5. Adjust the seat and cycle away!
6. Return your bike by pushing it firmly into an empty docking point and wait for the green light (to avoid incurring an additional charge, do this within 30 minutes)
Worried about your cycling abilities? TFL (that’s Transport for London) offers 1-2-1 or group cycle training sessions for free which can help you become a cycling expert in no time.
Worried about road safety? The introduction of new Cycle Superhighways running from outer London and across central London are specialised cycle lanes, which run alongside but separate to roads and therefore make your cycling journey safer and quicker. You could also take your own precautionary measures, such as wearing a helmet or fluorescent clothing, to keep safe while cycling.
5. Download Transport Apps
Using your smartphone to plan your journey ahead can help you navigate the city in a way which is cheaper, quicker and tailored to your specific needs. From personal experiences, there’s are the must-have apps to navigate London like a ‘proper Londoner’, and of course, all the apps I have chosen are completely free.
This app is essentially the Bible of London travel. It tells you EVERYTHING. From the different transport options available, the price of each option, live arrival times and even the amount of time it will take you if you were to get to your destination by jetpack (yes really), this app is a lifesaver.
The Tube Exits App
There is an odd satisfaction in getting off the tube exactly by the exit. Particularly when you’re about to be late to your seminar for the third week running. The Tube Exits App tells you exactly which carriage and door you need to get out at to be the first off the tube and walk the shortest distance. Genius.
When travelling by bus, the easiest way to plan your route is simply to input your start and finish locations into the app and it will work its magic. The app provides accurate live departure times, journey estimates and clear instructions if you need to change buses.
Santander Cycles App
Whether you want to find the nearest docking station, plan a route or check availability of cycles, this is the go-to app. Once you have released a bike, the app also allows you to set an alarm to alert you to when your cycle time is up; making it easier to avoid incurring additional charges.
Want to get around London for free? Walk!
Personally, I believe that the best way to get around London and get to know your city is to use your legs. Rather than standing with your face in somebody else’s armpit on the tube, walking around London allows you to see the sights and discover new things you would never have noticed otherwise. Here are the top three reasons why.
1. It's quicker
I am not lying. If you’re waiting for a Bakerloo train to go from Edgware Road to Baker Street, it’s quicker to walk. If you’re taking the tube from Mile End to Stepney Green, it’s quicker to walk. If you need to get from Leicester to Charing Cross, yes you guessed it, it’s quicker to walk.
2. It's healthier
Break the stereotype of a lazy student and walk your journey instead. Walking for 20 minutes is enough to meet the recommended minimum levels of moderate physical activity. Not only is it healthier, it is also better for the environment than taking polluting public transport. Walking is also healthier for the mind and helps to reduce stress; great for when you have those pressuring deadlines ahead
3. It's FREE
Need I say more? While you may be worried about getting lost, the Legible London street signs (aka tourist boards) provide maps and directions designed to make it easier to navigate around London. As well as being useful in providing a general sense of direction, the boards include directions to the nearest landmarks such as Tube stations and points of interest, and they include realistic walking times between places.