We’re all going on a Summer Holiday!

8 July 2011

May Week came and went – and now there are fourteen glorious long weeks of summer ahead of you. After a year spent slogging your guts out at Cambridge, it is very tempting to crack open those textbooks once again and get a head start for Michaelmas. But if you have the willpower to tear yourself away from next year’s reading list you may decide to do something else with your summer. There is always the sensible option of getting a job, which may well be enjoyable, rewarding and lucrative. Unfortunately, it is a tough economy to break into so not everyone will be able to secure such an opportunity, and for those not fortunate enough to find themselves in Wall Street, travelling may well be the best option.

So you arrive home, hung-over and nocturnal; sure signs of a successful May Week, with little idea what the next three months will hold for you. After all there is no time to plan such trivialities during the exam induced panic that is Easter term.

The first step is to decide where you want to go. Next figure out where you can afford to go. If you have your heart set on seasonal activities be sure to check that you will be visiting your chosen destination at the appropriate time of year. You may think that you have scored yourself a bargain flight but it is no good showing up in the Alps with your skis in August.

A little bit of research will undoubtedly pay off but be sure not to over plan. We have all seen the ‘can’t waste a minute’ traveller who is so absorbed in the guide book from the minute they get off the plane that they walk through the wrong immigration line. In any case, to survive at Cambridge it is important to train yourself to deal with highly stressful situations. Meticulous planning of trips will reduce the likelihood of you misplacing your Visa forms or forgetting your passport. These kinds of events are perfect preparation for Tripos induced anxiety.

Before you travel, check the local customs of your destination. Make sure that you know where the dodgy areas are – because every city has them- and how to avoid taking unnecessary risks. If you are travelling on your own then make sure you know where to find help; if you are travelling with a friend make sure they are not a liability.

Work out a transport plan – your trusty bike may get you from college to the lecture hall in an instant but pedalling through New York isn’t much fun. You can rely on the trains in Italy to get you across the country but don’t count on it in the USA. That circle island bus that the guidebook says comes daily in the South Pacific? The locals have not seen it yet this month.

Make use of local knowledge, people that you meet can be a much more reliable source of information than guide books which may mislead you. But do not be too trusting; that toothless guy offering you a lift on his moped may be completely harmless, but when he starts circling back to follow you it is time to move on.

Try not to stick out too much. It is easy to spot a Japanese tourist in London but even easier to be spotted as a tourist in Japan. Being recognised as a foreigner could bring you some unwanted attention wherever you are, so take care to keep a low profile when necessary. It is common for unscrupulous taxi drivers and touts to rip off travellers so be sure to keep your wits about you.

Even more importantly, if you do take a taxi make sure it is legitimate, or else you could find yourself dropped off in the middle of nowhere with an empty wallet and some nasty threats.

Places can change after dark. Walking down a seemingly ordinary street at night could end with you being chased by pimps or cornered by thugs. If you do run into trouble or get lost try to avoid getting the folded map out as this is about as useful as a giant ‘vulnerable tourist’ sign.

There are always risks that need to be taken when travelling. If you are not agile enough to dodge bottles coming for your head then don’t take photos of the ladies of the night in Amsterdam. Know your limitations and stick to them. Look after your health as best you can and pack the standard insect repellent and first aid kit. It does not matter how tanned you are if your legs are so bitten it looks like you have measles! Make sure you get the required injections before you leave and check up on Visa requirements.

Booking trips can be confusing and expensive but there are ways to cut costs. Try to avoid bringing excessive amounts of luggage, many airlines will gouge you for excess luggage and charge you for anything that you check in. Besides you are going to have to carry it!  That Quantum Mechanics textbook might seem like essential plane reading now but when you are trekking up Machu Picchu you may think differently. If you are booking something last minute then the internet is your best bet; do your homework to secure a bargain. The high street agents have higher overheads so inevitably will be more expensive.

Travel insurance is a must; check the limitations of any free policies that your bank account offers as they are not always as thorough as they make out. Paying by credit card may incur a fee but it does give you a bit of security if things go wrong. Card companies will pay up if your airline goes bust.

If you find yourself stranded due to volcanic ash or waiting a week for a boat back to civilisation then make the most of it. Things do not always go to plan but that is the fun of travelling, the journey is the adventure. Be scared, get nervous and be excited. Challenge yourself, learn a lot and enjoy it. But save the horror stories for when you get back safely. It is kinder and more rewarding to worry your friends and family from the comforts of their sofas, where they can see for themselves that your story has a happy ending!

For those real thrill seekers, travelling might not cut the mustard. But fear not, the University Library will be open all summer.

Sophie Dundovic

Image: Barkaw