Marshall University's Student Newspaper

The Parthenon

Marshall University's Student Newspaper

The Parthenon

Marshall University's Student Newspaper

The Parthenon

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Bex Abroad: I Love Planes, Trains and Automobiles

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We talked about planes already back in the second edition of Bex Abroad: “Traveling to the Destination.” So, now, I think it’s time we talk about public transportation in the UK and the apps you need to get by.

Trains are the main source of transportation in major cities in the UK. Plenty of people still have cars, but the driving restrictions are much more authoritative here than they are in the US. For people studying abroad, for the first year of living in the UK, if you have an American driver’s license, you are legally allowed to drive. But, they drive on the opposite side of the car and the opposite side of the road! Parking is also more competitive than finding a spot near campus on game day, so most people just take a train or the Tube, which is London’s underground train network.

When you arrive in the UK, there are two apps you need to download ASAP:  Trainline and Citymapper. Trainline will allow you to search all train lines going to different destinations. The two major trains from Cambridge to London are called the Thameslink and the Greater Anglia services. On any given day, the cost fluctuates; it’s not like one is cheaper than the other, so being able to search all trains at one time through Trainline is super convenient. 

There are a few things about how trains work here that are different than in America.First, all train schedules are in the 24-hour time format, which has been weirdly challenging for me as I have never been exposed to 24-hour time. I’ve ended up setting my phone to 24-hour time and keeping my watch on 12-hour time, so if I am confused about what time 19:37 is, I have my watch as a reference. I just feel like I have to do a lot of math when trying to buy a train ticket, which is not my strong suit. 

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When buying a ticket, as well, you have a few options that are labeled confusingly as a foreigner. The most common is an Anytime Day Single or an Anytime Day Return. This allows you to buy a ticket to a general destination, like from Cambridge to London, travel at any time, from any station, to any station. If you buy a train ticket several weeks in advance, these tickets are less expensive. The difference between a Single and a Return is if you want to take the train back home. An Anytime Day Single would get me from any train station in Cambridge to any train station in London at any time of day. An Anytime Day Return would get me from any train station in Cambridge, to any train station in London, and then back to any train station in Cambridge, at any time of the day. Sometimes these tickets will also include a special deal of free Tube rides for 24 hours, which are the best tickets. 

You can also buyAdvanced Singles or Advanced Returns, which are bought in advance and are only valid for specific stations and specific times. These are usually a bit cheaper. You can buy tickets on the day at the train station, but these are not as reliable. Trainline will also keep you alert of any train strikes going on, which happens frequently, and they will alert you if that is going to impact your route. Sometimes, they will need to supplement routes with a bus trip to a different train station or just delay your train (at times by several hours).

Citymapper is another app I live by. You can put your starting point and destination into the app, and it will give you all the options of transit, how much they will cost, how long they will take you and the most efficient routes available. It also tells you the most pleasurable experience for the Tube!

Let’s say I was in South London and wanted to get to Buckingham Palace: Citymapper will tell me how to get there by bus, by train, by Tube, by bicycle, by car and on foot. It will tell me how much it would approximately cost to rent a bicycle, to hire an Uber, local taxi, or Bolt (the British version of Uber), which buses to take and how to get from bus stop to bus stop if there are transfers needed and the same with the Tube. So, you can decide which one is the best option, which will likely be the Tube. 

The Tube is so fun! There are several lines, such as the Northern Line, the Victoria Line and the Bakerloo Line. Citymapper will tell you which lines are needed, and if you need to take the northbound, southbound, eastbound or westbound. It will give you a live update on when the Tubes are leaving the station and which section of the Tube is the least occupied. 

On the Tube, most peoples’ phones won’t work because it is an underground railway. So, things like watching Youtube or Netflix, calling a friend, or listening to music that isn’t downloaded onto your phone, won’t work. Also, the Tube is so loud. Rushing through tunnels at that speed makes listening to music or podcasts nearly impossible. I recommend bringing a book or newspaper with you everywhere. People will often leave their read copies of newspapers on the backs of the seats, and you’re welcome to pick one up and read it. 

A lot of stations in major cities have really good restaurants and shopping at the street level, so you can basically have dinner and get your grocery shopping done on your way home from work or school. During busy hours, it is hard to find a place to sit, so people will often stand by the doorways or in the aisle of the individual Tubes, and sometimes they do pack people in like sardines. A few weeks ago, I was going to Camden Market on a Saturday afternoon, and there were so many people in the train when I reached my stop that I literally had to be shoved off the car by a friendly British mother who was shouting, “Everyone move, she’s trying to get off!” It was scary but greatly appreciated. 

British people also call the Tube “the train,” and they call trains “trains,” so that gets a little confusing. You also can’t refer to an actual train as “the overground train” to try to differentiate because there are certain spots of the Underground Tube that happen on elevated rails called “The Overground Underground.” So, basically, everything is a train, and everything is named the same thing, so it’s best to just smile and nod when people are talking about trains and check maps for clarification later. Good luck. 

See you in 61 days, Marshall!

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