GoTwo | London (for 12 hours)


With low-cost international travel seemingly in abundance, Peter Molloy investigates if it really is possible to spread your wings on a student budget.

With budget airlines still offering dizzyingly low prices on certain routes, a bit of discriminating research coupled with flexible travel dates mean that descending upon major European destinations like Britain’s capital for a daytrip is very much a viable and surprisingly inexpensive travel option.

Flying to London, by way of Ryanair’s daily 6.30am flight to Stansted airport means that twelve-hour travellers will find themselves, Red Bull in hand, standing at the Aircoach stop at a blearily early hour when most city-centre clubs and pubs were only approaching kicking-out time for the previous night.

The return flights themselves can be reassuringly cheap. Ostensibly €0, even after Ryanair’s irksome habit of factoring in charges for every possible overhead right down to the co-pilot’s lunch money was applied, the final bill still only amounted to €40 per person.

Put in context, the same sum is unlikely to be sufficient to cover a return train trip to the decidedly less exotic attractions of Limerick or Cork.

From the moment their feet hit the tarmac of the Essex airport at around 8am, day-trippers have the equivalent of a full working day in the office to make their way into the centre of London and spend the day as they wish.

A brief train shuttle into Liverpool Street Station drops visitors within London’s teeming financial centre with time to spare for a much-needed coffee before the day begins. The short walk to St Paul’s Cathedral means that travellers can soak up the world famous dome in its home TRAVELTRAVELamidst the stunning city skyline.

For the closet military history buff, London offers the welcome opportunity to satisfy curiosity and observe the changing of the guard in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace. At 11am daily, the old guard presents arms before handing over the Palace keys to the new guard amid the sounds of the 35 member-strong of the Military Band.

With more than enough time for a leisurely pub lunch – including the obligatory touristy pint of English ale, visitors may have to pick and choose their favourites amongst the catalogue of London sights. A tour of the Tower of London, priced at £14 for students, can be particularly eye-opening or if two flights in twelve hours are not enough, another can be taken to the top of the London Eye.

For those who would rather return to the commercial pleasures of the massed retail outlets on Oxford Street, a visit in mid-November can be timed with the turning on the of Christmas lights. Traditional black taxis are also on call to sweep travellers off to Knightsbridge where they lose themselves in the luxurious food halls of Harrods.

So is the promise of a cheap trip worth the attendant hassle? Unquestionably so. Bear in mind though that a journey like this does inevitably mean a very long day. Rising at a painfully early hour to travel to the airport followed by 40 odd minutes of drooling unconsciousness wedged against the plastic headrest of a Ryanair. Its 737 doesn’t have the same feeling as a well-rested traveller might have upon waking up in a new country.

The experience of travelling with a budget airline is, as the old saying goes, you get exactly what you pay for. Ryanair can be admirably consistent in placing customer service and satisfaction a very distant second to maintaining a healthy bottom line.

A small amount of shopping around means that short haul European travel is more than achievable with exactly the same ultimate objective – make an escape, see the sights and treat the ‘better half’, all at the same time.