Go Forth and Holiday!

Progress reviews, teaching, supervising, paper writing – between downing another coffee and wiping away tears over another failed experiment, I’m sure you all feel that at times our PGR life is not the easiest. Though a caffeine addiction and working all hours of the week is sort of a status symbol in academia, we all need to take a break and rest properly from time to time in order to maintain the motivation, productivity, and creativity required for postgraduate research! So today, I’d like to talk about a topic that will make your supervisors flinch: holidays!

I’ll have to admit that I didn’t know much about Scotland before I came here, but I’ve been in awe with the countryside ever since. Whether you like hills, lakes, valleys, mountains, castles, the seaside, islands: we literally have it all at our doorstep. There’s nothing like clearing your head by venturing into the Great Scottish Outdoors – be it on a boat, by bike, or just walking!

Kayaking to Inchcailloch island (near Balmaha) and cycling along the shore to Tarbet: Loch Lomond never disappoints me!

One great initiative I can recommend for exploring Scotland are the tours run by International Students UK Tours (ISUK). ISUK organises affordable trips across Scotland and Northern England and is run by two international students. I’ve spent many a Saturday at the UofG Main Gate at half 7 in the morning, waiting for their coaches to pick us up – it would always rain and you would question why you were outside so early on a Saturday, but the day always turned out to be fantastic! We’ve visited Dunnotar Castle in Stonehaven, Aberdeen, Pitlochry, the Lake District, and even took a two-day trip to the Isle of Skye. All you have to do is hop on the bus – they take care of everything else. As they’ve made the trips many times, I think they have really perfected their itineraries with the best places to visit and they know exactly how much time you need at each stop to enjoy them fully. It’s probably the most affordable and least effort-intensive way to explore Scotland. Curious? Check their upcoming trips on Facebook or their website.

Rather go explore by yourself? You should check out the WalkHighlands website. They provide directions and maps for hikes all throughout Scotland, including the difficulty level, bog factor, and the ascend profile. They also have pictures showing the sights and views for every hike, which makes it super easy to pick a beautiful walk for any occasion!

Eilean Donan Castle and the Skye bridge during our beautiful trip to Skye in 2014 with ISUK.

While I’m very partial to wee Scotland – and if I may say so myself, the pictures look pretty great – let’s be honest: I’m writing this in March, it’s still snowing, and, to be fair, I cannot remember the last time the weather was nice enough to go for a proper hike or cycle. I mean, I love this country dearly, but sometimes you just cannot deal with another drop of rain! So what’s a poor PGR to do? Head to the airport!

SkyscannerThere’s few things I love more than hitting the “Everywhere” button on SkyScanner!

I feel that many people think traveling is only for the rich elite, and us busy PGRs have neither the time nor money to travel. But I’m here to tell you that you can work 70 hours a week, be on a student budget, and still take awesome trips! I’ve been here almost three years now and have travelled to at least ten different countries, in addition to going back home once or twice a year. It is possible!

Let’s do some math. Last weekend I was in Sofia, Bulgaria. Why? Because I missed my friends from home, we wanted to have some fun, none of us had ever been there, and the flight was cheaper than going back home or my friends coming to Glasgow. My return ticket cost £50 and we got a nice AirBnB, but you can find a decent hostel from £10 a night. A public transport day ticket cost £2 a day, with which you can explore the whole city and her surroundings. If you’re on a budget, you can do your own shopping rather than eating out, at a fraction of the price of what you can find in your local Tesco – your pounds are simply worth more in some countries compared to others. So for as little as £100, you can have a fabulous weekend away!

We saw the impressive St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and enjoyed 2 feet of snow on nearby Vitosha mountain!

In comparison to the world’s other airports, our wee Glasgow airport is probably utterly boring, but I love it. Not only is it so small you’ll be through security in 15 minutes, as a small airport it also boasts heaps of cheap trips to destinations all across Europe. Have a look at my search on SkyScanner for return tickets under £75:

cheapest month
Note that a return train ticket to Edinburgh costs £24.10, which is only an hour away. Take two of these and you might as well be in Spain!

Catch my drift? Mountaineering in Switzerland, getting cultural in Florence, port tasting in Porto – all these destinations are a maximum 3 hour flight away, making them perfect weekend destinations. As long as you’re flexible in when to go, and flexibility is one of the perks of our PGR job, you’ll have loads of options throughout the year. Compared to the UK, most European countries are cheaper (except Scandinavia), but if your budget is really tight I’d recommend heading to Eastern Europe. As a rule of thumb, capitals are always more expensive than other cities, and city trips are generally more expensive than holidaying in the countryside. However, accommodation is usually easier to find in cities due to the higher supply and demand. I love AirBnB for accommodation, but you can go as low-budget and adventurous as you’d like – from camping to couchsurfing.

Flying to a smaller, nearby city rather than your main destination may also save you some cash (such as flying to Pisa when you want to visit Florence  – and while you’re at it, might as well check out that tower!) but beware of train fares, as they can be very cheap in some, but expensive in other countries. A great example of “doubling up” on city trips is combining Bratislava (Slovakia) and Vienna (Austria), where the former is much more affordable than the latter, yet they’re only an hour apart by train, so you can stay in one but explore both. Finally, city trips are quick and easy to get to, but this does not necessarily mean you are confined to busy streets and concrete if you’re not much of a city person. There are lots of beautiful gems in nature to find just outside the confines of the city, requiring only a quick train or bus ride.

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We found this awesome castle in the mountains of Sinaia, just outside Bucharest (Romania) and a really cool sanctuary in Braga, just outside Porto (Portugal).

The benefits of travelling? You’ll get to experience new countries and cultures, see friends (or make new ones), enjoy some sun or snow, get some rest from the PGR rat race, and have some fun. And the benefits extend to your PGR work, too! For me, my trips act as hard deadlines before which I have to finish certain PGR goals. They help me work very intensively just before and push myself to finish my tasks, after which I can relax and take a break, and come back refreshed and with new motivation! Mini-breaks (3-4 days) are just long enough to make the flight time worthwhile and relax, yet are short enough to not interfere with your PGR work and not annoy your supervisors.

ScratchmapMy Europe scratch map so far – loads more to tick off!

And hey – while we’re still in the European Union and have the perks of free movement across borders, we may as well enjoy it, right?!

Have you been bitten by the travel bug as well, and what trips from Glasgow can you recommend? Any tips to share on travelling in style, but on a budget? Let us know in the comments or over on Twitter (@UofG_PGRBlog)!

All photos used in this blog were taken by myself, if you’d like to reuse any of them, please get in touch.

Post Author: Jiska van der Reest

Jiska is in her 3rd year at the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute, researching Cancer Cell Metabolism.

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