On the bus from St Andrews to Dundee, there are always several students with a suitcase. The Sunday post Reading Week involves a Leuchars queue that takes several buses to dispose of, and it is rife with conversations on a cheap hostel in Paris, clubbing in Budapest, or all the reasons not to go to Amsterdam. The bus is also filled with students on the daily commute from Dundee. Often, there is the poor soul who does not qualify for a YoungScot card, a non-student stuck between travelling groups of teenagers or early-twenties flatmates, and a collection of overflowing suitcases.
In a lecture hall it is not uncommon to find a student shamelessly scrolling the EasyJet website, looking for tickets at the cost of a large cup of coffee. Indeed, they take sips from their reusable water bottle, and set it down next to a recycled tote bag before making the purchase. Despite claiming a moral superiority by owning sustainable goods, and an abundance of vegetarians for an area culturally and geographically defined by meat-stuffed pastries, we have all fallen prey to the weekend getaway from St Andrews.
Despite my belief that international travel is glorified, entailing that I look down upon those who dare have new experiences during reading week, or venture outside of the towns neighbouring St Andrews, I find myself scrolling RyanAir with fervour and slight embarrassment. A three day trip to Brussels? Booked! And all for the price of a large Big Mac. Never mind the cost of living far greater than a small town, or a hostel price which leaves my bank account dry. A student’s hunger for travel, so long as it’s worth less than two hour’s work and involves a city with bars and cheap lodging, knows no bounds. Beyond the abysmal effects on the environment, I am hyper-conscious that regional travel can be more fulfilling, affordable, and easy to access than the cheapest flight through Western Europe.
The international student body may go 4 years without stepping on the soil between St Andrews and Edinburgh. Dundee and Glasgow are occasional ventures, Perth or Aberdeen rogue choices. And arguably, St Andrews has more in common with cosmopolitan cities like London, or a college town in the U.S., then it does with its surrounding area. To live in St Andrews for 4 years, particularly as an international student, and never explore the regions around us gives us little concept of where we actually live.
To call students ‘travel obsessed’ is not to acknowledge the effects of a large part of the adolescence spent in lockdown, without the new experiences or feral degeneracy that, hopefully, makes up one’s youth. Bringing a group of friends, who have only ever known each other within the confines of a student town, abroad — well, they may go lawless for a weekend and come home ever closer. Selfishly, the student travel experience is one of indulgence, perhaps sacrificing the sleep of a neighbour’s Airbnb. The location is merely a background to the big picture, a celebration of youth and sibling-like friendship. There is also a certain irony to going skiing in Zermatt, or flying to Brisbane for the Great Barrier Reef, if only because the very act of flying may leave both destinations obsolete by the end of the century. Flying is under 3% of global emissions, but per person emissions are far more affected by international travel than most other lifestyle choices. No university student will single-handedly change the environment, but many arguments in favour of travel are regardless undone by the nature of traditional student holidays. It would be a gruelling battle to find a student who knows a sentence in Hungarian after a girl’s trip in Budapest, nor much cultural knowledge from a football team’s holiday in Berlin. The same level of untamed nature which goes on in a student trip can be directed at the surrounding area, and may leave a student with a greater appreciation for areas just as often seen as ordinary.
I would hope few of us chose the university from a love for the metropolitan: instead, relish in the flourishing seven coffee shops in town, the four student pubs which overflow on a Tuesday, and the three beaches. A break out of ‘the bubble’ can consist of a twenty minute bus, a meal, and the same company of friends one might have on an international weekend getaway.