STUDENT FINANCE: Travel need not cost the earth

LIZ SEARL

Think of the street cred, think of the number of freshers you will wow next year, and just think of the summer months away from your parents...

A few years ago, you had to be rich or horrendously in debt to throw caution to the wind and trek off during the summer, but now it is cheaper - and easier - than ever to seek adventure abroad.

Whether you want to go to the Moose Dropping Festival in Alaska or fancy yourself as the next Jules Verne, it really is a case of have International Student Identity Card, can travel. Take it along to your nearest STA Travel Shop - which specialises in "young independent travel" - and you can conjure up a London-New York return flight for pounds 150 for starters.

STA Travel has branches across the country and also specialises in bargain basement round-the-world trips. A favourite with students and parents alike, the company uses reputable airlines, but barters down prices on behalf of the independent traveller.

Worried parents of first-time trekkers can also rely on the company's International Help Desk, which accepts reverse charge calls from students who have lost tickets, friends or luggage. "To date," the company boasts, "no call has been insurmountable."

Perhaps a little more sedate are the current student discounts available on some ferry crossings. These vary according to season and mode of transport and tend to favour the backpacker. Sealink and Sally Lines have the best crossing discounts, but Hoverspeed offers student and under-26 reductions for its European coach service from London. Prices start from pounds 39.

However, it is worth checking before you book which student identification companies require. Although your NUS card is accepted by most, it may still be worth investing pounds 5 in an ISIC card, which will get you discounts at many museums and institutions abroad, anyway.

Before you set off, it is worth checking whether your bank can help out. Some managers will be prepared to offer a bigger overdraft, and you may consider using a credit card which most banks provide free for students.

Lloyds, NatWest and Midland all offer commission-free foreign currency and travellers cheques, and Midland offer a free Eurocheque card to freshers.

If your sense of adventure doesn't run that far, or you fancy a British long-weekend, it seems that there is only so far you can go to get cheap national travel. At pounds 16, a Young Persons Railcard (free with Lloyds student accounts) will get 16-25 year olds or students in full-time education one-third off most British Rail tickets for a year.

You will also get admirable discounts on rail/ferry tickets booked to Ireland. London-Dublin via Holyhead works out at pounds 34.40 on an economy ticket (beware the restrictions, though). Compare this to Manchester to London on a YP SuperAdvance (outward and return journies booked 24 hours in advance) at pounds 20 and you've got a bargain.

When you're a fresher, everyone wants your business, and it is the best time to pick up a bargain. Make the most of it - you will spend hours at subsequent fairs trying to fake fresherdom to pick up on the offers you missed. At fairs this year, National Express is offering a 3-year coach card for pounds 14, including pounds 4 worth of free travel vouchers. The card will reduce coach tickets by 30 per cent. It normally sets you back pounds 7 a year/pounds 18 for 3 years.

Finally, if the call of India, Paris or London alludes you, there are always the club outings to tempt you from the campus. But then, would you rather send home a postcard from Scarborough or from a whale watching trip on the St Lawrence river in Canada? Why choose - do both.

STA Travel publish several free guides to independent travel. Call the Round the World desk on 0171-361 6262.

Young Person's Railcard and National Express cards available from rail and coach stations across the UK.

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