Posts Tagged ‘travel’

Submitted, home and with wheels

Jul 31st, 2010

About a week and a half ago I finally submitted my thesis, 40 months lab-work condensed into a document that was worryingly thinner than most. However, you work with what you have; padding the document with unnecessary figures and paragraphs will only serve to increase the length, to the detriment of the quality. As a secondary benefit, a short thesis also means that there is less to be familiar with for the viva, although I’m sure it will not work out that way in practice.

With the thesis submitted, there were few reasons to remain in Edinburgh; the viva itself isn’t until September. So last Saturday I headed south on the train, met my parents and a brother in Birmingham, and then headed off with my parents back to their house. For the first time in five years, I was back in my childhood room, not living out of a suitcase. It also meant, that for the first time in a year, I could get my desktop set up with a decent broadband connection again.

One of the problems with being back home, is the isolation. While I can’t pretend that my village is some rural backwater, without sewers, running water or electricity, it does lack basic facilities, such as a place to buy Jaffa cakes when you get a sudden craving at 8.30 pm.  This dire lack of Jaffa cake suppliers is made even more apparent when you consider the colour of my driving license: it’s green. The inability to drive may seem surprising for someone who grew up in a rural area, but despite the obvious usefulness of the skill, cars bore me, and early attempts at learning soon made it apparent that I wasn’t exactly a natural. Then it wasn’t long before I was off to university, and for the past eight years I have not only not needed a car, but have been living in situations where its often easier not using one. I’m sure I will learn eventually, but I’m wary of doing so, and then not driving for a few years.

Yet now I’m back in rural Wiltshire, and while I don’t intend to be here long, it is certainly far longer than I could cope with being housebound. On top of this, a somewhat lacking public transport system means that I’d be constantly relying on parents or other people for lifts, which is neither polite, fair, or convenient. This is especially true over the next two weeks, as my parents will be in Spain, and the drive back would require I give them a couple of days notice, hardly convenient; oh, and it might break the polite and fair requirements as well.

Without the ability to drive four wheels, I have instead settled on two, and have purchased my first bike for several years1; it has also been ten or more years since I last cycled. While they say that you never forget how to ride a bike, I was still a bit cautious as I set out on it for the first time. Last night I began with a simple ride up and down the road to make sure everything was flowing smoothly, and today I took it for a short 6 mile round trip to a local walking spot. Fortunately it appears that I do still remember how to ride a bike, and failed to have any embarrassing crashes. The trip also revealed that I need to raise my handlebars slightly, and to tilt the saddle back, something that will depend on my finding a suitable Alan key. The bike however does give me mobility, and in concert with the rail network it should mean I can get almost anywhere. And who knows, perhaps even if I do fail to drive a car for a few years after learning, I’ll slip back behind the wheel with similar ease to slipping back behind the handlebars.

I hope to get back to writing some of the more structured blog entries shortly, once I’ve had a bit more consideration about how I intend to use this website in future.

  1. A Trek 7.0 FX, if you are interested, or even for that matter, if you are not. []

Tips On Finding Cheap Rail Tickets

Jan 3rd, 2010

Over the past four years I have been a regular user of the British rail network. During this time I have regularly been frustrated with the pricing, which can vary from guilt inducing cheapness, to exorbitantly pricey, even for exactly the same journey. Finding the cheapest tickets isn’t easy, and it seems that every time I’ve traveled home, or to see a friend I’ve had to use a different technique at reducing the price from something that makes me reconsider my plans, to something more affordable.

The following post was made by me on a message board, but I have reproduced it here in the hope that it may be of use to someone else. It already assumes that the reader is familiar with sites such as thetrainline and knows that advance purchase of tickets can save them a lot of money. Advance tickets are made available at some indeterminate time before travel and will often sell out quickly.

I’m assuming that when checking for advance tickets you are looking at the price for singles, rather than returns? If not you’ll want to do so, as thats where the savings are.

I’ve had a lot of experience trying to book cheap rail tickets, and it seems I’ve used a different method each time. However most of my tips are better suited for considering long distance travel. However, In case they are of use to anyone:

1) Megatrain.com is great for travel between major stations, assuming you are flexible about travel times. The also provide coach travel, which might be worth a look. Particularly consider it in concert with the next tip.

2) Split tickets. For reasons that are beyond me, cheap advance tickets aren’t always available for the entire route, even on services with no changes. Try looking at splitting the journey. I’ve always had most luck when splitting at major stations, such as Birmingham. I’m not entirely sure of liability should you miss a connection on a split ticket. You’ll obviously avoid this issue is the two tickets are for the same service, although it’ll require you to change seats. In other cases I’ve got an open return for the second half of the journey, which has been short enough that its not a significant enough cost.

3) Buy from the appropriate website. Thetrainline.com is great for finding tickets, but once you know who runs the service you need, try looking at the operators website, as they may offer discounts if you buy direct.

4) Keep an eye on prices. Tickets are made available three months before the date of travel, however the cheapest tickets will not be available at this stage. Instead, the train operator seals a cat in a box with a vial of cyanide gas, which will be shattered by a hammer on the decay of a radioactive isotope. On the death of the cat the train operator also releases the cheap tickets. However, as no one can know when the cat dies without opening the box they instead end up resorting to the point at which they know they’ll be able to annoy the greatest number of people possible. Co-incidentally this ends up coinciding with the point of radioactive decay, as physics is shifty like that. To avoid being disappointed, check regularly. The trainline can actually notify you for popular routes. Once the cheap tickets are out the prices will slowly tick up as each price point sells out, however on journeys with multiple routes different operators will make their tickets available at different times due to their use of different cats. I’m not sure how the hell you are supposed to deal with this. I just stop looking at the prices the moment I jump in to buy a ticket and remain in ignorance.

4) Be flexible. Make sure you check every time, and every route, because the cheapest tickets are elusive and like to hide.

5) A tip which is probably not available to you: Buy a Railcard. You’ll save 30% and can regain your investment. But remember, when searching for tickets to also have a look without your railcard. Some tickets are stubborn and are scared of discount cards. This’ll sometimes mean that you need to buy the tickets separately if the return is cheaper with a railcard. Also, while you only get a Young-persons railcard up to the age of 25, you can buy one on the day before your 26th birthday and it’ll be valid for a whole year.

6) Goat sacrifices may help your cause. However the public transport gods are fickle. Prices may go up, as well as down.

Edit: Just thought I’d clarify, that all by talk of the advance tickets being sneaky tricksy buggers was not exaggeration. Often I have sat back distraught, thinking I’ve exhausted all avenues and will have to pay almost £100 to get to see my family. Then, just as I’m about to give up and throw it all in a tiny change in search parameters, such as using a different website (despite the fact they all go through the same system) and then suddenly a ticket appears for a tenth the price, with no obvious rhyme or reason why it didn’t show up before.

Oh, and be wary of clicking ‘back’ once you’ve selected a ticket. I did that once, and it seemed that it allocated the last cheap tickets to me, and failed to release them when I went back to change seating preferences. I then had to wait a tense half an hour while the system sorted itself out, during which it would just produce an error if I tried to select said tickets, even from a different browser. Finally the system reset itself. Seemingly the tickets I was initially going for had sold out in the meantime, but the band B cheap tickets were available for only a couple of pounds more, instead of the £20 more of the standard tickets.

In addition to the recommendations here, I’d also suggest playing with some of the fare finding features over at nationalrail.co.uk, it requires a bit of patience, and doesn’t always make it apparent as to exactly when the cheapest tickets are available, but should give you indications as to what prices you can expect for the route.

In other news, I have take todays and yesterdays photos for the twenty ten photo project, however will be waiting until I get my desktop set up again before I upload them.

I invite any further tips in the comments.

Travels with technology

Feb 19th, 2009

Phone, iRiver, DS, Wind; the number of pieces of technology I travel with is a bit silly, or would be if I didn’t forget to pack things. Yesterday I synched my iRiver, downloaded a couple of podcasts, and got it charged up. I then left it on my desk. Even more annoying I also left my headphones, meaning I can’t even use my laptop to listen to music or play any games which require sound; not unless I want to be murdered by my fellow passengers anyway.
I also have the annoyance that Virgin don’t seem to have wised up to the fact that it is 2008, and so my search for wireless networks yields nothing. I’ll be on this particular train for four hours, so would have been willing to pay a small amount as well. Instead I’ve resorted to composing blog entries in word, and tweeting via text. This should probably worry me, as it does somewhat speak of an internet addiction.
Of course, the time could have been useful. I’m writing a short story at the moment for instance. But it exists on my desktop, and stupid me forgot to sync it across. There is also the ‘On art and games’ entry I’m writing, which again exists on my server. This is one of those times where cloud computing would be fantastic, except I can’t access the cloud.
So how am I posting this? Well the answer it, I cheated. When this actually goes up on my blog I’ll be safely home (or will have died horrifically in a train crash, the following entry being published posthumously). I’ll fiddle the time stamps though, because after all, no one reads the bloody thing anyway, so it’s not like it really matters.