The UK web for a new arrival
September 30, 2010 1:22 AM   Subscribe

A non-English colleague's non-English son is off to the University of Warwick in England tomorrow! What not-obvious but super-useful UK websites will help him take full advantage of his new-found freedom (and maybe even save him some money)?

I'm looking beyond, say, Gumtree, which I imagine he'll hear about relatively soon after arriving.

I'm thinking more about websites which can answer questions like:

- Where can one compare the best prices on pay-as-you-go mobile phones?
- Is there a used book retailer?
- How can you check how bad the traffic is on the way up to Birmingham/down to London/wherever?
- Is there a site that helps one decipher the railway pricing system in order to get the best deals?
- Are there any farmer's markets in this area?

A few more details:

- He's basically a native speaker of English.
- I think he might be living in Leamington Spa.
- He'll be studying finance.
- He might be going to Brighton quite frequently.

posted by mdonley to Grab Bag (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Leamington Spa and Warwick Freecycle group.

Rail system pricing is a nightmare to decipher. The two websites I would use are The Trainline and National Rail. Most of the time they give the same information.

I don't know about farmer's markets (most towns have one weekly I think) but the other phrase he wants to look out for is "car boot sales". Basically that's like a swap meet/flea market. People turn up with their junk, usually to a field, and set up tables to sell their wares. It's usually only a few pounds to get in if you are a buyer.
posted by like_neon at 1:38 AM on September 30, 2010

THe UK is fraught with commercials for market comparision websites, so he will soon learn about them as well. I would just suggest the trainline as like_neon did and also see if there is a journey planner website for getting around Coventry and the area.

There is most certainly a fermers market in the area, but I have no idea where it is or where it would be. I am in Leeds, which is half a country away (or 2 hours by train) and even in my little suburb there is a farmers market.

As far as rail deals go there are two options either restrictive and cheap, ie you buy your ticket 2+ weeks in advance and you travel on that train and that train only, or flexible and expensive ie you buy a journey and can take any train you like and return within a month. He should definitely get a rail card though if he is going to be taking the train more than twice a year. A student rail card isn't that expensive and gets you 1/3 off all train travel, a trip to London will pay for a rail card itself usually.
posted by koolkat at 1:47 AM on September 30, 2010

Oh gawd yeah koolkat just reminded me, students get discounts on EVERYTHING. Always check if he can qualify. *grumble grumble freeloading partiers grumble* JUST KIDDING but seriously, discounts all the time.
posted by like_neon at 2:05 AM on September 30, 2010

Yeah a "16-25 Railcard" (which is what the student railcard is called now) is definitely really good value. I always use the National Rail website, which shows you the cheapest option for the journey you want and then directs you to the relevant train company website to buy the ticket.

If he is going to London at all, it's worth getting an Oyster card. They cost £3 (which you can get back at the end of your stay) and make using the tube and bus in London easier and way cheaper.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:06 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]
posted by nestor_makhno at 2:27 AM on September 30, 2010

Awesome Books is a great used-book retailer. Most books go for 1p (!) plus P&P but that still works out cheaper than Amazon. You can, however, access them via Amazon by clicking "Buy used". They sell a LOT of books. Or you can just order direct from their website.

QJump is a good advance-booking site for trains with lots of different fare options. He definitely should get a 16-25 Railcard, he'll save a ton.

He will receive a lot of useful information about living in the UK and living as a student during Orientation Week - which is for international students - and Freshers' week which is for all freshers.

I went to Warwick so memail me if you want to.
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:29 AM on September 30, 2010

Martin Lewis' Moneysavingexpert web site is worth a look when comparing prices for insurance, utilities, phones etc.
posted by hardcode at 2:46 AM on September 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

Seconding Moneysavingexpert. It's all you need.

Oh, and Hot uk Deals.
posted by fire&wings at 3:44 AM on September 30, 2010

My alma mater! From memory it was faster to get trains down to London from Coventry rather than Leamington. Important info: all the balti houses are on Bath Street.
posted by zemblamatic at 3:46 AM on September 30, 2010

This might sound a bit daft, because it is a completely different part of the country, but if he is ever travelling around London (which he is likely to do at some point), tell him to get an Oyster card - cheaper, more convenient, he can hand it in when he is done with it and get leftover money back.

This is something all my friends who visit London from afar (both English and foreign) completely fail to do. They all pay for paper travel cards and get burned.
posted by marmaduke_yaverland at 3:47 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Of course he knows that the University of Warwick is on the edge of Coventry and quite a few miles away from Warwick ;-)

Moneysavingexpert is probably worth more than a look. It's probably the number one stop for UK money saving advice and a good point to look before you get involved with comparison sites as they get into some good background detail. Worth signing up for the weekly email. They have a forum aimed at students too. Good for keeping up with rail travel offers.

Abebooks is a good aggregator to find the cheapest online sellers. Green Metropolis is great for secondhand books, both buying & selling. Ebay can be handy too.

Traffic England is probably the best site for road travel. They have an excellent page where you can get all of the live information from motorways (traffic flow, average speeds, what the matrix boards – the live roadside signs – are saying & feeds to the traffic cameras). (It saved my other half from a potentially horrific 4+ hour journey last Sunday evening as she was able to zip off the following morning.)

One of the local railway lines is Chiltern Rail. This link is to their 'mixing desk' (it's available on most UK rail companies' websites with different branding) where you can buy tickets for any rail journey based on cost rather than time. They also offer cheap barcode tickets sent to your mobile phone.

The local football team, Leamington FC, are doing a student special – entry to the next game with a pie & a pint for £6.50. They offer a Park & Ride service from Leamington Rail Station for popular matches so worth checking with the club. They have an interesting history having been disbanded in the late 80's but revived just over 10 years later, rebuilt from scratch with fans building the ground & the team starting at the very bottom of the English football ladder and now only a few rungs down from league football. (Three guesses where I was born ;-)

The Student Room is a good site for student life in general. Their University of Warwick wiki is here.
posted by i_cola at 3:52 AM on September 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

On preview, i_cola said it all much better!

The only thing I'd add is, for within-London travel, TFL have a journey planner which tells you how to get where you're going. You can check their website and see if your tube line is shut, too.
posted by citands at 4:02 AM on September 30, 2010

The University of Warwick, like most UK universities, runs a website just for the purpose of helping students integrate - it's run by their Student Union.

It's a good site and answers many of the stock questions students tend to have.

For travel, the standard sites are National Rail and National Express. Rail prices are byzantine. Whichever way he does it, buying in advance, traveling off peak times and enquiring at the ticket office whether breaking the journey up into parts can make a big difference on cost.

For books, the biggest cost saver is not buying everything new, and working out what you need to buy second hand and what can safely just be got from the library.

Farmer's markets are a red herring. They will typically be more expensive than a supermarket. Store own brands are a good cost saver.

Most towns have a free newspaper with classifieds. Failing that, freecycle (as mentioned above) is a good resource. In honesty, though, for the first year it won't be that complicated. He'll probably live in halls of residence, he'll drink in the student bar many nights, he'll shop at the local supermarket [tell him to get a loyalty card], cycle where he needs to in town and take the coach rather than the train when he heads off elsewhere.

Getting a railcard is a must if he wants cheap rail travel. An oyster card is a must in London.

If he needs cheap accomodation out of Warwick, it might be worth him becoming a member of the YHA.

All high street banks offer free banking and student incentives to sign up. Make sure he doesn't go his overdraft limit and steer him well clear of credit cards, where the costs are outrageous unless you pay it off every month. Ditto store accounts.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:14 AM on September 30, 2010

Farmer's markets are a red herring. They will typically be more expensive than a supermarket.

But they will generally have fresher, local & generally more tasty produce. One thing I learned well in my pauper days is that cheap food was also pretty nasty. Better to have a few less pints of beer (say £10 in today's money), hold off on the takeaways and be able to afford better quality food for the week.

Simple cooking ideas like homemade soups & stews & even homemade bread (easy once you know how and far more filling) was the way forward. Packed lunches over canteen food too. Access to a freezer for keeping bulk cooking is helpful. Having friends over for a meal with wine over a night out and so forth.

Student Cook is a great site with a good focus on nutrition. Student Recipes has lots of ideas & here are some posher recipes from celeb chef in this Guardian article.

Eating well is good for studying!
posted by i_cola at 5:11 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh and for cheap transport, a bicycle will help around Leamington & even to the University. There's actually a blog dedicated to cycling to & around the Uni with discussions on best routes. It's a 7-8 mile ride which can be done in 30-45 minutes.

One final story about cheap transport. I met some US students on a train back to Brighton who were spending their entire Sunday (from about 7am) travelling back from Glasgow to Bognor Regis (up the coast from Brighton). They'd snagged an apparently great cheap flight deal from London to Glasgow. Except that it went between Luton (30 min train ride north of London plus 15 min bus transfer) to Prestwick (50 mins train to Glasgow). Research is your friend.

I'll shut up now...
posted by i_cola at 5:24 AM on September 30, 2010

Ah, Warwick's my alma mater, good choice :)

Leamington Spa is a great town for students, but it's about 11 miles from campus. He'll need to get himself sorted out with a bus pass, unless he plans on buying a car.

Make sure he arrives for Freshers' Fair, which is where he will be able to pick up all the information he needs about local services, including bus timetables and season tickets.

I would recommend joining the student union (again, see Freshers' Fair). It gets you access to all the facilities and student organisations (if you can think of a club, they have one), and Warwick had one of the best campus unions going in my day. The bars and clubs are a real focal point for student recreation and the food and drink is all far more reasonable than you would find off campus. With his student card, he will also be able to prove his student status and get discounts in many places and on many services throughout the UK.

I have to agree that farmers' markets are a con for someone living on a student budget. Leamington has an Asda (owned by Walmart) and his money will go much further there.

Brighton's another big student town. If he's down there to study he'll find their campus has many of the facilities he'll find at Warwick, and the town is a great place to explore. They've got some fantastic independent shops and restaurants tailored to student tastes and budgets.

I hope he has a lot of fun, I'm green with envy :)
posted by londonmark at 5:35 AM on September 30, 2010

I live in Leamington and am doing a PhD at Warwick.

There's some pretty good advice here already, but feel free to memail me with any further questions.

One thing I would say is that he should definitely check out the Recycle Warehouse and Re-Useful Centre run by a local charity, Action 21. They take donations and divert things from landfill and sell them off cheaply, I just got a wardrobe for £5, two dining chairs for £1 each, and a sofa for £10.

They also have some electrical goods (safety tested), kitchenware, and so on. They're well worth checking out.
posted by knapah at 5:39 AM on September 30, 2010

Following on from i_cola's point about good food, there's a fantastic butcher on Warwick Street in Leamington Spa called Aubrey Allen's. They do special offers on a Monday, but be sure to go early if you want to get the best things.

And just to make it better, immediately next door is an excellent green grocer's that is often much better value than Tesco or Asda, particularly as they don't force you to buy large packs of vegetables that then go to waste if you can't use them all.
posted by knapah at 5:44 AM on September 30, 2010

I know you asked specifically for websites, but for info, I've found the best way to get cheap rail tickets is always, always to go the station as far in advance as possible (any time up to 3 months I think).

The guys on the counter in my nearest station (Edinburgh Waverley) love a challenge and will happily bimble about their system for ages trying to find you the best deal, which may not appear online (for example, when I went from Edinburgh to Hereford, the ticket man happened to know there was a £15 special offer from Edinburgh to Birmingham which I could buy, then change trains and get standard-price ticket the rest of the way). Unless you've got an encyclopedic knowledge of train routes and offers, it's hard to find those kind of deals online.

They can also help you unravel the confusion of different companies operating on the same line/between different stations - one company might be cheaper than the other but stop at every single station and take forever.
posted by penguin pie at 8:20 AM on September 30, 2010

Oh, and if he is buying/renting a car - UK petrol prices. You can check the cheapest local price online, or have them send an email to you every week with the place with the cheapest petrol in your postcode. Petrol was one of my biggest student expenses :)
posted by citands at 10:18 AM on September 30, 2010

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