Travelling on a budget can be difficult, much less to multiple countries in one succession. Law graduate Lucas Low, however, managed to explore eight European countries on a shoestring budget of just 800 pounds.
As an undergraduate student at Queen’s University Belfast in 2019, Low was in a prime location to travel to his heart’s desire in Europe. The resourceful Malaysian took advantage of cheap fares available during the winter and summer break to help him stretch his dollar.
Growing up, the Malaysian credits his passion for travel to social media, specifically Instagram. “When I see pictures of beautiful countries on the platform, part of me wishes that I could be in that country, living that experience, instead of viewing it through a screen,” shares the 26-year-old, who now works as a lawyer. “That sparked my dream of travelling to a particular country and my interest in travelling the world.”
Before that, he travelled to India extensively via AISEC’s Global Volunteers Programme, where he explored cities such as Mumbai, Agra, Delhi, Jaipur and a village in Maharashtra.
We caught up with Low to learn about what ignited his passion for travel and how his time studying abroad paved the way for him to redefine the way he travelled:
What was the most memorable trip you did alone before you studied abroad?
Not many can say that they like to travel to India, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time backpacking alone in India. As a young traveller, I was eager to tackle the challenge of a solo backpacking trip in India as I knew that was not going to be something I would do when I am at an older age as the way we travel and our purpose of travelling will change.
My journey to India started through a volunteering programme with AIESEC. I stumbled upon this organisation while looking through the student programmes available for me as a way to travel to India. They have many volunteering opportunities, allowing you to travel to various countries. It was a humbling experience as I had the chance to share my Malaysian culture and tradition with the local students.
Throughout the programme, I was based in Mumbai for one and a half months. While I spent most of my time there, I also had the chance to visit some cities in North India, such as Agra, Delhi and Jaipur and a village in Maharashtra.
What were some of the challenges you faced during your trip to India?
It has to be the 24-hour train trip I took from Mumbai to Agra. As I was travelling on a student budget, comfort and safety were luxuries I could not afford. It’s just a mindset I had when travelling alone on a tight budget.
Throughout the ride, I barely had access to the internet as it was difficult to get any connection, let alone a good one. Without that, it was hard to determine my current location. Luckily, I was thrilled to find out that the locals spoke some English, and I was able to find out when to get off at the right stop.
I also brought a sleeper train ticket to sleep on a portable bunk bed. As more customers started to board the train, my “bed” would turn into a seating spot — making it impossible for me to sleep. The train would also stop at many stops hourly since it was a local train to Agra. That made my environment extremely loud and noisy, so I struggled to get a good night’s sleep.
Editor’s note: There are plenty of things to skimp on when travelling, but safety should never be one of them. Don’t hesitate to whip out your wallet to pay for a service that will help you avoid dangerous situations.
Why did you choose to study at Queen’s University Belfast?
I did the UK Transfer Degree programme at Brickfields Asia College. That allowed me to read law in Malaysia for two years before transferring to one of the partner universities in the UK. I chose to go to Belfast for two reasons: it is one of the most affordable cities to live in, and Belfast is a doorway to some of the most stunning cliffs in the world.
Tell us about one of your memorable trips in Europe.
One of my most memorable European trips was travelling to eight Eastern European countries with two of my friends. Over two weeks, we travelled to Munich, Salzburg, Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, Krakow, Prague, and Berlin in 2019. Before meeting up with my friends in Vienna, I travelled to Munich and Salzburg alone.
Was it hard to manage your finances while travelling on a budget in Europe?
A great thing about travelling in Europe is the endless number of apps you can use to stretch out your budget and help to plan your trip in a detailed manner.
Personally, Skyscanner allowed me to find out the best dates to fly as they will usually recommend the cheapest option. Go Euro is a popular app for finding the most affordable bus routes. It also stores a digital ticket on your phone and keeps track of your bookings, which is super convenient when travelling to many cities.
In total, I spent approximately 800 pounds travelling to these countries. That includes all of my expenses for this trip.
What were some of your most memorable moments from this trip?
My travel style changed when I started my European trip. I no longer had a bucket list of things I wanted to experience when I arrived in a particular country. Of course, there are always the touristy and popular things to see and do, but I’d instead take my time to walk around, observe the mannerism and behaviours of the local people and be present in my travels.
For example, I remember getting off the bus from Munich to Salzburg. Seeing the Austrian alps as the morning light hit was a unique experience. Walking around the town without an itinerary felt liberating since I was not tied down to a particular schedule. Sometimes, simplicity can go a long way.
Was it difficult to balance your preparation for the trip with your life as an international student?
Definitely. I frequently joined activities that were hosted by the Malaysian Student Society in Northern Ireland, and I was also working part-time at a restaurant in Belfast. Given the scale and nature of the trip, it was very tiring to do all the research and book the bus tickets, plane tickets and accommodation.
On that note, I always believe we will find a way to achieve a personal goal or ambition. While it may sound greedy or over-ambitious to achieve everything all at once, you will understand the necessary sacrifice you need to make to achieve your goals.
Do you have any advice for students who are planning to do solo trips or trips covering multiple foreign countries?
Prepare for your trip adequately before you set out for your travels. It includes researching the place of interest and some potential safety hazards you need to be aware of. As you travel, relax and enjoy the moment as it may never return.
For those of you studying abroad, do seize the opportunity to travel alone if the chance to do so does come by, as I can assure you it will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Moreover, travelling becomes more challenging as you transition into the working world and adulthood.