By Amelia Edgell-Cole Travel Editor, Alfie Laurence Third year, Spanish & Portuguese
Offering up sage wisdom and relatable advice on all things year abroad - be that the most affordable place to stay or where to find the best nightlife - Student Travel Tips is the student's answer to the Lonely Planet guide. Amelia Edgell-Cole chats with founder Alfie Laurence to find out what inspired him and how the site is helping people across the globe.
Where are you currently located? What are you doing on your year abroad?
I am currently in São Paulo, Brazil for the Portuguese part of my year abroad. I study Spanish and Portuguese and wanted to do a split of South America and Europe so not only could I make the most of the Erasmus funding but also nip back to England to see some friends from September to Christmas and then make the big move over to South America for their summer. I chose Valencia as I love being by the sea and I wasn't sure Barcelona and Madrid were for me, and studied at the university there. It was a really good experience, very unorganised at times but I made a great group of mates who I'll stay close with for sure. In terms of making the most of speaking Spanish, it wasn’t the best; I definitely improved hanging out with Spanish friends in our block, but not as much as if I had taken the plunge and gone to Latin America.
Going to Brazil was the best decision I’ve made this year, the Brazilian culture is amazing and I'm loving the fast pacedness of Sao Paulo. I arrived just in time for carnaval, which was certainly a good ice breaker with all my new friends out here. My job here is working as an intern at a Portuguese language school called Aprenda2. Alongside being a student in the classes, I help run the social media and events during the week, such trips to a museums or happy hour at a bar. They also trained me to teach English three days a week so I’m doing that on the side to earn a bit of money - plenty of things to put on my CV!
What's the idea behind the Student Travel Tips website and how did you come up with it?
The vision behind Student Travel Tips was simply to offer a platform for students yet to embark on a year abroad or gap year to seek all sorts of advice on what to do, where to stay and guidance towards other useful websites and resources. Tips on nightlife, food and excursions as well as vital information on transport and budgeting from people who have experienced the country first hand. In the run up to my trip here I'd been speaking with my friend Lucas about São Paulo before coming out here. He gave me so much advice, and I felt as though it was only fair to create something so people could benefit as much as I have from having people around me who had been there years previously.
On February 17th, I was on the phone to my mum feeling very grateful for the support the people around me had given me to get settled and right there and then I bought the domain www.studenttraveltips.co.uk. It does what it says on the tin and I think it’s pretty catchy! The site is more than I could ever have imagined. It's growing every day and has now opened up to more than just year abroad students to an advice site, which will cater for gap year students, exchange students, people just generally seeking first-hand advice on places around the world. Let's be honest, we don't really want to stare at Lonely Planet for hours planning routes you've seen in online blogs.
What kind of information/ guidance does the website offer?
The site is split into a few sections. The destination drop down menu offers you all these different countries around the world and takes you to a more general information page with websites on where to live and how to go about the accommodation process, how to travel around the city in the cheapest and most efficient way possible and money advice.
The site also has a testimonials menu which, in my opinion, is the best part. Every city on the website has at least one student who is either currently there or has been there in years prior. We have over 40 destinations on the page now so there's lots to choose from. This allows students to have a read of what students have done in these places and offer the best advice and recommendations for the city. The testimonial pages have questions such as 'Where did you live?', 'How did you find it?', 'What did you do?', and has information on all the best places to go out clubbing, eat on a student budget, excursions, how to make the most of the city and day to day tips on staying safe. All of this information is advised by people who have spent at least 6 months in these destinations so the advice is certainly better than what TripAdvisor have been paid to advertise!
There is also a media section which in time will become a space where people can send photos, podcasts, videos they’ve made for people to enjoy and relate to on a personal level - it’s just a bit of creative fun really. It's currently just got some of mine and my friends Spotify playlists on!
What differentiates Student Travel Tips from other travel blog sites is that it’s specialised; the information on the site is specific to students in these places right now. It allows future students and young people to relate to these people and feel relaxed before the big move abroad. Travelling anywhere, especially on your own and to somewhere you've never been is always going to be a daunting process; this site ensures people feel relaxed and look forward to their trips. It’s certainly a work in progress and I believe that it could be a resource that could help students for many years to come explore new places, do lots more things and come back from incredible adventures with more advice to pass on.
How do you compile the information?
A lot of sliding into people's messages, to be honest. I shamelessly messaged around 150 people, at Bristol and elsewhere asking if they'd be willing to write something for this new site I'm creating. I created a template that's easy to fill out and it's actually quite enjoyable reminiscing over your time away and offering others your tips. I had no past IT knowledge but with a lot of trial and error, the site gradually took shape whilst being out in Brazil and it is exactly the way I wanted it to look, but better.
What's been the general response to the website? Have people been willing to contribute/ given good feedback?
The launch was absolutely phenomenal. So far in 3 weeks, we’ve had over 3,000 visitors in 52 different countries! I think having a supportive network of friends - Not only friends in the UK but in Spain, Brazil, US, China - was very important getting it spread. The response has been mainly positive! People saying that it’s a very useful site which people can use and contribute for many years to come. I’ve had lots of constructive feedback which I’ve immediately taken on board and put straight into the site, such as separating all money and accommodation advice to their own sections so they're easier to locate, beginning to branch out to other countries etc. The contribution from my friends, and people I don’t even know, has been amazing. The most common phrase I get is ‘wow I wish I had this before I came out here!’ which is great - hopefully there will be less of that with the site now!
How have you found it managing the website alongside your year abroad studies/ work?
Fortunately with my internship in Brazil, I finish work around 3pm. The work environment is very relaxed and they allow me to stay in the school and get on with the site. Student Travel Tips has become my addiction! Over the last six weeks I’ve been working on it every day. Some days i’ll be trying to sleep but so many ideas are coming to me and I end up staying up until 4/5 in the morning on it trying to get it ready and slick as quickly as possible, whilst not trying to take down the site to make these changes! My mum and my brother have helped me massively in getting it looking the way it is, along with some friends helping me set up the Instagram and Facebook pages and general tidy ups.
What have been your personal year abroad highlights?
Very good question. My personal highlights in Spain were just having the best time with my friend Marc and the other ‘chavales’ out there. We became such a tight group of friends, going to football games, being on the beach right through until November and the daily bocadillos and cortados at the local cafe. I wouldn’t change a thing about Valencia.
I’ve only been in Brazil for seven weeks or so but I’d say Carnaval was definitely up there with one of the best experiences in my life. I also really enjoy life in SP and the fact that I am living with 30 people in a big student house has also been a highlight for me. Meeting and living with people from Chile, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil has not only meant I can practise my Spanish with the Latinos but also have a big social circle to help me whenever I feel lonely. A year abroad has its highs and lows that’s for sure, you’ll have times where you’ll feel alone and may not have that close friend nearby but you’ll get through the tough stages. I'm also very grateful to have my friend Michaela here with me as well.
Epigram / Alfie Laurence
What's been your favourite part of starting the website?
I think it’s got to be reading everyone’s stories. Some of the people I don’t even know, so reading about their trips to Guadalajara in Mexico or even Phuket in Thailand is great. Not only is it so interesting to see what people in my position are up to but also all the knowledge of these places that I can benefit from when I decide to go out there in the future is fantastic. I’m learning so so much every day and even if I was to end my year abroad tomorrow, I’d be satisfied with the things I've learned and skills I can take on with me for later life. Fortunately I have another three months to enjoy Brazil and even travel to Chile and Argentina using all the tips on the site!
Do you have any tips for students embarking on a year abroad?
Absolutely. I’d say take a plunge with some places they may not be considering. Brazil over Portugal is a huge one - I cannot recommend Brazil enough. I’ve picked up so much Portuguese and have made contacts and friends out here from all over the globe. The Erasmus crowd is something I’d avoid; although you can have the best time, it doesn’t force you to speak the language as much as being in South America or Guadeloupe for French, for example. Also with the Brexit chaos, studying in Europe might not be an affordable option so have a look at the website and consider new places. See it as a year of experience for yourself. There will always be nights to go back to in Bristol but avoid FOMO - you have the opportunity to live in a foreign country(ies) for a whole year. Make the most of every minute.
What's next for the website?
There's lots in the pipeline at the moment and I'm very excited to get it all up eventually. We’re expanding to Australia, Asia, Canada, Japan, China, the US and so shortly people will be able to get the tips for these places also. More for the non language students I think. I’m working on creating Student Travel Talks which will be a podcast series speaking to students and travellers I know that have great advice for young people embarking on new adventures. The rest of the future plans I’ll have to keep quiet for now but this isn’t a short term project - I plan to continue this well past university, for sure. There are infinite possibilities with this website so watch this space!
Huge thank you to everyone checking out the website as well as the Facebook and Instagram page, and also to people passing it on. Hopefully by September it will be a name many students know of and can resort to it for advice. After all, you'd much rather take advice aimed at someone aged 21 than a 60 year old professor, wouldn't you?
Head to studenttraveltips.co.uk for more information.
Featured image: Student Travel Tips
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