There’s no denying that for many, their student days conjure up memories of wayyyy too many cheap baked bean cans, far too many hungover lectures and amazing memories that will last a lifetime. My university life was no different - it was something I had been looking forward to for years: a chance to get away from all I knew, to study something I was passionate about and to live as wild and freely as my bank balance would allow. That first taste of freedom is the make-or-break moment for many and while some will flounder in the face of independence, spending every penny of their student loan in the first few weeks and scraping by for the next three years. Others thrive, finally given the space and time to live the way they deem fit, growing as an individual into the person they always had the potential to become. It’s a fantastic opportunity for teenagers to learn some serious life skills because so many at that age have been molly-coddled with no real work experience or life skills.
Now I would never say that university is right for everyone, especially when there are so many different paths these days that can help get you into the career of your choice. But there is one lifestyle that I think student life could really help prepare you for - backpacking. Travelling has been my life for almost 18 months and the whole experience has really opened my eyes to the different types of young travellers out there - from the very youngest at barely 18-years-old, to the mid-twenties and beyond. It’s amazing how difficult it becomes to read people as they are travelling - but once you remove many travellers from the “real world” their life experience and confidence just soars. I’ve been astonished to find how much I have in common with students who are barely out of university, and it has made me respect their maturity in new ways. Seeing their bravery in boarding that plane to the other side of the world, I wonder if I could have done it at their age and whether I would have had the same experiences.Looking back, I was always an independent person, someone who was always looking for opportunities to strike out on her own. But it was when I went away to study that I finally came into my own, being wholly independent was amazing and gave me the space I needed to grow as an individual, to really take control of my life. Student life gave me an amazing basis for becoming a traveller - it taught me to be independent and strong, yet flexible around others. It taught me the standard at which I want to live my life and a respect for how that measures up to the standards of others. It taught me basic skills like money management and the value of money, it taught me how to organise EVERYTHING for myself and others. It taught me time management and ways of having it all - of balancing my studies and personal life. It taught me to be creative - with everything. It taught me to be brave and to put myself out there in terms of my career and life opportunities. It taught me that life waits for no-one and you have to make the most of every second. UNiDAYS are life-changing in so many ways and I wouldn’t trade mine for the world. Not when it was those student days that prepared me for the world.
Talking to friends who are just beginning their studies, I can’t help but reminisce about the amazing memories I hold of my university days. Of those incredible friendships you build along the way, of the opportunities that await on every corner, the chances to excel both in your studies and extracurriculars. I remember the impassioned lectures, the fiesty discussions in seminars and the keen eye of the lecturers as they watched your ideas develop in front of them. The sporting events, the gigs, the events, the groups and all the rest. Those days where you had to get creative with baked beans because it was all you had left to eat, the nights you can’t remember and the times you’ll never forget. It all hopes your experience and changes your world without you even realising - but it’s these changes that set you on the right course to success in every aspect of your life. But it wouldn’t be student life without all the perks that come with it - I’ll never forget those student discounts! From £5 pizzas at Dominoes to free cheeseburgers at McDonalds, to that cheeky 10% off at all my favourite clothes shops - it was the dream!
If you’re just starting your studies then you should join the 7.2million students who are already signed up and saving with UNiDAYS - free to sign up it gives you access to the best range of student discounts online and in-store with all the leading brands. UNiDAYS is partnered with the biggest brands including the likes of THE ICONIC, Glue Store, ASOS, City Beach and Beginning Boutique. The free UNiDAYS App gives you instant access to student discount at home and on the move. When shopping in participating stores, just flash your UNiDAYS iD at the till point to redeem your discount. Save money on everything from the essentials to life’s little treats. Enter exclusive competitions and be the first to hear about exclusive student-only events, new store launch parties and much more. To find out more and sign up to start saving straight away - click here! Or find UNiDAYS on Facebook, Twitter (@UNiDAYS_AU) or Instagram (@UNiDAYS_AU).
What are your favourite student memories? Where did you study? What are your best tips for new students?
As Valentine’s Day approaches, I can’t help but remember just two years ago when I was crazy in love and whisked off my feet with all the hearts and roses that come with the holiday. A romantic dinner for two and a year later, who knew that I would spend my next Valentine’s Day at a Half Moon Party in Thailand more single than I had been in a decade, that two years on I would be preparing to spend the day at a festival with good friends. It’s amazing how much your life can change with your relationship status and it’s only been since I left my nine year relationship to come traveling that I have really noticed how much others really let their relationships rule their lives and their decisions. Even now, when I tell people I left behind such a long-term relationship to travel the world solo, they look at me incredulously and think I’m slightly crazy - but then I ask, wouldn’t it be crazier to put your dreams on hold and end up resenting the person you love the most? Begrudgingly they nod in agreement, but then you seem them do it again, and again, and again. Sacrificing their studies, their hobbies, their families and homes, all for a love that changes their world but not always for the better.
Two years ago, for Valentine’s, I wrote a blog post entitled “Relationships | What’s it really like to have a boyfriend at university?” which has still remained one of my most popular posts. It seems that the title of this post was something that several young women found themselves typing into Google as they tried to plan a future with their loves, tried to make a decision about their own education and future, and tried to keep the balance between what their head and heart were screaming. Over the last two years, this post has probably received the most comments and messages above all of my others, and it seems to be a bit of a hot topic for young ladies who are about to advance to this stage of their lives. Sixth Form and College is around the time when many young couples start pairing off and often you’ll find your first love, I certainly did. It’s a great time, when you’re learning what it’s like to first love another person, to be part of a real adult relationship and to be regarded as a “real” couple instead of foolish young teenagers. It’s easy for this love to take over your life a bit and we all went through that phase where we didn’t want to leave each others’ side, but then comes the pressures of university - whether you decide to go or not, often this can be the decider for whether many couples will survive. Often one half of the couple will have a longing to continue their studies as I did, while the other half will have a plan to either study elsewhere, or not at all. So what do you do when this happens?
So many girls have written to me explaining how worried they are that their relationship will not withstand the pressures of university and separation. I’ve had some asking whether I think they will make it when their other half already spends his time eying up other girls or flirting, I’ve had others ask whether the distance will be a problem, and I’ve had far too many asking whether I think they should change their lifelong university preference to attend the same school as their boyfriend. Something I want to make clear is that I have always been a very independent person, so has my ex-boyfriend and thats part of the reason we loved each other so much - we both trusted each other to give as much space as needed throughout the nine years and I think that’s why we were so happy throughout. When it came to me choosing my university and course, he had no input into my choice. I told him all about the universities I visited and about what my options were, but that was the extent of his influence. I made my choice of university based wholly on the course content, the campus, the people and the feeling of the place - from the moment I stepped on to the campus at University of Hertfordshire, I knew this was the place I had to spend the next three years of my life. Because that’s what it was - my life. Not his, although he was a huge part of my life after three years. But I knew that regardless of where I was, what I studied or how far apart we were, if we truly loved each other we would make it work. And if it didn’t work, I certainly didn’t want to be anywhere but my first choice of university.
The same happened when I came traveling - I made the decision separately that this was what I wanted to do, just like my other half decided he wanted to go to university to study. Independently we knew what was right for each of us, and mutually when we discussed it, we came to a decision that we both had to go our separate ways in order to be happy. Whether it was a permanent or temporary decision is another matter, but we both knew we had to do this otherwise we would end up resenting each other. It was easily the hardest decision of my life, but now, over a year after I left, I can tell you it was the best decision I ever made. Much like my choice of university, it has led me to one of the happiest times of my life, and yes, it does mean I’ve had to say goodbye to an incredible relationship but it also means I’ve chosen to invest in myself. Because being single doesn’t mean being lonely - if anything, since being single I’ve never been surrounded by such love, light and laughter, I’ve actually made some of the best friends and family of my life. So many seem to stay in a relationship because they are scared of the alternative, but what are you really afraid of - not having anyone’s shadow to stand in? I look around and see so many young women in relationships that make them feel insecure, afraid or unhappy, and I wonder why they stay. I’m entirely independent and alone at this point in my life and I’ve never felt stronger, braver or happier. Being single has made me fearless, given me incredible confidence and made me really value myself as an individual.
I’m not saying that every woman out there should go dump her boyfriend this Valentine’s Day (that would be a bit mean wouldn’t it?!), I’m just saying that it is important to celebrate being independent and single as well as celebrating retaining your individual identity when you’re in a relationship. Don’t be afraid to make independent decisions within a relationship, especially when it will have a huge impact on your own life. It’s easy to get swept up in coupledom, to let your loins take over your thought processes but don’t forget that when it comes to things like education and travel - these are things that change the way you view the life you live. If you already fear that the change will challenge your relationship beyond repair, then perhaps that relationship was not as strong as you first thought. But that’s okay, some people are destined to dip in and out of our lives gently influencing us along the way, while others exist to shake our worlds to the very core, changing and rebuilding them in ways we never expected. It’s easy to get them mixed up and sometimes a big change like university or travel is needed to show one from the other. But whichever type of relationship you have, it’s not as important as the one you have with yourself - that is the one you should be investing the real time, effort and love into, because its the only one you can guarantee will last for life.
How do you remain independent within your relationship? Can you think of a time when you have put yourself above the relationship? What have you sacrificed for love - and was it worth it?
As you read this, my travels will have already started and I thought it was important to write this post and share what has probably been the hardest part of my decision to leave. The first thing everyone has asked me upon finding out I was going travelling was "are you going with your boyfriend?". When I replied no on each occasion, I saw the same surprised blank faces in front of me - particularly when I announced I was going it alone. I'm not sure why it is such a shock to people as I've always been quite an independent person - but clearly it seems quite odd to a lot of people that we would be able to go without each other for any length of time. To paint a picture for those who don't know us, me and Wolfy have been together for well over eight years. We've survived all sorts, including me moving away for university for three years, and defied all those who said we'd never last or that we weren't suited - amazingly there were a lot of people who felt that way. But we made it this far and we seem to be doing better than okay. So I can totally understand why people think "they love each other, therefore they must not be able to live without each other".
Relationships always face difficulties at some point - a hurdle that pops up out of nowhere, whether a problem between the two of you, or interference from outside sources. But when you've been together as long as we have, and from as young an age, sometimes the problems that crop up are actually just dreams that pull you in opposite directions. We've all got dreams, big ideas and hopes for the things we want to achieve, see and do - but what happens when they clash with those of the one we love? Well we're faced with a big decision about what to do. This is actually something that's been playing on my mind a lot lately because I have a few friends who, although in slightly different situations, have struggled with similarly big decisions. I guess it is a common theme in our twenties that we will be faced with big choices over our relationships - our teens are the easy time, although they may not feel like it, when nothing really tests us other than ourselves. Even the separation of university is something that can be easy to live with because to an extent we still have a choice over distance and whether we want to go the distance. But by the time we hit our twenties, we are looking at careers, new homes, marriage and babies in some cases, and travel. There are so many more factors that will affects our relationships and we will be forced into difficult decisions.I'm not the only one who has found this, I actually know several people who have found lately that they have had to choose one aspect of their life over another. One friend has chosen to move two-and-a-half hours away from all of her friends and family, leaving behind a job she had worked her way up to, in order to follow her boyfriend. He was moving to a much better job and she had to take a pay cut in order to be with him, but for her the decision was the right one for her because she loves him and wants to be with him. Now they are able to live together, instead of breaking up or living hours apart. A couple I know came to an end after the subject of travel was broached, they had been together for years but he didn't want to travel and she passionately did - so they finished and she started planning her trip. I know of another couple who broke up because the guy wanted to settle down together, with big plans for marriage and babies, but she wanted to keep her freedom and to work on her career first, so they broke up and moved on. What do all of these couples have in common? They're all in their twenties and their lives are ever changing and evolving - sometimes couples are on different wavelengths and that can mean different directions.
For me and Wolfy, I know that we are on the same wavelength but that after eight-and-a-half years we are being pulled in different directions. For me, I'm in a job that I just can't do any longer and I've reached a point in my life where I want to experience something new. It was a choice between moving away for work or travelling, and that decision was a simple one for me. For Wolfy, he regrets not putting in the time and effort for his studies and has realised he needs a change of career, so for him, the move is to retake his A-levels and go to university. The timing for us isn't great and we don't want to be apart, but we also both realise that we have to follow our individual dreams in order to be happy together. Neither of us should have to put our individual dreams on hold at this age, surely we will only end up resenting each other if we try? I'm not saying it's going to be easy - because I know it won't be. Saying goodbye earlier this week was the hardest thing I have ever done. But for us, this isn't a break up, more like hitting pause on things until we can resume play. We hope that it will be just six months until we are reunited in Australia - that might be naive on our part, or it might be a mature decision that works out really well. Either way, all we can do is hope that things work out for us. I've always believed that everything happens for a reason - I'm not always sure what that reason is but I know that it will all work out in the end. And I'm treating this just like that - it doesn't mean being separated is any easier, but it does mean we can hope that if we are meant to be together that it will work out.
I'd love to hear your stories of when you've been forced to choose between love and your career, or family, or even travel, like I have. Did it work out for you? Or do you still regret the one that got away?
I like to live my life with no regrets, and I'm happy to say that up to this point in my life, I genuinely don't regret a single thing. Everything that has happened up to now had led me to this point, and I'm pretty happy with my lot in life. I've got a great job, amazing friends and family, a pretty special boyfriend and big plans for the future. I may have struggled along the way to getting to this point, and I may have had some tough times - but that makes me value what I have more than ever and I can't help but be grateful for that. Throughout my life I have always strived to be the best version of myself as much as possible, whether that means going out of my way to help people or working hard for my degree or job. I have to admit, putting my all into everything does mean I've turned into a bit of a perfectionist and my high standards have meant that I've been left disappointed by others over the years. But I've learnt to accept that I have no control over the actions of others, that I can only focus on my own actions because they are the only thing that is within my control. Trust me, that's not an easy thing for any perfectionist to deal with - I'm sure there are those who know and are nodding at the screen right now.
Regret is a funny word. It can be meaningless to a person, or it can be everything. With phrases like "carpe diem" and "live for the moment" tattooed on peoples' extremities, plastered across inspirational images posted on Instagram and engrained on our brains - it's no surprise that everyone says they live a life of no regrets. A conversation with a friend really got me thinking about this, whether I would do anything differently or whether I am actually really happy with the way things have turned out. I've always been very much of the viewpoint that things, to a extent, happen for a reason. I think if we don't feel a certain drive to act in a certain way, we can't really regret it, we can only learn from it. We can always wonder if things would have turned out differently, even though we know we can't change things. I guess my regrets come more in the form of things I would love to tell my younger self, glimpses into the future I would have liked to have shared and to have known at the time. You've got to admit if you could go back in time and warn about a nasty boyfriend or a bad haircut, you would definitely do it...
So what would I say to my younger self?
Advice to Lucy, age 5-10
Advice to Lucy, age 10-16
Advice to Lucy, age 16 to 18
Advice to Lucy, aged 18-21
Advice to Lucy, aged 22-present
After a request from a fellow blogger, I'm turning this post into a blogging tag! My first one, and I'm hoping you'll all enjoy writing this post as much as I have. I want to all to share the advice and things you would say to your former self - then nominate five bloggers to do the same. My nominations are:
Charlie Holly Jasmine Aftab Antoinette
What advice would you give to your younger self?
PS. Don't forget to vote for me in the UK Blog Awards travel and lifestyle categories!! Click here and here to cast your votes xx
Sometimes university isn't quite what you expected - perhaps you don't make the friends you thought you would, or your accommodation isn't the best. Or sometimes it all works out and you have the best university experience possible with great friends, a fantastic course and the best accommodation going. It can all turn out very differently depending on where you are, who you meet and how you do things - but one thing that can hit all of us at times is homesickness. Even the strongest, most independent individual can feel homesick at times and just want to catch the first train home to mum and their own bed. When Freshers Flu strikes, we all just want to curl up in a ball under the duvet and have our mum bring us chicken soup - so how do we deal with this when mum is hundreds of miles away?
Here's my top tips for combating homesickness while at university:
What helped ease your homesickness the most? Have you got any other top tips to share?
I've read a lot of panicked Facebook and Twitter posts in the last week - fears about starting university in the coming weeks, not knowing what to expect as a Fresher, and the biggest worry of all seems to be what to pack and take with you. As someone who has graduated, but who still remembers her first day at university as clear as a whistle, I figured it was only right to give a little extra help to the graduates of tomorrow, by helping them work out what they need to take with them. Here's my must-haves list:
Most of all just remember to have fun, enjoy it, throw yourself into every moment, experience and night out - even if you don't drink, it is a great way to meet people in those first few weeks when everyone will be out every night. Treat every person you meet like your new best friend - but you may well have a completely different group of friends by second year so don't worry if you don't really connect with some people.
What are your biggest fears about university? Has this list helped with your packing?
My Facebook is littered with students who are starting to get excited about going back to uni, some who are just starting and those, like myself, who wish we could go back, if only for one awesome night. The countdown is starting, and after the bank holiday, there really isn't long to go until the universities once again open their doors to the madness. Regular readers will know that I had a pretty awesome time at university, made some amazing friends and loved every second of studying - even those all-nighters in the library and the early starts! And I have to say, that although by the time I left I was rather more excited to get out in the world and start working, I would always love to go back and experience it all again - I wouldn't do a single thing differently and would love every second.One of the things I would particularly like the chance to experience again is living in such close quarters with all of my fabulous university friends. We had a group of around seven of us who spent most of our waking moments together throughout first and second year. By third year, we were spread across two houses just a few minutes walk from each other and some of us were even on the same courses! It was brilliant, especially for someone who previously had mainly boy mates to experience being surrounded by so many like-minded girls who (sorry to quote Cyndi Lauper but...) "just wanna have fun!" We all had the same priorities, we all wanted to study hard and do well, but made sure we had plenty of time for lots of fun as well - these are the girls who would be up all hours studying and revising with me. But they are also the girls I was out pretty much every night with, the ones who came on Nando's dates with me and the ones who came round for pizza and X Factor nights.It was always great to have a group of so many because you could always guarantee that no matter what you wanted to do, there was someone who was free to come along with you, there was always someone to get drunk with and there was always someone who could help you when you got stuck on coursework. It always really helped to have that support network when you were struggling because there was always someone around who could proofread your essays, test you before exams and to make sure you revise with promises of cocktails as a reward. Each summer, when we were all torn apart for three or four months, and now between each reunion I'm always thinking about all the silly and fun things I miss about my beauties. Trust me there are quite a few, but the things I miss most are the qualities that make this friendship and sets it apart from other friendships I share.20 Things I Miss About My University Girls:
It's been a full three years now since I finished university. That's 36 months since we packed up our shot glasses, binned all those piles of notes and said a tearful goodbye. It was a hard goodbye for my group, most of us had been together from the very beginning of first year and we were very close. We shared everything, from drunken nights out, to stresses over exams, to boyfriend troubles and across two houses, we even lived together. There was no escape, and yes we annoyed the hell out of each other at times, but there was also a lot of love there and I knew these girls would always have my back.Three years on and I was right to think that, because they still have my back and still mean the world to me. I'm lucky to have such a brilliant, beautiful, fun and smart bunch of girls as my friends and I love that no matter how far life takes us away from each other, we always know where to turn when we are in trouble or need advice. These girls have helped me through some of the hardest times, and have celebrated with me through some of the best - but the fact that they have been there throughout is something that means a lot. When you leave university, particularly when you are scattered across the country, it is hard to keep in touch. You all get jobs, have partners, set up new homes and generally live very separate lives. It takes a certain amount of effort in order to maintain the friendship, and yet at the same time, you all have to be happy to often not speak for months and then catch up loads over a weekend. I love that with these girls, we are all so close that when we see each other after a long time has passed, that feels like we have never parted ways.So why is a friendship forged at university such a different one to those from back home? Well in many ways they are much the same, but the fact that you are thrown in with complete strangers and forced to live together from the start always forges a different kind of intimacy that you often won't have with those from back home. But what is it about these friendships that make them so long-lasting?
Of course it isn't all sunshine and roses for everyone, and I know a few people who have hated the "friends" they made in first year. I know of times when people have struggled to make friends because of circumstances or things have turned and they've found themselves alone. It is horrible when things like this happen, and knowing these stories makes me all the more grateful that I met such a fantastic bunch of like-minded girls. Yes we all have our similarities, and that is what brought us together, but we also have our differences and I think that is what has made this a lasting friendship. Last weekend, we had our most recent reunion and once again it was like no time had passed. A weekend spent in Camden, where one of the girls is now living, wandering around the market, sitting on a roof terrace and then dancing the night away with plenty of cocktails. Just what we all needed - plenty of chance to catch up on all the amazing things everyone is doing and enough time to plan another meet-up.
Why do you think you have such long-lasting friendships with those you meet at university? And do you still meet up with your pals from uni or have you guys drifted apart?
When it comes to university, I will never write anyone off. Even those who are the least academic people around can find a perfect course for them, perhaps with more practical work, and can find it a fantastic experience. The big question is whether it is in fact a truly valuable experience for the individual, and while I think the life experience you gain is immeasurable, often the money and time involved can mean the experience is worth somewhat less in the long run. For me, university was something I had been set on from a young age. Not because of my education, family or upbringing, but because I wanted to study, I loved to learn and I needed a degree in order to achieve my life goals. Plus I really wanted the experience, I wanted to get away from my town, I wanted to move out and look after myself, to gain independence. This was the perfect opportunity and I know that many who are currently looking, researching and making final choices will feel the same.
What I want to do is to make you aware that university is not a doddle, it is hard work for a minimum of three years of living away from home, working while studying and surviving on meagre loans and it can be lonely at times. But at the same time, you will meet the best friends, have the most bizarre experiences and finally have a chance to follow and indulge your true passions. So many people I know are preparing to sit their exams and are trying to make huge decisions about the next three years of their life and where they want to spend it. For me, I was lucky and this was easy - I walked on the campus and instantly fell in love with it. When I read about the courses and met the professors it only further cemented my decision and I am so glad I stuck with it despite my university asking for the lowest number of UCAS points out of each of my offers.
There is a lot to think about when making your decision and it is easy to be blinded by the thought of parties, living in a city, and studying with or following your friends. By writing this, I hope to give prospective university students into the slightly less exciting and fun sides of university just to try and balance out all the amazing fun you will be hearing about. Don't by any means take this as a negative view of university because it really was the best three years of my life so far and I would encourage anyone to take the opportunity, I just think it is important to make an informed decision. Here's what happens when things aren't all sunshine and roses at university:
Don't let this put you off - university is amazing. It is so much fun and really does help set you up for life if you make the most of it and grab every opportunity. Just be prepared and aware that it isn't sunshine and smiles 24/7, and that sometimes you might be homesick and lonely but that is okay. It isn't right for everyone, but it could also be the best thing you ever do, and it certainly whizzes by in no time at all. I have a friend who studied abroad for a year, left behind her university friends and made a whole load of new ones. She is now travelling the world and staying with all of her international friends along the way. If that doesn't inspire you, I don't know what will! Of course, I would never argue that university is the only option and I know that for many it isn't, but having the opportunity is amazing and making that decision over what is the right choice for you, is one of the biggest decisions of your life at 18.
What was your best university experience? Planning to go, what are you most worried about?