In what might be my most delayed post (series?) of all time, I’m finally returning to the blog to write a full, riveting recap of our adventure in London. Our momcation, if you will. Of course, in order to properly tell the tale, I must back up to planning the trip, since that is a thing I would recommend doing to anyone going on a grand adventure.
I’m sure lots of people on the internet have great tips for how to find the perfect hidden spots, best Instagram shots, and most important historical landmarks when traveling. In fact, if you use Pinterest as an itinerary-plotting tool, those are the majority of the resources you’ll find. I, however, prefer to plan my trips around something altogether more important: FOOD. I figure out where I want to eat for breakfast, coffee break, lunch, afternoon snack (or tea!), and dinner, and then decide which important cultural locations I’ll visit that day based on their proximity to the food places I’ve found. So far, this method has yet to let me down, so I’m hereby recommending it to everyone.
But even before planning our daily routes, we had to find a place to stay. Airbnb has become my new favorite site for lodging, although if I’m going for a hotel, hotels.com is the way to go. This time, we found a great Airbnb that was really close to the attractions we wanted to see. In addition, it was directly across the street from a Starbucks, which was great news when we arrived at 8 in the morning after an overnight flight with a full day of sightseeing ahead. If you’re looking for a spot in London, definitely look at that one!
Beth and I got together a few times before our departure and made a list of the places we wanted to make sure we didn’t miss, and then we stuck them all into a saved Google map. I also recommend this method: seeing all your plotted locations on a single map makes it really easy to figure out a) which locations are grouped together and b) how far you think you’re capable of transporting yourself in a single day. Our longest day involved walking about six miles, which turned into a bit less since we took the tube for some of the longer stretches.
We decided that we’d take a day trip out to Windsor on our third day, and then we got tickets to see the Royal Ballet perform Don Quixote that evening, so no plotting was needed for that. Once we’d gotten that all sorted, I figured out the most efficient way to get to and from the airport (the train!) and we were ready to go.
As for traveling logistics, here’s some assorted information that my or may not be useful to you if you’re planning a similar trip:
I usually try to pack on the light side, but I failed this time. I did manage to fit what I brought in my standard suitcase + backpack luggage setup, but it was tight. A word to the wise: Norwegian Airlines has a 10kg weight limit on the total weight of your carry on bags (i.e. suitcase + “personal item” combined). If your baggage is over that weight limit, you will be forced to check it at check in, which comes with a hefty fee. Spare yourself. Pack light, or if you can’t resist bringing extra shoes, sign up for bag checking prior to arrival at the airport and the fee is half of what you pay in person. I was wiser on our return trip.
Essential items for England include comfortable shoes for walking, layers for vacillating weather conditions, and, at least in February/March, an umbrella. Less essential items but fun items include a camera, room in your suitcase for all the tea you’ll want to bring home, and a smaller bag for daily use. I used this bag from Old Navy (albeit in a color they no longer have) and I think it was my favorite of the bags I’ve used for that purpose over the years.
For disclaimer purposes, I should state that London is not exactly a budget trip. That said, there are ways to cut some financial corners. Airbnb is the first one; hotels tend to be much more expensive in big cities, and London is no exception. You can often find pretty good airfares to London as well. I’m a huge fan of budget airlines, and Norwegian (in spite of their silly baggage fee) was a great choice. We also cooked all of our dinners at our flat, and since dinner is typically the most expensive meal if you eat out, that saved us a substantial amount. Doing that also gives you some exposure to foreign grocery stores, which is something I’ve always enjoyed. In general, getting food from grocery stores for any meal will save you many dollars/euros/British pounds.
I challenge you to look more like a tourist than I do here.
For transportation, skip taxis/Uber all together and go with the tube. It’s by far the cheapest method for getting around. In particular, get yourself an Oyster card, which is a bit cheaper than buying single tickets for every ride. We got ours at the airport before hopping on the train to get into the city. (Side note: if you’re in Paris rather than London, do not throw away your Metro tickets before leaving the station. This is another lesson I learned the hard way and ended up with a fine.)
Lastly, depending on what attractions you’re going to see, you could consider getting a London Pass. If you’re planning on hitting all the major sites and want to go inside and explore most of them, this is a really great option for saving money. We ultimately decided not to get it on this trip, just because we weren’t going to be there for long enough to make it worthwhile. However, when a lot of major attractions are over 20 GBP, you want to see a bunch of them, and you’ll be in town for several days try to figure out how much the sum of the attraction entrance fees would be and then compare it to what the London Pass covers.
Eat as many scones as you can fit. Daily. Everything else is secondary.
Considering this is already quite long and I haven’t even discussed what we actually did in London, this will be a series. No one ever said I was concise in trip recaps, so I suppose this should have been expected.