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London Necesities

Arriving in London

 by Rebecca Meagher

by Rebecca Meagher

I cemented my love of travel at an early age. I love looking up the dos and don’ts of a being in certain country as well as the country’s customs. I’ve had the chance to travel to many cool places like Ecuador, China and Spain, however in these countries I felt like I was walking around with a big neon sign over my head flashing the word “tourist” for everyone to see despite my best attempts at blending in.

While studying abroad in Madrid for a semester I tried my hardest to ditch the typical “American” stereotypes. I carried a purse instead of a backpack, wore boots and flats instead of sneakers and tried to speak Spanish with everyone. I didn’t even bring a pair of sweatpants with me.  However, much to my dismay, no one seemed to notice the effort I took. This was abundantly clear one day on the bus when someone bumped into me and quickly said “disculpe” then turned around to look at me and then said “sorry”.  

 Rebecca featuring the blue jacket and hot pick scarf

Rebecca featuring the blue jacket and hot pick scarf

While studying abroad in Madrid I learned to accept that I would stand out, so I was very excited to take a weekend trip to London because I hoped that being in London would allow me a break from constantly looking like a tourist.

I brought my favorite – more stylish – clothes in the hopes of looking more like a Londoner. However, I tend to gravitate towards colorful clothes rather than the stereotypical dark colors of British fashion, so I thought that I was at a bit of a disadvantage. I was self-conscious of wearing bright colors, but I wasn’t ready to go out and buy new, more monotone clothing. In the end I decided to pack my bag and hope for the best.

I landed in London for the first time in mid-February, so it was cold. I put on my bright blue jacket and hot pink scarf while waiting impatiently to get off the plane and began to think about my plans for my time in London. Suddenly, my thoughts were interrupted by a fellow passenger asking: “you’re not from here, are you?” I was startled because I hadn’t even opened my mouth to say a word in my definitely-not-British accent. When I looked startled he commented that it was my blue coat that had betrayed me.

I had flown to London excited about taking a break from constantly standing out while in Madrid, however I hadn’t even stepped foot on British soil before my hopes were shattered. Thankfully my disappointment didn’t last too long because I was reunited with my family and didn’t care as much about blending in. Although, I did end up ditching my blue coat for part of the time to wear a more stylish grey felt coat that I had brought in order to feel a little bit more “European.”

A few years later I returned to London not to visit, but as a student undertaking a degree program. With me in my luggage was the same blue coat that I had worn that day on the plane. However, this time I wore it, and the rest of my brightly colored wardrobe without a second thought. I have learned that London is a very diverse city, so being confident in who I am and what I wear is more important than worrying about standing out. Besides, there will probably be someone else on the street dressed in more eye-catching garb anyways.

London has HOW many airports?

 By Rebecca Meagher

By Rebecca Meagher

There are 5 airports serving London: London City Airport, Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton. Some are closer than others, however the closer airports may have more expensive flights.

There are at least two public transportation options from the center of London to each airport. With so many options it’s possible to choose the transport that works best for you.

London City (LCY) www.londoncityairport.com/visitingtheairport/page/publictransport

 

Heathrow (LHR)                                            www.heathrow.com/transport-and-directions

* Travel time of 15 minutes. The express train has a shorter trip, however it may be a more expensive option. Be sure to book in advance.

** Travel time between 31 and 49 minutes. Ticket to London Paddington 10.20 pounds. Only stops at terminals 2&3 or 4 with a free transfer train to terminal 5 from terminals 2&3.

***Pay as you go cost of 5.10 pounds during peak hours and 3.10 all other times.

Gatwick (LGW)                                                 www.gatwickairport.com/to-and-from/

* Travel time of 30 minutes. The express train has a shorter trip, however it is much more expensive

 Stansted (STN)                                       www.stanstedairport.com/getting-to-stansted/

*Unlike Gatwick and Heathrow, the Stansted express is the only rail option to the airport from the center of London

Tip: There are no water fountains in the terminal, but water bottles are available in return for a donation, so bring some change

 Luton (LTN)                                                                               www.london-luton.co.uk/to-and-from-lla

* There is a shuttle bus that takes you to the terminals from Luton Parkway train station. This is an additional  cash only cost if the ticket is booked to Luton Airport Parkway (LTN). The fare for this shuttle is included in all tickets booked to Luton Airport (LUA).

Paying in London

 By Rebecca Meagher

By Rebecca Meagher

The UK uses the Pound, so it goes without saying that you’ll need to pay for everything in pounds. The logical solution to the USD to GBP problem is to exchange USD to GBP and pay with your new pounds. However, there are other options such as withdrawing cash from an ATM in the UK with your US debit card.

Although your bank most likely will charge you a flat fee for using a foreign ATM as well as for converting USD to GBP, this option may actually provide better rates than exchanging cash at the airport or at local exchanges. Some US banks even have relationships with foreign banks, which may wave the flat fee making this option even more cost-effective. Talk to your bank before you leave to see if this is an option.

It is also possible to use a credit card for almost all purchases. If you are a seasoned traveler, then you have heard of a thing called “transaction cost.” This is the cost a credit card company adds to each transaction made outside the US. Your credit card company also decides the exchange rate you will get, usually it’s about an additional 3% charge.

To make things easier there are credit cards that cater to travelers traveling abroad that feature zero transaction fees. If you don’t already have one of these, check with your bank or other providers to see if it makes sense for you to get one to use when you’re abroad.

Unlike the US, every single purchase, no matter how small, that you make with a credit card will require a signature (or a PIN). Be prepared for a somewhat bewildered person at the till if you need to sign, they aren’t always prepared for it because PINs are widely used in the UK for credit card purchases. 

When paying at a restaurant you may notice on your bill a charge called “service charge.” This is almost like a tip, however this charge does not always go to the restaurant staff, sometimes it just goes to the restaurant. If you do not want to pay this charge or you want to ensure your tip goes to your server, you may ask to have it taken off your bill then tip your server in cash.

London Transport isn't always so clear

 By Rebecca Meagher

By Rebecca Meagher

In the center of London there are a few forms of public transportation: Tube, Bus, Bike.

Oystercards:

One of the first things that you should do when arriving in London (or even before arriving to London depending on how organized you are) is to get an Oystercard. This can be done a couple of ways:

  • at a tube station  

  • at certain local shops (just look for a sign out front with the logo).

To learn about the most convenient place for you to get your Oystercard as well as information on the additional Travelcard and Bus and Tram passes look here: https://tfl.gov.uk/fares-and-payments/where-to-top-up-and-buy-tickets
 

Tickets:

Although paper tickets exist, they are hardly realistic. A journey with a paper ticket often will end up costing you more! Oystercards and contactless cards can be used for pay as you go fares. Depending on your transportation use, this may be the most cost effective option for you. They can be used on the Tube, bus, DLR, Overground, TfL Rail, Emirates Air Line, River Bus and many National Rail trips.

Pay as you go fares have a daily cap, which depends on the transport types you use. For example the Zone 1-6 cap is 12 pounds while the Zone 1 cap is 6.60 pounds. If you travel only twice a day on the Tube everyday it is recommended that you use pay as you go rather than a 7 Day Travelcard for the cost savings.

For others, 7 Day Travelcards may be more cost effective if you travel over four days a week. The 7 Day travel card works for unlimited travel if your travel includes Zone 1. They can be purchased at the Tube ticket machines or from Overground or TfL rail stations. Travelcards can also be bought online in advance.

In general, peak hours on all services other than the bus are from 6:30 to 9:30 in the morning and 4:00-7:00 in the evening. This is when rush hour is, so tickets are more expensive.

Tube

During the workweek the tube closes at varying times depending on the line, however they do not run all night. During the weekend certain tube lines have night hours, however the tube may not stop at every stop. When going out at night be sure to know how you are getting home. Nothing kills a night like a £50 taxi fee.

It’s worth noting that the tube can be very warm in the summer (and even during the winter), so make sure to remain sufficiently hydrated throughout your journey.

To learn more about the one way fare of you trip click here: https://tfl.gov.uk/fares-and-payments/fares/single-fare-finder?intcmp=1660
 

Bus

You must have an Oyster card or a Contactless to pay for a bus fare, they do not take cash. There are hopper fares when you make two journeys on a bus or tram within an hour which makes the second trip on the bus or tram free provided you do not take any other form of transport in between the two bus fares. If you don’t have enough credit on your Oyster card to pay the fare or your Travelcard has just expired, it’s possible to make one more journey on the bus despite the lack of credit.

If you prefer the bus or the bus is your most convenient form of travel, it is possible to purchase a 7 day bus and tram pass. This can provide cost savings if you make over 14 trips a week on the bus or tram.

There are a lot of moving parts to the prices of public transport in London, so take a look at the website to learn more! https://tfl.gov.uk/fares-and-payments/

To learn more about caps: https://tfl.gov.uk/fares-and-payments/oyster/using-oyster/price-capping

Bike

If you are up for a bit of a challenge, Santander bikes are a third option of transportation. There are bike ports on many street corners in London. For casual bike users you will need to have a credit card or debit card in order to take out a bike. This pay as you go method can give you 24 hour access to bikes for just 2 pounds, just keep the ride to less than 30 minutes increments . If you use the bikes regularly you should look into becoming a member for 90 pounds a year.

To learn more details on how it works see here: https://tfl.gov.uk/modes/cycling/santander-cycles/how-it-works

Don't forget to pack...

 By Rebecca Meagher

By Rebecca Meagher

When spending time in London there are a few items that you should be sure to not leave behind.

 As we all know, London can get a bit rainy, so the first thing in your suitcase should be a mini umbrella that you can carry with you everywhere you go. However, rain boots aren’t all that necessary, so save space and pack something else. If you do decide you need rain boots you can find them in London super cheap, 10-15 pounds or so at stores such as H&M, Primark or Tiger.

 Despite its reputation for gloomy, rainy days, London can be  quite sunny at times. Do yourself a favor and pack a pair of sunglasses. Try to carry them with you at all times because you never know when the sun will pop out behind the clouds.

 A student ID can be surprisingly useful in London. Students often  get discounts on food, movie tickets, museum entrances, and shopping. It may not seem like a large saving opportunity, but it adds up!

 The sun doesn’t set until late, so that means there is plenty of time to explore London’s streets, parks, and museums. Comfortable shoes are a must.

 As you may know, British pounds are different from US dollars. Like the Euro, pounds have coins that actually matter. Make sure to have a wallet with a good change section, or at least a plan on how to deal with the loose pounds so you don’t make the costly mistake of misplacing any of the coins, the 2 pound coin can be worth up to $3 alone!