Travel Ideas for Londoners

 

Fancy a trip to Venice? It’s just 2 hours away!

If you’re a Londoner, then consider yourself lucky. You quite literally have the world at your fingertips! I’ve written lots and lots about all the different trips I’ve personally taken from the UK capital, but I’ve never really provided all of you with an overview of all of the city’s travel options. Welp, here goes nothing!

By Air

The UK capital has not one, not two, not three, not four, but FIVE different airports. Yep, you heard me right. FIVE. Between Heathrow, Gatwick, London City, Luton, and Stansted, you can fly to hundreds of destinations around the world. In addition to all the major international cities, most of the airports also support seasonal flights, i.e. sunny destinations in the summer and snowy destinations in the winter.

Image Source: http://www.techweekeurope.co.uk

A sample of short breaks I’ve taken from London by air: Reykjavik, IcelandVenice, ItalyNice, FranceCopenhagen, DenmarkAmsterdam, The NetherlandsGibraltar, British Overseas TerritoryJersey Island, UK Channel Islands.

(Check out my overview of London airport travel)

By Train

The charm of medieval York? Check! The romance of Paris? Check! The beauty of Brussels? Check!! Let us not forget where the humble train can take us. Between the UK’s rail services and the Eurostar, as a Londoner you don’t have to take to the skies to travel. From quick day trips to luxurious city breaks, a lovely handful of destinations are within your grasp. A journey on the Eurostar is certainly near the top of my travel bucket list, as are Edinburgh, Lille, and York. Starting December 16, you’ll even be able to travel directly from London to Amsterdam.

Eurostar trains at St. Pancras Station

A samples of short breaks I’ve taken from London by rail: Cardiff, Wales; New Forest, EnglandOxford, England.

By Sea

London may not have its own proper ship terminal, but with Plymouth, Southampton, and Tilbury close by you can easily take no fly cruises to loads of far flung destinations. Whether you prefer an adventurous Arctic expedition or a relaxing holiday in the Canary Island, you won’t have to fly to get there. Cruises departing from the UK also go to the Baltic, Scandinavia, the Mediterranean, Africa, and even as far as Southeast Asia.

Aegean Sea (an arm of the Mediterranean Sea)

 A sample of short breaks I’ve taken from London by sea: None yet. It’s definitely on the list though!

Tips for Staying Healthy on Holiday

 

Don’t let your guard down

Everyone is always mindful of their health when they travel to parts of Asia, South America, and Africa. We all Google whether or not it’s safe to drink water from the tap, eat street food, and what OTC drugs are available from local pharmacies. The funny this is, I can cite many more instances of my friends falling ill in Europe than in “developing” countries.

You can get sick anywhere. Yes, even in Monaco.

Why is that? They let their guard down. Just because a country is “First World” doesn’t mean it’s void of germs. It’s important to take all the necessary precautions regardless of your destination, especially if you’re coming off a long plane ride. Few of us can hop off a 16-hour flight feeling 100%, so don’t expect your immune system to be at 100%.

Listen to your body

I’m giggling as I write this because this piece of advice comes straight from my dad. It always sounded funny when he said it, but there’s a lot of wisdom packed into those 4 words. If you feel exhausted or have and inkling that you’ve got a cold coming on, then rest! Missing out on a half day of sightseeing while you recharge is a minor loss compared to being out of commission for days with a cold or a fever.

Never shy away from a little spa time.

As a general rule, if you’re coming off a long-haul flight, lay low for a day to give yourself some time to adjust to your new timezone and new surroundings. That doesn’t mean you can’t do some light sightseeing or try out a restaurant near your hotel, just steer clear of clubbing until 2am or embarking on any epic hiking excursions.

Cut your fingernails

This sounds a little obscure, but given the fact that the little nooks and crannies underneath your nails are basically resort villas for all kinds of grimey things, it’s best to trim your talons before jetting off on your next holiday. This will reduce the chances of you getting sick from coming into contact with your fingers while eating finger foods or rubbing your eye — ideally you’d wash your hands before eating and you wouldn’t rub your eyes. But hey, it happens.

Schedule some breathing room into your trip

A little beachside chillaxing in Kos, Greece.

I found out that packing my travel itinerary full of activities was a bad idea. Even if you’re fit, making the transition from 9-5 office worker to on-the-go non-stop traveller will be tough. As tempting as it is to jam your days to the gills with must-do’s, schedule half a day – or even a full day – to chill out and take it easy. It’s easier than it sounds. Head to a local beach for a relaxing few hours in the sun or a park for a picnic.

Dress appropriately, even if it costs you

Staying warm in Iceland. I forgot my gloves and picked up these fantastic Icelandic wool mittens on my trip!

So you’ve spent months daydreaming and researching your trip, and took the time to pack carefully. Then you step foot off the plane and realize that you’ve made a terrible mistake. You haven’t packed the right clothes. Maybe you didn’t account for icy winds or extreme humidity, whatever it is you’re going to suffer if you wear what you’ve packed. The only way to come out of this situation on top is to buy some clothes at your destination. It’s probably going to be costly, but suffering in inadequate clothing is going to put you at higher risk for getting sick, and that will ruin your whole trip.

How to plan a day or weekend trip from London

 

So you’re spending a semester studying in London or you’re holidaying here for a few weeks. Better yet, you’ve moved to London. Yay!

After you’ve seen Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and hit up a few museums and pubs, it might be time to start thinking about taking some trips outside the city to see what the rest of England is all about. If you’ve reached this point in your London life, then I’m here to help! Below are some tips and some advice on how to plan for short trips outside of the city.

Oxford, England

Destination

First thing’s first – Where should you go?

While I definitely haven’t been everywhere, here are my top picks for day trips outside London:
1. Oxford
2. Cambridge (visit Oxford or Cambridge, but don’t waste time on both!)
3. Bath and Stonehenge (Often done as one trip)
4. Windsor Castle
5. Leeds Castle, Dover Castle, and Canterbury (Often done as one trip)
6. Hampton Court Palace
7. Brighton (in the happier, sunnier months only)

Bath, England

And now here are my top weekend destinations (again, not an exhaustive list):
1. Cornwall
2. Stratford-Upon-Avon and The Cotswolds
3. The New Forest
4. Jersey or Guernsey
5. Isle of Wight (Take a train to Southampton, then hop on a ferry)

New Forest

Transportation

Once you’ve picked a destination, it’s time to start thinking about how you’re going to get there. For most city destinations, trains will do just fine. Try www.nationalrail.co.uk to see routes and pricing.  Once you get to your destination city, you can either use public transport or one of those city tour buses to get around.

The more remote destinations like Cornwall and New Forest are reachable via train as well, but it’s best to hire a car if you can.

Then there are the specialty tourist destinations like Bath, Stonehenge, Leeds Castle, and Dover. Because these places are so popular, the easiest way to visit them is by tour bus. I’ve done several day trip tours and found them to deliver on their services in that they provide easy and direct transportation. I wouldn’t, however, expect a great tour guide or anything. Nevertheless, it’s a good option if you don’t feel like driving yourself.

The only automatic car available for rent – Oh yea, I totally crashed it.

A word on car hire in the UK:
There are four major things to know about hiring and driving a car in the UK.

  • All standard rentals are manual/stick shift. You will have to pay a hefty daily rate (often £75 – £120) if you want an automatic car.
  • Some major rental companies will not rent automatic cars to you if you are under 25, so double check if you’re in that age bracket.
  • Driving on the left side of the road is weird, but it’s probably not as hard as you think. Just drive slowly and you’ll be OK.
  • US, Canadian, Australian and European driver’s licenses will work just fine for hiring a car. I don’t know about other nations.

Accommodation

There’s nothing out of the ordinary involved with booking a hotel in England. I’ve noticed that some of the older and more traditional B&Bs don’t have great web reservation systems, but they’re still adequate. Bring your passport along as the hotel staff may ask you for ID (and it’s good to have your passport on you when you travel anyway).

B&B in New Forest

Travelling on a Budget

If you’re a student (or non-student) reading this and thinking “this sounds great, but it also seems really expensive”,  then I’ve got a few more tips for keeping within a modest budget:

  • If you’re a Youth (16 – 25) and are going to be in London for a year or more, look into the Youth Rail Pass. It costs £30 but will save you 1/3 on all rail fares for 1 year.
  • Big bus tours to places like Stonehenge and Bath typically offer student discounts, so check them out.
  • Travel in a group – If you can bring along 4-5 people in one car you’ll probably save on transportation. Groups of 2 or more are also eligible for group rail discounts.
  • A lot of towns in the UK have youth hostels where you can get a bed for less than £10/night. You could also try camping if you’re brave enough!
  • If you enjoy eating out, opt for lunch specials over dinner. Meal deals at lunch are almost always a better bargain than at dinner. Head to the local supermarket and pick up some snacks and sandwiches for dinner.

My first trip to Paris and how I had a great time without the aid of travel blogs

 

It’s been almost 5 years since my first trip to Europe as an adult, so I thought I’d bring out some old pictures to reminisce.  These are photos from the Paris leg of my trip. Looking back, I didn’t know a thing about photography, I rented accommodation from questionable individuals off of craigslist, couldn’t speak a word of French, and really had no idea what I was doing. But you know what? I still had the time of my life.

Feeding pigeons at the Louvre.

Paris Catacombs

View from the Eiffel Tower.

View from the Eiffel Tower

Versailles – Hall of Mirrors

Palace of Versailles

In the five years since this trip I’ve been fortunate to travel to all kinds of different places. My photography skills are still not great, but they’ve definitely improved. I’m a smarter, more efficient traveller than the 20-year-old who took the photos above.

In reality though, none of this really matters in respect to my trip to Paris 5 years ago. What is far more important is that I had a phenomenal time . . . a concept that I feel gets lost today when there are so many writers intent on force feeding us “How to experience the real (insert destination here)“, and “Find out what you’re doing wrong when you visit (insert destination here)“. The fact is, there is no right or wrong. Your experience is subjective and completely your own.

Travel blogs and travel sites are excellent resources to learn about different destinations, pick up useful travel tips, and read about other travelers’ experiences. However, I’d urge travelers not to succumb to the pressures of feeling like they need to do what “real travelers do”. In the end, it really is all about you (and your travel companion(s)) and what you want to do, not about how others will perceive you.