Tips for Traveling Abroad – London

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mavis red phone booth london

One Hundred Dollar a Month reader, Sandra, recently contacted me with the following question,

My friend and I are planning a trip to London in July 2015. I’ve never been abroad and have read all your tips for traveling! Thanks so much! My question is: when you go, do you purchase a tour package or do you plan your own vacation? Which do you think is the better deal? We are planning to stay about a week. If you DIY, can I ask about how much you budget for museums/tours/etc? Also, do you walk the city or bus or subway? Thanks sooooo much! We are super excited to go and are trying to plan our budget. Thanks Sandra.

I have never purchased a tour package BUT I was a loyal viewer of Rick Steves PBS Series Europe Through the Back Door and was able to glean a great deal on how to save money while traveling abroad from that show.

london natural history museum

I don’t have  a set budget for museums and tours.  I typically try to find the tours and museums I know I want to hit, and then find a way to get discounted entrance fees, etc.  I build my budget around the discounts.  If it starts to add up to too much moolah, I scale back, cutting the least important stuff {to me} first.

london tube Piccadilly line

Here’s a couple of ways I save when traveling abroad:

  1. I use Trip Advisor to look up hotels and B&B’s.  I like that they have reviews, and I can get an actual sense of the place.  It’s a great place to start.  I usually choose a hotel based on location.  I want it to be centrally located to the activities I want, OR, I want it to be close to a subway.
  2. If possible, walk.  Cabs and car rentals REALLY add up.  If you can’t walk, get to know public transport.  Europe makes public transport a walk in the park–a very inexpensive walk in the park.  Subways, buses, trains, etc. are a great way to save.  Look into savings passes for public transport.  Cities want tourists to use their transport system, and more often than not, they offer great discounts, if you look.  If weather permits, you can also look into cheap bike rentals.  You will be able to experience a lot more of the city than just walking.  For more specifics, see how I get around London.
  3. To eat on the cheap, hit outdoor markets and/or grocery stores.  They will have prepared foods that are much cheaper than sit-down restaurants, and visiting the markets is pretty much an activity in itself.  You can also stock up on snack foods that you can carry with you, instead of spending big bucks at the cafes.
  4. Bed & Breakfasts offer both a clean place to stay AND a FULL breakfast {usually}.  They can really be worth the price {which in Europe, is typically VERY affordable, as compared to the “trendy” B&B’s in America}, if you factor in the food.
  5. Consider tour packages, IF you wanted to do everything in the package anyway.  If the tours don’t really float your boat, but they offer discounted prices, you really aren’t making the most of your experience.  If you only wanted to do 2-3 tours on the list, you may be cheaper to price them out separately anyway.  Need some ideas?  Check out 10 Things to Do in London.
  6. Travel light.  I know this doesn’t seem like an obvious money saving tip, but it is.  The lighter you travel the more options you have.  You can take an impromptu trip to the countryside by train without hesitation or complication, and it really limits your liability should you become a victim of theft.

sherlock homes 221b baker street london

Rick Steve’s website also has oodles of tips and tricks for saving money, beating the lines, and acclimating to the culture.

With a bit of planning, you’ll find saving money is a piece of cake.  Any of my readers have any more tips for Sandra?

~Mavis

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Comments

  1. Heather says:

    I just returned from a week in London on Tuesday. You will love it. Public transportation on the Underground is super easy. We spent £28 total per person on the tube. Buy an Oyster card at any station and you can add money to it as needed. The Underground is safe, easy to navigate, and will get you within 2 blocks of ANY London attraction. The big museums are all free and I’d say that other attractions average about £12 for entry. Get a great guidebook like Fodors which divides the city into districts. Plan your must-see attractions and hit one geographical area per day. We stayed in South Kensington which is lovely, safe, and quiet, and only a short tube ride from everything. The more centrally you stay, the more expensive your hotel will be. You can also take day trips out to further areas like Hampton Court or Bath. Driving in the UK is absolutely harrowing and I don’t recommend it! So get a couple of great guidebooks, do your research online, and plan a great trip.

  2. All good points ,Mavis ! May I just add for other adventurers that when traveling to London with the whole family we found it more economical to rent an apt for a week and experience living like the locals by shopping at Tesco and stopping at the corner market after a long day on foot. The English do this very well – google ‘self-catering’ accommodations. Not only will you save on hotels, but also restaurants and each other’s nerves when you need the space that a hotel doesn’t afford!
    We’ve also stayed in Amsterdam, just my husband and I, in an airbnb flat that came with bicycles included! Have a great trip!

  3. Rick Steve’s’ materials (his website, PBS shows and guidebooks) and Trip Advisor are awesome resources, and I’ve used Lonely Planet a few times, too. As a rule, tour packages for travel cost more than booking everything yourself. Not to say it’s not worth it at times -a nervous first-time traveller or someone wanting to see what’s on the tour and happy for the convenience of the tour operator taking care of all arrangements might find a tour the perfect way to go. Even on a trip you book yourself, you might want to consider a day-trip tour if one matches your interests, as those can represent a good way to concentrate a lot of sightseeing into one day, more than you could do on your own. Especially for travel to a place where you speak the language, sign up for the local Groupon site right away to see the deals available there. Many smaller hotels in Europe (not just B&Bs) include breakfast in their room rates, so always check for that. I’ve been using Hotels.com lately to book my foreign travel, and they have their own loyalty program based on the nights you book through them and what you spend. The Internet cannot be beat for researching things like how to get into town from the airport, what’s going on in the city when you’ll be there, what kind of deals are available for the local transportation system, all kinds of things. Get a map so you have good idea of what’s near what and what subway or bus goes there, and note hours of operation for the things you want to see. Finally, London has a TKTS booth in Leicester Square, where you can get discount tickets to a number of shows.

    • Mavis Butterfield says:

      Thanks for the additional tips Lynne. Rick Steves and all his travelling info is pretty rad if you ask me.

  4. A few more ideas:
    1. Marks and Spencers is a ubiquitous department store with a fantastic food emporium. You can get take away salads and sandwiches and such when the restaurants have all long closed for lunch.
    2. Paddington Station in London is your gateway to dozens of day trips to Oxford, to the Potteries, etc.
    3. Yes, the National Gallery is wonderful but so is the Nat’l Portrait Gallery. Try not to miss it. At the Tate Modern there is a big slide for the kids.
    4. If you’re traveling around the countryside consider a membership in the International Hosteling Association (https://www.hihostels.com/) For very little your whole family can stay in castles, watermills, old farm houses and manor houses, all refurbished, all around the UK.
    5. London Walks (http://www.walks.com/) is a guide company that operates walks around London based on themes. They also arrange day trips to Stonehenge etc. If you have a free night, consider a walk.
    6. Take a special double-decker red tour bus. Sure the spiel is often hackneyed, but you get to be driven around in the open air, high above the traffic, where you can really see the architecture, and learn the lay of the land. Plus you can get on and off at will, catching the next bus when it comes. There is one tour company that offers you a three day ticket., so if you’re only in London, for three days or so, there’s your transportation.

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