My best advice is to spend extra time in this area if you are going to travel to London or other parts of England.
- Don’t go by the name of the hotel. Some hotels have found ways to sound like major hotel chains even when they are not.
- Read the reviews of the hotel online! Look at Yahoo travel or hotels.com and they will have consumer reviews. Put a little effort here and it will pay off for you.
- Nickel and dime – find out what is included in the price of your hotel. If you have to pay internet, breakfast, car in garage, hidden taxes, etc. you may find out that in the end it may not be such a good bargain after all.
- Use the concierge services of your hotel. All major hotels have a concierge service that will sell tickets, give great advice and have plenty of brochures for you to review. When making your reservations make sure this service is offered by your hotel and use this resource to your advantage.
- Hotel rooms in England will be smaller than in the U.S. Expect there will be less square footage in your room and in your bathroom in most instances.
- If you are warm-natured or going to England during the summer make sure your hotel has air-conditioning or at least a fan. Those hotels that do not have air conditioning, and it is common, encourage you to open the windows in your bedroom which could increase noise, limit privacy or even be above a smoking area.
This is a practice handled differently in different countries. Americans are accustomed to tipping regularly, but remember this isn’t the U.S. and service people are not expecting a tip as they do in America.
- Brits do not normally tip.
- In most situations British workers don’t expect a tip.
- Many times waiters’ tips are collected at the end of the night and disbursed among kitchen staff, waiters, even management. Some of the larger chain restaurants require the restaurants to send all tips into their corporate office to make sure it is properly taxed before sending it back.
- I always tip but no more than 10% in Britain and only when I receive great service or take a taxi. I feel uncomfortable not tipping. Do what you are comfortable with but don’t feel cheap if you don’t tip, you will be in the majority.
Emergencies can happen anywhere so be prepared. Before you travel overseas call your medical insurance provider and ask what to do in case of an emergency. There is a social healthcare system in the UK that will provide services for you in an emergency, or so I have been told, but your insurance should work with the UK healthcare service to ensure you get the medical attention you need. Always carry your medical card with you with phone numbers and addresses on it.
Clothes to wear
The weather in the UK is unpredictable but it is predominantly cool and wet. I have seen some beautiful stretches of weather but they typically don’t last more than a week. Even in the summer the nights are cool. If you are cold-natured dress warm. There will seldom be a time you will be hot.
- Casual dress – if you are sight-seeing dress casual. Even the Globe Theatre is casual.
- Shoes – you need comfortable shoes because regardless of your mode of transportation (bus, Underground or taxi) you will walk more than you think.
- Umbrella – it seldom rains that hard but it does rain frequently so bring a small, light-weight umbrella. You won’t use it all the time but you will be glad you have it when it does rain.
- Restaurants – most restaurants are casual. Ask your concierge if you are concerned about the dress code when you are fine dining or going to a play. I can’t imagine a time when a man would need a tie, a women a dress unless you have a formal event to attend.
This one is a little complicated. Bring the mobile phone from your home country for emergencies but using it will be expensive.
- Turn off “data roaming” as soon as you land in the UK as this is where the biggest costs are. It should be under “settings” on most Android and Apple mobile phones.
- Call your service provider and get a temporary international plan in place. This alone will save you a lot of money. Even if you don’t get an international plan let the service provider know you are going overseas or they may cut your service off without notification when they see abnormalities in your long-distance.
- You shouldn’t have any issues getting coverage using your mobile phone on the UK networks.
- Limit your usage. There is really no great way to limit this expense unless you just don’t use your mobile phone very much. The fastest way to get an expensive bill on your return is through downloading data (internet, email, etc.)
- Skype – if you don’t have Skype on your PC, download it. It is free. Then you can call and visit with family and friends for free over VOIP (voice over the internet). Most PCs, iPads and even some mobile phones now have this capability.
- Text messaging – less expensive than talking for sure but they will add up so caution here.
- MMS – you will be tempted to send pictures back home on your mobile phone. However when the phone bill arrives you might wish you had waited to show your friends and family the pictures when you got home.
Here are some general suggestions to help you with determining what to bring on your trip. Plan well ahead of time or you will forget something important you wish you had brought.
- 2-3 electrical adaptors. You cannot believe how handy they will be. Bring extra to keep everyone happy or you might end up fighting with family members who need to charge their camera, iPad or mobile phone batteries.
- Umbrella, light-weight, not heavy/bulky
- Sweater and long sleeve shirts
- Comfortable walking shoes. Make sure you don’t mind getting them wet and dirty.
- GPS or SatNav if you are planning on driving. If you are going to rent a car I suggest that you purchase a GPS or SatNav at any major PC store. The GPS or SatNav is a requirement but the rent a car company will charge you enough in 3 days that you could have purchased one for less.
- When you arrive at the hotel ask the concierge desk for the name and number of a local taxi company. Put it in your phone, it will come in handy.
- There is no need to get currency at the airport or even prior to your trip. If you need cash the destination airport will have a cash machine, or ATM. Ask your taxi if they take credit cards, as most do, but if they don’t let them know you need to go by a “cash machine” and they can help you. The currency companies will usually not give you as good a conversion rate and most will charge you a service charge on top of the conversion rate.
- Fanny pack or small backpack – bring something in which to carry your money, wallets, maps, water, and the souvenirs you purchase. It will keep them dry as well. Otherwise you may carry too much in your arms and accidently set something down that is important and lose it (like me!).
- Write down phone numbers, email addresses and other important family or emergency information (medical insurance, car insurance, US Embassy in case of a lost passport, hotel phone numbers in the UK in case you need to call, etc.) that you might need while on your trip. It costs too much money to call someone to get a number you need back home.
- Get a good book on English history. Read it on the plane if you have to because your trip will be enhanced if you know and understand the history of the sites you are going to visit. The history of the UK is not something you can read and understand in an hour.
- Prescription and over the counter medicine – you won’t find the same brands of medicine in the UK as in your home country. Make sure you bring all of your prescriptions in bottles that are marked with your prescription information. Purchase your favorite over the counter medicines (ibuprofen, allergy medicine, etc.) and bring a full bottle to make sure you have enough. If you bring any type of medicines or supplements that are not in a marked bottle then there is a risk they will be confiscated and it could potentially cause you a delay.
- Prepare a list in advance of the sites you want to visit and a plan for your week. Make sure you check the websites of those sites to ensure they are open during the time you are planning on visiting.
- Snacks – if you have certain brands of gum, candy, snacks that you like, pack them in your suitcase. More than likely you won’t find those brands in the UK (it is difficult to find plain M&Ms in England!). In London, and really all of the UK, convenient stores and grocery stores may not be as easily accessible as in your home country. Don’t pack water bottles as they are too heavy but pack some granola bars, vanilla wafers, dried fruit, trail mix, whatever snack you enjoy between meals. All the walking from sight-seeing can make a person hungry.
a. I remember going to Europe for my first time in 1972. We were told to call bathrooms “the loo”. However, today in Britain you want to ask for the “toilet”. Outside of London if you ask for the bathroom or restroom it make take someone a second to understand.
b. In most public transportation stations (airport, train, Underground) people must pay to use the toilet. In most instances it is 50 pence. There are usually change machines outside, but not always. It isn’t payment to get into the stall it is payment to get inside the bathroom.
c. In London, in particular, it may be difficult to find a toilet in some places. Gas (petrol in the UK) stations and convenience stores are just not as common. Many tourist areas will have toilets once you are inside the facility so remember to go one last time prior to leaving the site.
The UK is not on the Euro but the British Sterling.
- £, the pound, a sterling, also called a “quid”
- The pound only comes in denominations of 50, 20, 10 and 5
- There are no pound notes smaller than a five
- There are 1 pound and 2 pound coins.
- Anything under a pound is a pence. There are 50p, 25p, 20p, 10p, 5p, 2p and 1p coins.
- Below are pictures. Get to know the coins prior to arriving and it will make it much easier to ensure you are paying the right amount.
For people traveling overseas jet-lag can be a serious issue. Ignoring jet-lag won’t help as people find themselves falling asleep during times when they want to be awake! I have traveled for years in business and have struggled to stay awake during business meetings. Here are my suggestions:
- Drinks lots of water on the overseas flight. Your body dehydrates when you fly at high altitudes for long periods of time so drink, then drink some more and then drink some more (but never out of the sink in the plane bathroom, as this can be hazardous to your health). I recommend not drinking alcohol on the plane unless you are coming home as it will increase your dehydration and make jet-lag worse.
- Exercise immediately upon getting there. This worked wonders for my ex-boss. He was a runner and when he arrived overseas the first thing he did was jog. It didn’t seem to work for me as I was too tired and stressed to exercise.
- Nap…but not long. Believe it or not I do what they tell you not to do. Most overseas flights will land in the morning. Staying awake until the end of the day without sleeping (recommended by many) is too hard for me. I lay down for about a 3-4 hour nap and get up before 2:00 p.m. If you sleep too much you won’t go to sleep that night.
- I found out the secret to many overseas travelers who seem to handle jet-lag well is that they heavily medicate on the airplane, forcing themselves to sleep. I do not advise this although it might work. Some people can sleep on a long flight, others cannot, like me.
- That first night is the key. Turn off your TV. Turn off your PC. Don’t talk on the mobile phone past 10:00 p.m. Make sure your body and mind know it is time to go to sleep. Psychologically the first night is the most important to getting over jet-lag.
Whatever your expectations for customer service reduce them prior to taking a trip to the UK. One thing to remember is that different cultures value different things. High levels of customer service are not expected by the British at restaurants or retail stores. Expect to stand in longer lines than you may be used to. Expect to ask the waiter or waitress every time you need your check. Don’t bother putting your credit card on the edge of the table, they will ignore it. Brits enjoy taking their time after a meal to visit with family and friends. Americans expect their check so they can head to the next activity in most cases. Relax, enjoy the food and drink and when you are ready to leave wave at the waiter and let him know. Remember, regardless of what level of customer service you are used to, you are in someone else’s country and they may not share your expectations.
Make sure you contact your bank and/or credit card companies and let them know you are traveling to the UK and the timeframe you will be there. If you don’t you may get your card suspended and then calling the toll free number won’t be toll free anymore.
- Brits use debit cards with an electronic chip on it called a “chip & pin”. They slide the card into the wireless payment unit and put in their debit number. The wireless unit verifies the number and the electronic chip embedded in the card. Outside of London swipe cards are not used frequently and you may be asked if you have a chip and pin. I have been to McDonalds before where I couldn’t order food because the waiting staff didn’t know how to operate the wireless payment unit with a swipe card. Don’t worry, just be aware.
- Your credit card company will normally charge you twice: 1) once an exchange rate on your expenditure and 2) a small service charge for performing the exchange – at least my banks do. It pays to use cash when you can.
- In many countries Automatic Teller Machines are called ATMs but in Britain they are called “cash machines”. When you put in your card to get cash it dispenses money in local currency. It may cost you less money than using your credit card.
Tourists’ shop, that’s what we do. Many people shop in the Piccadilly or Oxford Square. Others may shop at the gift shops located at the historical sites (some are really good, like the Tower of London). Just remember these high traffic tourist areas are more expensive than the areas that aren’t tourist spots. If convenience is more important than cost then purchase where you find the items you like. Otherwise you can find plenty of shopping areas wherever you go in Britain that have the same merchandise for less.
- If you are in London, sign up for the double decker tour bus on the first or second day to get your bearings.
- Call or go on-line to find out what time sites open. Sites tend to open after 9:00 a.m. and some even later.
- Plan the best route to get there. Contact the concierge if you need assistance. I would suggest the Underground first, taxi second, walking third and bus (non-tour bus) last.
- Bring your camera and take lots of pictures!
Common British words and their American equivalents
- Toilet = Bathroom
- Petrol = Gas
- Chili = a flavored pepper not a bowl of meat stew
- Chips = French fries
- Biscuit = cookie
- White = milk in tea (“I want tea, white, with sugar”)
- Pub = restaurant and bar in most cases now
- Give way = yield
- Ring road = service road
- Motorway = highway
- Underground = subway
- Chemist = pharmacist
- Lorry – 18 wheeler
- Boot = car trunk
- SatNav = GPS
- Post Code = address (in-between street address and zip code but accurate to use)
- Chicken burger = chicken sandwich
- Mashed = mashed potatoes
- Mushy peas = mushy green English peas
- Bin = trash basket
- Cinema = movie theater
- Crisps = potato chips
- Gammon = ham
- Rubbish = trash
- Telly = television