It’s so good to be back! I love traveling and I’ve been a lot of places so I feel pretty confident when I say that I’m happy to be living in America. I realize that we have readers from around the globe and I know you are as happy living in your country as I am in mine. One of the main reasons I’m happy to be home is because I’m comfortable here and I am familiar with the things that are going on around me. Plus it’s Fall here and pretty much the perfect Fall weather outside with leaves changing and crisp air.
It’s good to be alive.
Got back yesterday around 3:30 in the afternoon more or less, landed in Virginia which meant I had to grab a bus to the Metro station, take two different Metro trains (silver line to orange line) and then the MARC (local commuter train) to my hometown. It was an ordeal and I didn’t get back to my city until around 7 p.m. The fiancé picked me up, we went out for dinner (he also brought me flowers which was so sweet of him) and then he was like, “Hey, I have to go back to the restaurant really fast to count out the drawer for closing, it shouldn’t be too long, like fifteen minutes.” My fiancé isn’t a liar so I was like, “Sure, that’s cool, no problem.”
Well. Fifteen minutes turned into like…two hours. I didn’t actually get home until sometime around 10:30.
So we watched a little bit of TV and then I crashed on the couch at which point we finally went to bed.
I say all that to say – the last part of the trip was the hardest. Just flipping getting home was so difficult. Everything else was great!
So here’s my list of things I wish I had known before heading to London with nothing but a backpack. I want to preface it by saying that London is an amazing, welcoming, beautiful, crazy city that I absolutely want to go back to someday. I was only there for five days and didn’t get to see everything I wanted to see (NAMELY BIG BEN) so I’ll definitely be headed back (AFTER 2021) which brings us to number one on the list:
1. BIG BEN IS NOT VISIBLE
As you can see in my photo here, Big Ben is covered in scaffolding.
I had heard rumors about this before I left. In fact, my hairstylist had been to London the month before I went and she told me, “Big Ben is covered in scaffolding” but for some reason I thought maybe they’d be finished or something.
Nope. They’ll be done in 2021. Or so a sign next to Big Ben says. To be fair, they’re doing some conservation work on it which I understand needs to happen so you can’t really fault anyone for this. Just be aware that you aren’t going to get any good photos of the tower until they take all the scaffolding off so if your bucket list item includes seeing Big Ben in action, you might want to wait a few years until he’s uncovered again.
2. YOUR BACKPACK IS GOING TO GET VERY, VERY HEAVY
I didn’t even pack that many things and when we weighed the bag in the airport it was around 10 kilos (which I think is 22 pounds?) so either I’m an extremely weak person (quite possible) or something else but by the end of the journey my backpack was my worst enemy. On the flight to London I decided to not check it because I was going to live my freewheeling, checked luggage only, backpacking fantasy. I’m not sure why that was a thing for me but it was.
Holy crap, that thing got so annoying. I only packed two pairs of pants (one of which I was wearing), two pairs of shoes (one of which I was wearing), some sweaters (three), two shirts (one of which I was wearing), some pajamas, socks and underwear items. I didn’t even take shampoo, conditioner, straight iron, blow dryer, etc! So I’m not sure what it was that actually made the bag so freaking heavy.
I mean there were some other items – two journals, a Kindle, an umbrella, a camera, some chargers, toiletries, a blanket, etc. If you can find the item in this group that weighs 100 pounds I will pay you to pack for me next time.
Next time I’m just going to check the bag on the flight both to and from. I can’t deny the convenience of just being able to carry everything on my back and I was a lot more agile than those people with giant wheelie suitcases so I’m going to stick with the backpack, but next time I’ll definitely pack less.
3. LONDON IS A FAIRLY EXPENSIVE CITY
This one actually caught me by surprise. I knew the Pound was stronger than the Dollar, I just didn’t realize how much stronger. I had saved up a good chunk of money and even had some left over from New York so I was never in any trouble, but the price of things definitely surprised me.
All the entry fees were between 20-22 Pounds which sounds reasonable and I’m sure that if you live in a country where you earn Pounds and spend them regularly, this isn’t that much of a problem. However, the current exchange rate from Pounds to Dollars is $1.29 to 1 Pound. So a ticket was anywhere from $26 to $29. My main purpose was to visit a ton of museums and cool sites so as you can imagine, I went through cash quite rapidly.
Food was actually fairly reasonably priced except for the coffee. I got a small (6 oz?) coffee for about $4 while I was there. There are Starbucks locations so you can get your fix but I avoid Starbucks like the plague and therefore had to figure out my way around the strange European coffee scene (which is not like American coffee shops where you just get a large black coffee and walk out the door).
Best deal, however? The tube. Which brings me to my next item.
4. UTILZE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
Strange true fact about me – I love trains. Love, love, love trains. I love the concept of trains, I love the history of trains, I love traveling in trains. Not to the extent of having a small train model in my house, but my next career is definitely going to involve trains somehow – either as a conductor or engineer. I don’t know. But I’m definitely moving into trains. I love them.
That being said, I love undergrounds. The Metro, Subway and now the Tube in London. Best way to get around the city, bar none. (Mind the gap!)
In London they use what is called an Oyster Card. For those of you familiar with the Metro in D.C. this is the exact same concept as your Metro Card. Literally. Except for the design on the front and back, those cards are twins. You buy them at machines in the stations and then you can load them up as you get low on funds. You scan them at the entry gates when you go into the station and then you scan them again when you get to your destination.
The Tube goes EVERYWHERE. Yeah, you might need to walk a few blocks before you get to the building you’re headed to, but the city was designed pretty well in that most major monuments and museums have an underground station not too far away. This includes:
- London Bridge/Tower of London (Underground is literally right next door)
- British Museum (walk maybe two blocks)
- Portobello Road (walk maybe two blocks, if that)
- Westminster Abbey/Churchill’s War Rooms/Houses of Parliament/Big Ben (Underground station right across the street)
- Harrods (Walk maybe two blocks past a Burberry and McLaren store)
- The Shard (Underground station directly beneath)
- Camden Passage (walk two blocks)
- Eye of London (Walk across a bridge which gives you amazing shots of the Eye)
- Buckingham Palace (walk a few blocks)
- St. Paul’s Cathedral (walk one block)
These are all the things I did in five days while I was there and never had an issue except for Saturday when the station to get to Portobello Road (a street market) was closed. And that’s when I discovered BUSSES.
Busses (yes, like the double decker ones) also use Oyster Cards. You just scan it when you get on the bus and I guess it’s a flat rate because you don’t scan when you get off. On Saturday afternoon my foot was bothering me so I just hopped onto a bus and rode around for about an hour. Great, cheap way to see the city. I got off when traffic hit so I don’t know what would have happened if I would have stayed on longer.
So yeah, don’t bother with taxis. Just use the underground. The map is super easy to understand, signage in the stations is plentiful and the only reason you’ll get lost is if you aren’t paying attention.
5. DRESS NICELY
Let me start this one out by saying that London is an extremely welcoming and and lovely city. You aren’t going to be ostracized or picked on or anything if you decide to just wear ratty sweatpants and a t-shirt with your old tennis shoes.
But you won’t fit in, either.
When I say dress nicely, I think it would be better to say ‘dress deliberately’. Fashion is HUGE in London (and Europe in general) and Americans can’t just get away with what some of us do here which is to just put on whatever we randomly decide to wear. (If you do this, you know what I’m talking about!)
No, you don’t have to be up on the latest styles but you do need to look nice. An interesting thing I noticed was that nobody wore anything branded. And I mean that. There were no t-shirts or hoodies to be seen. I know you think I’m exaggerating but I’m not. I was looking for these things because I noticed an absence of them.
The only time I saw something branded in an obvious way was on Sunday night when apparently the NFL came to town (??) and all of a sudden everyone was wearing football jerseys for the Panthers and some other team (I do not follow American football so I don’t know who they were – the Chargers maybe?).
Everyone was wearing a combination of this sort of outfit (even men!!) – jeans (wide leg AND skinny! In fact, cropped, wide legged pants were sort of the thing!), a button up or other nice shirt (think drapey sort of fabrics, smooth, with classy details), a sweater (and not a stupid one, a nice one), and a coat of some sort (fur coats were surprisingly popular but so were peacoats, those green and brown button/zipper coats with hoods, and puffy, shiny coats). Scarves with coats were useful but optional.
Just wanted to clarify, men were not wearing wide legged pants, they wore normal, straight legged or boot cut jeans or a suit. They would also wear a suit coat or blazer over their button up or sweater. Oftentimes they didn’t have any coat over the jacket or they had an overcoat depending on the temperature.
As far as bags go, either a nice purse or a backpack. And not just any backpack, these were nice, statement pieces. The Fjallraven canvas backpacks were everywhere but generally relegated to the 18-25 year old, female group. One girl had a great idea, she’d sewn the little badges you can get from monuments onto hers. It was really cute.
Otherwise it was canvas or leather bags with straps usually. And if it wasn’t a backpack it was a cross body bag so that hands were kept free. Most men and women were carrying some sort of bag.
And, guys, the shoe game WAS ON POINT. NICE sneakers or other sort of shoe that had obviously been taken care of and deliberately chosen for that outfit. All brands – Nike, Adidas, New Balance, Puma, etc. Boots on women were very popular as well – booties, military style boots, equestrian style (not as much though which surprised me) and tall boots. Dr. Martens were also quite popular with the grunge crowd as well as shoes with very tall soles (and inch to two inches, it was interesting). Regardless of what style someone was wearing, the shoes were always picked to go with the outfit.
As far as hair and makeup is concerned, there were a variety of looks from all decked out to natural (the no makeup makeup look). As long as you did something with your hair and makeup, it works.
Sometimes the best part about sitting in a train station was just looking at what people were wearing. London has some nicely dressed people!! It was so much fun!!
All told, I absolutely adored London. I’m definitely going back sometime in the future because there is so much more I need to see.
There are some things I’d do differently maybe, but I’ll write about that in a later post.
Thanks for reading! If you have any questions please leave a comment below! If you noticed anything while you were traveling that you think would help someone planning a trip to London, also leave a comment! I’ll update the post (and give you a shoutout!)
Have a great day!