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Saturday, October 5, 2019

Lessons Learned On My Recent Trip to the US and London



Don't worry, I still have a few more posts I wanted to write about what I did on my trip to London, but I wanted to share some lessons I learned with you on my recent trip to the US (New York and Cleveland) and London. Some of these lessons are location specific, but mostly they're good lessons for anyone traveling.

I've broken down the tips into a few different categories, to make them easier to find.

Phones and Directions

  • Phone plans aren't necessary when traveling. I know, I know. This is a thing that many people will probably disagree with me on, but its something about which my opinion has evolved over time about this. Yes, this is also personal, and not everyone can do what I do, but I'm just pointing this out as something to consider.
    The first few times I traveled abroad I made sure to get cell phone service from my country before I left. I paid a lot one time and then ended up running out of minutes while there and my service got cut off. The second time I paid for more time and it worked out, and it ended up being even more expensive. The third time I decided to buy a sim card once I arrived, and managed without until I found one in a store. Then these last two times I traveled I was without any phone plan at all.
    Here's what I discovered. It can be annoying to not have a phone with you when you travel. But that's what people did in the past. You make arrangements with people when you are in a location where you have access to the internet. And there are so many of those places these days. Unless you're going somewhere really remote, many places have free wifi. I only stay in places that include wifi (after my first trip where I accidentally only realized later that there was no wifi) and make my daily plans and reservations using the wifi there. And then as needed catch up throughout the day when I find a wifi hub. Many places have wifi completely open, as long as you sign in with something through their listed website. And other places have wifi for paying customers. And many public transportation methods even have wifi available while traveling.
    I've gotten people telling me that they think I'm addicted to my phone. But you know what? I did totally fine without my phone when out and about on my last two week trip. You just need to prepare a little bit in advance and all is fine.
    As for emergencies, I do have call roaming on my regular sim card, which I don't use since its a fortune. But when needed, I can be reached this way. In fact, with caller ID I am able to see who calls me, and then if its something important, I either answer it (and pay a lot per minute) or message them back when I'm in an area with wifi.
  • Google Maps works without wifi. You can download google maps for specific locations to be usable even when you don't have internet. The problem with that, though, is you can't search for directions on the maps when offline, even with downloaded maps. For me, I found the trick around this was to search for directions when I had internet, and then click on the route you want to take, and then even without downloading the map, Google Maps will update me where I am along the route as I am going along it, even without an internet connection, as long as GPS is turned on. The only issue with this is you can only do it with one set of directions at a time that you can follow along with, only getting new directions once you have wifi. Other directions you'll need to write down in advance.

Transportation without a Car

  • Public transportation is totally doable, with caveats. So far on my trips I've traveled to Lublin, Poland, Warsaw, Poland, a small town in Poland outside Lublin, Brussels, Belgium, Brugges, Belgium, Craiova, Romania, Heraklion, Greece, Chania, Greece, Agia Roumeli, Greece, New York, Cleveland, Ohio, and London, England. And in all of them, it was possible to get around without a car, just using public transportation. I actually have a blog post coming up on this with more details, but I just wanted to share that I rented a car on none of my trips and relied on public transportation.
    The caveats are that some cities are better than others, and you need to research public transportation options before you go. Some places public transportation ends relatively early in the evening, or there aren't so many buses a day, so you need to time things right. But so far I haven't vacationed anywhere where you couldn't use public transportation to get around.
  • There's more than Greyhound. Growing up in the US, I knew about Greyhound as the bus option for traveling from one city to another. Then I learned more recently about Megabus. However, when I traveled to Cleveland, I saw that they weren't serviced by Megabus. I heard about something called the China Town bus, but wasn't able to find out any information about it online. Gotobus.com was where I finally found the information about the China Town bus, which is actually called the Great Wall Bus, but their website just directs you back to Gotobus.com. That's actually the best website to compare different public transport options between cities in the US, I've found. And a European equivalent is Flixbus.com. But really the best option when searching for transport between cities is to use google; you'll usually get great results that way.
    Oh, and by the way, about the China Town buses? Ask the drivers before you get on where they're ending their route. Because this was changed on me, and the bus did not end at the address where it said on the ticket. Which can be greatly annoying if meeting someone or you have your directions prepared in advance.
  • AirTrain in NY. If you're taking the subway to the airport and transferring to AirTrain to either JFK or La Guardia, don't expect to pay a regular subway fare for this. Not only did you need to buy a special AirTrain Metrocard and not the regular one, this short ride cost $5. Be prepared.
Your Airline Ticket. Basically, Don't Assume
  • Check Your Ticket. Check Your Tickets!!! I nearly botched things up terribly this time, because I assumed that there were only two airports in London, and since I wasn't flying out of Luton airport, I assumed that meant Heathrow airport. Haha!!! Not! This happened to me on my second to last trip to the US, I ended up in one airport in Chicago, and my flight was at another, an hour drive, and I missed my flight. This time, fortunately, I realized with time to spare before my flight that my flight was from Standsted airport, which is a completely different location than Heathrow. And fortunately I was able to find public transportation there, which was completely different than the transportation I would have taken to Heathrow.
  • Check your emails! So this time, since I decided to pay for an extra suitcase that I didn't pay for when I booked my ticket from London to my home country, I assumed that I would be checking in at the airport. So when I got emails reminding me to check in, I didn't even bother opening them, even when I got multiple emails. Yea, don't do that! Finally, I got an email saying that I missed check in time for my flight, and then I read it. Then I had to pay extra at the airport to check in there. Even if you're adding a suitcase, that is a second fee. Don't assume you should check in at the airport even if things changed about your flight. And with some tickets, you need to check in online at least 12 hours before your flight, so don't wait with this.


England Specific Tips

  • You can use European electrical items without a converter. I only learned on the plane to England that England uses 240 electricity, unlike the American 110 or European 220. I knew I needed an adapter for plugs, but I had no idea if my items like computer or cell phone that were ok for 110/220 were also ok with British 240. They are ok. Just letting y'all know that. Only a plug adapter is needed, no electricity converter.
  • Things are pronounced weirdly. Don't expect things to make sense. Like Leicester is pronounced Lester. Tottenham is pronounced Tutnam. Simple fact, nothing makes sense about British pronunciation. I mean, you can pronounce things phonetically, and it will make everyone realize you're a tourist, which will probably be obvious anyhow because of your accent. But when they're giving you directions, ask them the spelling of the places they're directing you to, so you know you're referring to the same place.
  • Things close early in London. I was surprised at how early so many London attractions close. 6 pm! That's ridiculously early. Be prepared.
  • Book things in advance. I wanted to go to the London Sky Gardens and the free tickets were all booked in advance and there were none left. I showed up at a comedy club and was told you need to show up an hour and a half to two hours early for tickets, otherwise you won't be let in. If you want to go to places, find out from them in advance how early you need to get tickets, and don't assume that just showing up when something is supposed to start is enough. It isn't.
  • Tescos rocks! I'd heard lots about Tescos before I went to London, but I definitely love it. They have so many great things there for great prices, and they have reduced rack items too, which I definitely took advantage of. There were even Tescos open until really late at night, and some open 24 hours a day! They had some great gluten free items, some that I brought home with me since I haven't been able to find good local equivalents (like gluten free wraps).
  • Bring forks and spoons. I was so used to local shops giving disposable forks with items you buy like salads or yogurts, but Tesco and the other British shops I went do didn't provide those. So bring those along with you.
  • Don't bring knives. I had brought along a sharp knife with me to be able to cut a hunk of salami for my lunch, but it got confiscated when I went to museums, despite my being upfront with them about it, showing it to them, telling them what it was for. So just don't bring knives, ok? Cut anything needed in advance.
  • Brits don't talk on the tube. I have no idea why not, but apparently its a big cultural taboo to talk to people on the tube. I did and I met some really nice people, but you should know what these cultural norms are and decide if you want to break them or not.
  • England is awesomely multicultural. I knew England was multicultural, but I guess it didn't hit me until I was there that it felt even more multicultural than New York did to me. I constantly was hearing languages all around me that weren't English, even one of our tour guides of London wasn't a British national. It was really nice to see so many different types of people in one area. 
I'm always learning, and these were just the lessons I learned on my last trip, and I wanted to share them with you so that you can learn from my lessons instead of just learning things the hard way.

Have you ever been to London, or visited NY? What lessons did you learn there that you'd like to share? Do you agree with the points I made, or do you disagree with some, and if so, which? Have you ever made any of the same mistakes that I did?

5 comments:

  1. Be careful with the Chinatown buses. They do not always have the best safety record, and several lines have been shut down in recent years due to accidents that revealed just how spotty their safety inspections/licensing processes were. Better alternatives are BoltBus and MegaBus.

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  2. About the Chinatown buses: I would never recommend going on one, even though I have done so regularly in the past and would probably still keep on using one if I were in a part of the country they served. But it's safety risk all the same, and while I'm willing to take that risk, it's not something I'd ever endorse.

    I would also recommend renting a car if you're traveling with kids/partner. It's one thing to travel alone, and easy enough to put up with annoyances like watching the bus pull out just as you arrive at the bus stop. But there's only so much you can expect from a kid, and only so much you can expect from each other, before the last nerve starts to fray.

    I respectfully disagree about not needing a phone when you travel, though that's mostly because our travel plans when we were in San Jose depended largely on my brother's and sister's plans, and they were apt to change at the last second. Luckily Starbucks has free WiFi and there's basically a Starbucks everywhere, but still - it was a major problem when my phone drowned halfway through our trip to the US. Not an insurmountable problem, but enough to be annoying and irritating and well worth the $30 from T-mobile not to have.

    As for London: I loved London when we visited. 6pm closing times are pretty standard throughout the whole of Europe, I find. In our town only the supermarkets and restaurants stay open past then. And disposables? Tsk tsk - don't you care at all about the turtles? (just kidding, but in all seriousness: Europe is in the midst of a plastics purge, so I always have a set or two of those cheap reusable plastic utensils from IKEA on me if there's a chance that we'll stop for food, and make it a point to carry a silicone straw as well)

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  3. My husband and I went to London as part of a trip over 20 years ago. We were there for 3-4 days, but on one of the first days there we went to a little shop to get some lunch. We bought our food and then tried to go sit at one of the indoor tables. Well, we were told we couldn't sit inside. It was like we ordered to-go food and we didn't realize it. It was a weekday and it was crowded with workers getting their lunches too. It was a little crazy. It was a rude awakening that although we were in an English speaking country there was definitely some cultural differences.

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    Replies
    1. There are different food prices for takeaway and eat in

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  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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