My Son's Budget Solo Trip -- London

The iconic Tower Bridge

I am loving that my son, Lee, is on his first solo trip abroad at 16. As much as I love traveling myself, watching him do it vicariously makes me almost feel like I'm there too. Additionally, I can be excited for him getting to experience these things and discover my love of travel. Not to mention, how to do so on a tight budget. 

Tower of London

On his way to the US for the summer he had a stop over for 2 full days in London. He was a little apprehensive about what it would be like to tour on his own in a place where he knew no one, but as luck would have it, one of his close friends was also in London at the same time with his family, so they met up on the first day that he was there and toured a bit together. 

This friend had planned on going to the Tower of London, actually a full museum and not just a tower, and I asked my son if he wanted to spend the 17 pounds (22 dollars) on seeing that with his friend instead of doing something free (my son is paying for cost of his outings, I'm paying for everything else including transportation there) and he said he was willing to, it was worth it for him. In the end, the friend's generous mother paid his entrance fee.

My son told me that they joined a tour of the place, but it was so loud and the tour guide was so quiet, that they weren't even able to hear the tour guide, so they ended up going around and exploring on their own. 

There was a long line to see the crown jewels on display there (my friend who has been told me there often is a 2 hour line) so they didn't bother, but instead saw other things like the torture chamber, armory, this throne...

Afterwards they went for a walk together along the Thames river...

And then they split up and my son went to Buckingham Palace... 

Because I asked for them, he sent me a few pictures...

From Buckingham Palace...

And then afterwards, he went for a walk in the nearby park, St. James Park...

 ...Which in addition to having a beautiful lake, also had a bunch of animals, including the first squirrel my son has seen in person in his life... But he's going to Pennsylvania, so he'll be seeing quite a few this summer. But either way, he liked seeing the squirrels, pigeons, a few types of ducks, etc...

After that, he headed over to take a look at Big Ben...

But first, he stopped to take a picture with one of the most iconic British things, a red phone box.

The next day, Lee was signed up for 2 free walking tours, where you leave a tip at the end.

The first was a tour of the more historic parts of London, where they saw a "bunch of old buildings"...

Like these ruins of Winchester Palace...

They saw the St Paul's Cathedral, but at first I thought it was from the second tour he did, since it was was used in the filming of the Harry Potter movies.

The tour also visited the Borough Market.

They saw the Tower Bridge...

...The Monument to the Great Fire of London...

...And the Clink Prison Museum, the oldest prison in England.

He liked the tour, said the tour guide was good, but it was also shorter than he expected. (Originally he was supposed to do a longer one earlier in the day but he missed that so did a shorter later one instead.) Additionally the participants were not an interactive crowd, so it was a less enjoyable dynamic.

After that, though, he did a Harry Potter tour, also a free (please tip) tour.

This is what was used as the inspiration for Knockturn Alley in Harry Potter. I remembered it from my trip, and I even wrote about my Harry Potter tour there.

This is where the entrance to the Ministry of Magic was in the movies...

I was sure my son took a picture of this specifically because it is the South Africa House, and my kids are half South African (even if they aren't citizens there), but it turns out he took this picture because he thought it looked like Gringotts.

This store had Harry Potter "money".

And of course, can't forget this statue of Harry Potter.

After the tour was over, he went to the free National Gallery, and looked at some of the beautiful paintings.

He didn't have so much time, because by the time he got there it was near closing time...

But he'll be going back to London at the end of August, so he has more time to explore that if he'd like to do that.

He also did some wandering around and saw London's Chinatown, which I didn't know existed.

Almost everything went perfectly on his trip to London... other than his debit card! It didn't work at all on public transportation. It worked on everything else, and I called up the bank and they said it wasn't getting the message back to them in the US, it wasn't declined, but it was an issue with "the merchant"...

My son accidentally swiped his phone which has his local bank's debit card, which I was sure wasn't an international one... but it worked... so he used his local debit card to pay for the public transportation, instead of the American international debit card that I specifically ordered for him to be able to use on the trip. But hey, it worked.

He took buses, the Tube, and the train (I didn't know they had another train within London that wasn't the Tube, and neither did he until he got to the platform), and figured it out quite well. His only issue? The tube is short and rounded, so when it's packed, you can't even stand properly because your head hits the top.

The cost of his activities were... 17 pounds for the tower of London, which his friend paid, and 30 pounds for the free tours (he would have given a lower tip but he only had larger bills the first time- I told him a 10 pound tip per tour was reasonable).

Not bad for two packed days of touring on a budget.

Today my son flew to the US, and as I'm writing this, he's going through border control for the first time to the land of my birth. So exciting! I can't wait for him to experience what America has to offer!

Have you toured London? What did you do there? What did you find was most worth it? Did you try to do it on a budget? What do you suggest someone who wants to do London on a budget do when traveling there?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. Wonderful. This is a great start for his summer. You should be so proud of him. I wonder how much taller he'll be when he gets back home.

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