We learned a few things during our trip to England that might be useful if you’re planning a trip there. Our trip was 7 nights in London, 2 nights in the country for a wedding, and our last night in Manchester. Learn from our travel tips and don’t make the same mistakes we did! This post is the fourth in a series of posts about our England adventure:
There were storms in Toronto (our layover city) so our flight out of DC was delayed. And my husband’s second boarding pass came through and said “This is not a boarding pass.” when he checked in. Cool. This is totally going to turn out as planned.
We asked about it at the service desk in DC, and were told we’d have to ask once we landed in Toronto. Super helpful.
We arrived to Toronto late, with no idea if our flight to England was also delayed. Or if the plane had already left.
I figured since we were staying within the terminal we could just board your next plane. Nope. Wrong. You’re funneled off the plane through customs. Then you can go back in.
A domestic connection would have avoided this.
We had to convince security to let us back in the terminal – remember my husband didn’t have a real boarding pass. You can’t go through security without a boarding pass. You can’t get the boarding pass fixed without going through security. Win-win right there.
Since it was past our flight’s original take off time, the computer system closed the flight. No one was able to look up anything or print his boarding pass. We also still didn’t know if our flight had left without us. Totally calm. I didn’t panic at all.
Four or five aisles later, we finally found someone who figured out whatever the issue was. That man is a competent, problem-solving hero magician. He printed both of our boarding passes. Real ones. Handed them to us and said clearly, but urgently, “I need you to run.”
Off we went.
I ran.I ran like an out of shape crazy lady with a carry-on flopping everywhere. Was it really even running? Probably not, but I flailed as fast as I could. I would make this damn flight.
In the 6,341.2 miles kilometers (This is Canada. The metric system even sneaks up on scientists sometimes.) it took to get to the gate, I became oblivious to everything. People. Benches. Metal detector thingies. Time itself.
My only focus was propelling my body forward and dragging my refusing-to-roll-on-its-wheels luggage with me.
We made it sweaty and out of breath, as the plane was boarding. Just like in the movies.
But unlike the movies planes don’t board instantly. There’s a line for that. Good thing. That allows for bathroom breaks. And buying Doritos for dinner (thanks loonies leftover from our Toronto trip!).
It wasn’t the leisurely layover eating a full meal like we [I] planned. But we made it. And got some exercise. Silver lining.
But we arrived in Manchester later than originally planned, so we missed the train to London we already bought tickets for. Plane delays mess up EVERYTHING.
I was worried getting tickets last minute would be an issue. It wasn’t. Buy train tickets when you get there.
Don’t be like us.
Avoid having to run through customs for an international connection.
If that boarding pass doesn’t come through when you check in, figure that ish out before you get to the airport.
Buy the train tickets when you get there.
Don’t have an international connection & end up with a long winded crappy airport story like we did. It may be funny now. It SO was not in the moment.
After all that, we needed phones to tell our family we landed.
International plans through carriers can be expensive. We did some research, and as long as the phone is unlocked we could pop a prepaid SIM card into it for service. We found a little shop on a corner near our Airbnb that sold them.
Our phone numbers changed, but it was a cheaper, and better working, alternative than international plans. A paperclip takes up no room when packing and will pop your SIM out. (I learned on the plane to Bogota that a sturdy earring works too.)
You’ll need some plug converters to charge your phone.
In case you don’t already know, you can’t plug your (assuming you’re American) electronics into sockets in the UK without an adapter. We took one that a family member gave us, but the Airbnbs we stayed in each had several. It wouldn’t hurt to take one with you. This one is compact with a few outlets and USB plugs.
You’ll need money too.
Wells Fargo is my favorite place to get currency. If you have an account their rates are very competitive.
Check your credit card before you go and make sure they don’t charge foreign transaction fees. Also restaurants in England wouldn’t take our cards out of our sight to process the transaction. Instead they bring a handheld device to you. If you’re a mobile payment fan, chances are they do it. We noticed they were ahead of the States on things like that and take credit card security more seriously.
Pack for all weather possibilities.
Everyone knows about England’s infamous ever changing weather and unexpected rain showers. It’s mentioned everywhere you look as you’re Pinterest planning your trip.
We went in the beginning of August when temperatures were mild to warm. A friend told me to pack all black because that’s all anyone wears in London. She wasn’t wrong.
We had to take clothes for the wedding, so that was easy. A nice dress and heels for me, and a suit and dress shoes for my husband. We knew we wanted to walk the Tolkien Trail so also packed appropriate athletic wear.
I packed a few dresses as well as jeans, shorts, a skirt and a couple tops. Keeping the colors of all of my pieces neutral or dark helped minimize the jackets and shoes I needed to match.
My plantar fasciitis flares up with lots of walking. Super fun while traveling. A cheap pair of gray sneakers from Wal-Mart (similar to mine) fit my orthotic insoles and were cheap enough that I didn’t care if they got grimy on the rainy London streets. I also took sandals and black boots.
For my husband, I picked out a few pairs of pants and shirts of various weights. Each shirt had to match at least 2 pairs of pants, and vice versa. If they didn’t mix well with others I left them at home. Everything fit without jamming into our 2 carry-ons and 1 checked luggage.
I wish I had taken a pair of tights, there were a few times where I was chilly and would have worn them. We both found our black rain jackets fit in well with everyone else in the London. You can’t go wrong with black and it was my default throughout the trip. Jean shorts were out of place, but it was warm the day we went to Windsor so I wore them anyway.
The weather is finicky, but at least there’s indoor plumbing.
I had read online that there were public restrooms in London that you had to pay for. We only came across this at the train station. We also only really went to tourist spots (it’s London y’all, you have to) or establishments that serve beer. Both of those always have potties.
A few of the toilets were finicky and took a magic touch to get to flush. Turning in circles 3 times while clucking like a chicken helped.
What I thought was strange and never could figure out was the number of doors leading into a public restroom. Lots of them had multiple doors to go through to access the restroom area. Some had hallways or steps between multiple doors. Has anyone seen more than 3 doors to get to the toilet?
It’s vacation. You’re bound to do some shopping.
Oxford Street has a ton of shops. We found multiple stores with a variety of casual sneakers or “trainers”. There seemed to be more shoe stores than we have in the States. My husband ended up coming home with 3 pairs. Lillywhite’s and Sports Direct are good options for that.
He also got a suit at Moss Bros. The gentleman working there was able to tell his size by looking at him. He wore that suit to the wedding we attended 2 days later. I did some browsing but didn’t find anything I had to have.
Apple Market in Covent Garden has a nice selection of vendors selling handmade items. We ate breakfast here and bought some presents to bring back. I got a pretty ring too. Which I accidentally smashed beyond repair 6 months later when we built our closet. Neal’s Yard and Carnaby are also cool spots to mosey around.
Sort of unrelated, but worth mentioning.
We haven’t stayed in a bad Airbnb. However, this particular one in Manchester was spectacular! If you are staying in the city at all, this is the place. We only stayed for one night, but this has to be the best in the city for the price.