With so much attention put on those great world travelers, no one focuses on the people who just never thought to do it — like me. Although I have traveled the U.S., I had never before been out of the country — and never really thought about it. Planning a trip to London changed my mind on this.
We had only three days, but did everything I had ever wanted to do. However, I learned some pretty important things on the way.
Plan your dream trip.
My first tip would be to plan as much of your time as you can. Even if you don’t do all your things on your list, the best thing you can do is to map everything out before you get there. Even if you have a rough idea of what you want to do, it is important to know where on the map everything is located and how long it will take to get from place to place.
The best thing I did was to find an app to help. Just by Googling, I found a great one, called Tripomatic. This app let me choose destinations and to plot them on a map. It also told me how long it would take to get from one place to another, and suggested similar destinations.
Bring tennis shoes.
No matter how cute you want to look while you travel the streets of a stylish city, you will regret not wearing tennis shoes. Walking (or biking) miles on multiple days requires some comfortable shoes. In the US, we are used to driving most places. But in order to really see a city, you should be on foot looking at everything you see.
Our first day, I wore boots, but quickly learned my lesson. I wore tennis shoes the rest of the trip, and it was the best idea I had the entire trip
Although I am not what you would call “an athlete”, I have found that many large cities have a shared bicycle service. I am slightly afraid of biking in cities, but London drivers were surprisingly considerate of the bicyclists on the road. Mostly. The drivers of the big red busses were incredibly rude and I was nearly clipped at least a few times. But overall, bicycling in the city was fairly safe and a safe and inexpensive way to get around.
Do some research before renting a car.
We decided to get out of town for our third day, and although it seemed like a great idea, it may not have been. We opted for a small car, but all they had left was a mini-SUV, and London roads are not exactly made for cars. Driving on the wrong (or..left) side of the road was stressful enough, but trying to fit two cars into what could have easily been one lane made for a very stressful day. Even after we got onto the English highway system, the lanes were still fairly narrow and there didn’t appear to be any sort of speed limit.
Also, because we were from out of the country, Enterprise placed a $750 hold on our credit card, which they said will be refunded to us within a week.
Be OK with being a tourist.
Although it may be appealing to fit in in a city like London, spending time at all the tourist exhibits — although with the other tourists — is important. You are there to see what you want to see, so don’t feel bad about going to tourist destinations and spending time in the UK gift shops.
Explore more than the obvious.
Sometimes walking off path shows you more about a city than the landmarks. Although I felt it was important to see the obvious historical landmarks, I learned more about the city just wandering. Sometimes having no destination, but walking just to see the sites will help you find more history than any landmarks could ever show you.
This is another great reason to spend your time walking or bicycling, rather than taking a cab or subway.
Spend your money to upgrade.
Although it may not seem like the most prudent financial decision, you can usually upgrade your room for only tens of dollars a night, and there is nothing quite like waking up each morning staring at a landmark. For us, it was the Tower of London and made a significant difference in our trip, because it made us realize where we were at every moment.
We also flew Delta, which is always a pleasant experience, and upgraded our seats on our flight to and from London, which made a six-and-a-half and nine hour flight, respectively, comfortable and painless.
You are not in your 20s any more, and traveling in your 30s or 40s means you likely make more money now. It is worth it to give yourself a good trip and upgrade when you can.
Packing light will be a necessity — but not for the reason you would think. You will need room for gifts and trinkets on your way home. I travel around the US, but never before has my mom made it so obvious that she really wanted me to bring presents home. If you are someone who doesn’t travel internationally (like me), there may be a good chance your family doesn’t either, so they will want to share this experience with you.
Sleep is important.
Sleep when you can. Listen to your body. Traveling multiple timezones away will really mess with your body, but do what you can to make sure you are getting enough sleep and food, or you will crash at some point and not be able to really enjoy your trip.
It is a sprint, not a marathon.
In our three days, we spent hours wandering, but also saw at least 15 historical landmarks.
Just remember, this is your trip. Do what you want, and just enjoy it!