Posted by: marymarthatours | November 29, 2010

Tips for A Great Trip on A Budget

On our recent “sisters” fun trip to York and London, England, Mary and I were determined to travel as economically as possible. We are seasoned travelers who enjoy researching and planning ahead for a trip, a must for budget traveling. The recent UK trip from Seattle was 13 nights in England and the total cost for me came to $3350, excluding gifts for me and others. Not bad as that included air fare, hotels, all meals, in country travel, admissions, and even a London theater production and a theater show in York. Now I want to pass on to you some of my own tricks for creating an enjoyable trip at a reasonable price.

Lodging:

My criteria for lodging are: location, clean, good reviews and low cost. And this is how I found a London hotel for about $87.00 per person per night with a full breakfast, clean and comfortable room, air-conditioning, around the corner from The British Museum and near transportation. And trust me, that is a miracle value for London.

  • I book (English phrasing) far ahead to get the best value as the great places are snatched up far in advance.
  • I look at the Trip Adviser website for the city I want under hotels and B&B’s. I start at the top with the #1 rated lodging and go down the list and check out those in my price range. When I find a good price, I check the location, read the reviews, and look at the photos posted by those who have stayed there. Note that photos posted by the hotel are not always “the real thing, today”.
  • I avoid using booking services that require a prior payment as life can change and I do not want to loose that money if I have to cancel. I carefully read the cancellation policy to make sure I will not be paying anything if I cancel.
  • I communicate with the establishment via email to ask questions and learn details.
  • I book on-line and only give my credit card information if they have a secure site. Sometimes I telephone to make the reservation (remember the time difference when phoning). And I reconfirm the reservation a week before I leave home.

Mary and I were very pleased with our B&B in York and the small hotel in London. I will happily stay at either again and recommend both. Do remember that if you want an elevator, room service, and a large, elegant room, you will be spending much more. How much time will you really be spending in you room? A clean room, good bed, good location and reasonable price are what make me a happy traveler.

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St. Mary’s Guest House, York, and the Morgan Hotel, London

Train Travel in the UK:

The UK has multiple train companies. London has about a dozen train stations and trains go almost everywhere. The trains are clean, fast and a great way to travel in the UK. Prices for train tickets have huge variables depending on the company, the time, your age, etc., etc. The problem for us Americans is that all the above make it very confusing to purchase tickets. Here are a few pointers:

  • Use the computer to check out the timetables and prices for the route you wish to travel. Type in the two cities and your travel dates. “Return” in England is what we call “round trip”. You can not get the information more that a couple months in advance, so be patient and keep looking.
  • Unless it is a short train trip, purchase your tickets at least a couple weeks in advance on-line, before you leave home, Tickets purchased far in advance are much cheaper. You will be billed on your credit card and even pay before you travel, but it is worth the huge discount.
  • Carefully note what you will need to do to “pick up” your tickets at the train station (and in London be sure you know which station) and what information you will need to have with you.

For our recent trip, Mary was amazed at what she thought was the high price I paid for our train tickets from London to York and back. When we picked up our tickets, she heard the station ticket agent remark, “Oh, you got the really cheap train”. I managed to get the cheapest price available. The train was an express to York with comfortable seats and I was thrilled. I see no point to getting first class tickets unless you will be on the train for over six hours and that is nearly impossible in the UK.

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Waiting for the train at King’s Cross Station

Clothing and What to Take:

For this recent trip we took small bags as we would be toting them ourselves on the London tube and the trains. Some tips for packing, and what to take:

  • I shop for clothes at local charity shops before I travel and then I “dump” (leave behind) anything bulky that takes up luggage space for my return home. I tell the lodging owner to pass on the item to someone or to a charity shop.
  • I sometimes take old clothing that I am fine with ditching before returning home.
  • I take soap for doing laundry in the bathroom sink. Mary and I took turns washing our socks and “personal” clothing. Liquid shampoo can also be used for washing clothes.
  • I always Scotch Guard my jacket or coat (with a hood) before I travel to the UK. This time I never regretted the long trench coat I took. Boy did we have rain. I take an umbrella, but only to have in my purse, just in case. I find them a bother to open and close, they drip and blow apart in the wind. We who live in the Pacific NW, have plastic skin and prefer hoods.
  • I always take a supply of zip lock bags in small and tiny sizes for toiletries and purchases. I take a straw so I can create an “air pack”. Sometimes I take bubble wrap and a mailing tube (for rolled up paper items) and if I don’t need them for protection of purchases going home, they are thrown away.
  • Two pairs of shoes only. One that will survive being wet and another for a change. I have a favorite brand that look nice and are very comfortable. Hint: I get these expensive shoes at a reasonable cost on EBay, and I could ditch them too for if I needed more luggage space.
  • A small supply of medications for an emergency, aching muscles or an illness to have on hand. You can find a drug store for any over the counter meds you need while traveling, but taking a few for “just in case” will save you time and bother. I carry my routine meds in a weekly dispenser. I have never been questioned about medications. I do advise that any narcotic or controlled medication be taken in the original, labeled bottle. Always pack your meds in your carry-on bag rather than checked luggage.

Money matters:

Read our Money Matters blog posting for the best way to save on getting trip money by using ATM’s for cash and a Capital One credit card which charges NO service fees. Be sure to have a PIN number for both your debit and credit cards when you travel overseas.

To read more, click for more …

Navigating in London:

  • Use the Tube. It is the fastest and cheapest way to move. Use the city bus for short distances. And get a map for each on-line before your trip to become familiar with the routes and terms.
  • We rode the tube from and back to Heathrow Airport; far faster and tons cheaper that any other mode of transportation. My advice: schedule your flights to avoid the London rush hour.
  • Either purchase a limited time Travel Pass or an Oyster Card (a debit card) for riding the tube and buses. Check on-line for which will best meet your needs depending on how long you will be in London and how much you will use the transit system. For help deciding which option is best for you see: www.londontoolkit.com/mnu/london_transport.htm.
  • Have a good street map with you at all times. Step aside to consult it so you don’t look like a lost tourist. If you need to ask directions, be aware that most of the people on the main streets are not from London! We laughed when people asked us for directions.
  • Plan ahead to coordinate your activities by location. And be sure to check the days and times that sites are open. I like to make a prioritized list of “what I want to see” before leaving home. Part of the fun of preparation.
  • The main streets of London can be a mob scene these days. If you go one block off the main street you will find fewer people and some interesting surprises.

Eating in London:

  • Museums and galleries often have cafes and restaurants that serve great food, usually cafeteria style. You will save time and money and not need to tip. Go to these places to eat even if you are not staying to view the museum. You can usually get in to just eat without paying the admission fee, if there is one.
  • Pubs are a favorite for Mary and me. There are more locals and fewer tourists eating dinner in the pubs. A pub ordering lesson: go to the bar to order and pay for your beverage and take it back to your table, then go to the bar to order and pay for your dinner – they will deliver it to you, and no tipping here. Ask questions and enjoy a good conversation with the servers, you will find them very helpful and fun.
  • Check the menu that is posted outside most restaurants for food items and prices. Be aware that if there is no menu posted outside that probably means: expensive!
  • If you find an eating place you like, return for another meal. I figure a sure thing is better than a risk.

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One of our “favs”, The Rising Sun Pub, London

(photo by Mike Quinn)

Shopping for treasures:

  • Flea markets and charity shops can be fun places to dig through for treasure and inexpensive finds. Used paperback books do add weight for the trip home, but heck, throw out your clothes for that fabulous author.
  • Do be careful about the weight that your purchases will add for the trip home. Throw out papers and trip material you no longer need along the way. Paper adds weight fast.
  • If your bag is overweight at the airport, step aside and remove some old stuff to throw away to lighten your load. Replacing your old, bargain clothes will cost you less than the fee for the overweight luggage. You will not be the first to do this at the airport. Some airports even have bins for items to go to a charity; if not ask the personnel at the counter to take and donate the items.
  • While yarn might not weigh much, it is bulky. Fabric is very expensive, but then I couldn’t get that fabulous bundle of Liberty lawn florals at home.
  • For gifts, think small and light weight and/or very special and unique.

Items that are “A Good Thing” to Take (says Martha):

  • A small, wireless computer with Skype capability for doing research, for checking trains and sightseeing spots, for flight home check in, for communicating with family and friends. Many hotels have a computer for the use of folks lodging there, but it is in the lobby and you will get very little time on it. Most lodgings now have free WiFi access so you can use your own computer comfortably in your room. We found it essential on this recent trip and worth its weight to carry.
  • A spirit of adventure. You might not see everything on your wish list and might not have ideal weather, but you will find some surprises and extras you never imagined.
  • A sense of humor. I am forever doing the wrong thing with tickets on foreign buses and Mary can loose the B&B key in her own purse. With memories (and laughs) like these, why would we ever want things to go entirely smoothly?

St. Mary’s Guest House, York: www.stmaryshotel.co.uk

Morgan Hotel, London: www.morganhotel.co.uk

Photo of Rising Sun Pub – copyright by Mike Quinn and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike License 2.0.

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