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An Experienced Journeywoman Helps You Prepare For London

Airbnb
I'm a great believer in AirBnB. Have never been disappointed. On most trips I rent rooms in a house. Last year I rented a 2 bedroom flat on the outskirts of Nottinghill. It was only two blocks to Portobello Market but on a very quiet street. My rule of thumb for booking an Airbnb property is that there is a picture of the owner, not their pet, or some iconic image (like Big Ben) and given the time zone differences that they respond to my initial inquiry within 24 hours. I also insist that there are at least 12 positive customers reviews posted. I engage the owner, asking them a bit about themselves and sharing vice versa. If the owner answers my questions (i.e., what's the closest tube stop, ATM, describes the neighborhood and tells me the exact address so I can do a google satellite image search) I'll most likely book. www.airbnb.com.

Room size in London even in expensive hotels can be small. Honestly, a room at a Best Western in the States is larger than most hotel rooms in London. Once and only once I stayed in a Russell Square hotel that charged $250 a night. The room was smaller than the studio apartment I have in Los Angeles (USA). If you want more square footage, book a suite. Otherwise consider a flat or apartment.

Getting cash
Sadly, there aren't any ATM's at Heathrow that aren't owned by TravelEx so there will be a transaction fee for withdrawing cash. However, this is the easiest way to get cash when you arrive so get enough to make you feel secure. I suggest 40 pounds. After checking in and unpacking, locate the closest bank ATM and make a larger withdrawal. It's your bank that issues any ATM transaction fee so before you leave home find out what those fees are. Capital One is the only credit card I know that (so far) doesn't have a fee but that may soon change soon.

Travel From Heathrow to London
If you wish to save money then take the one hour tube ride into the city. If you are as eager as I am after my lengthy overnight flight take the comfortable 15 minute Heathrow Express train. It's pricey but if you search in advance you can often find a ticket deal. I travel light, one bag and a small back pack and merely want to get into London as soon as I'm through immigration so I invest my money in the Express Saver to Paddington Underground Station. Other transport options are the Heathrow Connect train, bus, car hire or cab. See information here. Decide what option is the best value for the way you prefer to travel.

Embrace Public Transport
First investment, the Oyster Card. Buy it when you arrive at Heathrow. Buying the Visitor Oyster card advertised on line in advance sounds convenient but you won't get your deposit back when you leave. Be a smart JourneyWoman, buy the card after you've arrived. Five pounds saving is five pounds saving! All things Oyster are explained here. Having an Oyster Card is the proverbial 'Key to The City.' Load 20 pounds onto it and away you go. I've kept mine over the years and simply top up when I return. Works like a charm.

London Underground
This is one of the easiest means of public transport in the world. Lines are color coded, signage of routes plentiful, large reference maps on walls. Yes, it's crowded during peak times but it will whisk you around London in a manner of minutes. A great travel accessory to have are the pocket sized tube maps which you can find on the counters in nearly every station. Over the years I've found the wee print getting harder to read but I never travel around London without one of these invaluable maps in my coat pocket. They can help you plan your day the night before or change a route the day of. Once inside an underground (subway) car you'll notice it's quiet. This seems to be when Brits enjoy their down time. You'll find riders with head phones in place, reading a book or newspaper or dozing off. Even during commuter times when you are packed in like sardines there isn't much conversation. Lastly, one bit of advice is try not to change trains at Bank or Monument station unless you must. Otherwise you'll feel as though you've walked the entire length of Great Britain. If there is someone in your party who has ambulatory issues this link is helpful.

Buses
Are an excellent means of transport. It's much slower as traffic in London is dismal. Try to sit in the front seats on the upper level where the windows are nearly floor to ceiling. It's an absolutely wonderful way to see London pass by. In November, I especially love taking a bus down Oxford or Regent streets at night to see the Christmas lights. It's not a fast ride but who cares. Seeing the hustle and bustle in the glow of the lights is memorable. See: tfl.gov.uk/maps/bus.

National Rail 2 For 1 deal
If traveling as a couple this is helpful in defraying costs for visits to The Tower of London, The London Eye, Hampton Court, St Paul's, Tower Bridge Exposition and countless other sites. For more information see this site. Remember the majority of museums are free in London but sites like The Tower and St Paul's are pricey. This is a money saver if used properly.

Plan a Journey website
I find this site invaluable.

Black Cabs
One truly great experience is taking a Black Cab. Their drivers are known for their comprehensive familiarity of the city. Use the Halio Taxi app on your cellphone or hail one using proper cab etiquette. This means standing on the curb (not in a bus zone or crossing) and if you see a Black Cab with its TAXI light illuminated raise your arm. They should stop. No yelling or whistling, please. Approach the driver's window and explain where you wish to go. Hop in the back. These very knowledgeable drivers are happy to engage in conversation. Feel free to inquire about the sites.


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