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ENGLAND: Travel Tips

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-Attitude: Be willing to experience new, different things; arrive with an attitude of learning, not demanding. Don’t expect England to be like America. Thank goodness it isn’t! Be gracious to your English hosts, whose lives you are disrupting. Every summer, tens of thousands of pushy tourists pile into a country that is already small and crowded. Be considerate. You will find England a very hospitable country, but American arrogance will not serve you well.

-Reserve in advance: England is very crowded in the summer and good lodgings fill up way in advance. If you will travel in summer, begin thinking about your itinerary in December. Make your B+B reservations no later than February to get the best choices. Buy your airline ticket 90 days in advance to get the best seats. Visit the websites for British Airways and Virgin Atlantic to keep an eye out for special airfares. Traveling in April or September can save you money and the weather is still good. Flying on a Monday through Thursday can save you money.Use your international mobile phone rental to reserve airline tickets.

-Don’t try to do too much: England is a small country but it’s bigger than you think. You may be tempted to try to pack in too many activities. Driving from place to place is somewhat slower than you might expect because the roads are narrow and winding. Don’t get too ambitious; trying to do too much in too little time could frazzle everyone’s nerves and ruin your vacation. Leave something for the next trip.

-Get out of London: It is a mistake to visit only London. London has notable sights, but if you don’t get outside the city, you’ll miss the best part. The true character of England is found in small villages and towns. London is very much like any other large city. You can use your England cell phone rentals to organize these trips.

-Stay in bed and breakfasts: American motels exist because of “road trips” — a concept that never caught on in England. So there are no low-cost motels in England, as there are in the U.S. They do have Holiday Inns and Travelodges, but their prices are outrageous. The English version of economical lodging is the “bed and breakfast.” B+Bs are clean, comfortable, hospitable, convenient and cheap. You will probably share a bathroom, as you would if staying in someone’s home; but the rooms are generally so comfortable, and the hosts so gracious, it’s a very good deal. Your England cellular phone rentals makes making reservations at hotels a snap.

-The first floor isn’t on the ground: In England, “ground floor” is on ground level, and “first floor” is the next floor up. If you’re on the first floor, you’ll be climbing stairs.

-Rent a car: For the best experience, rent a car and drive. Once I tried doing my entire trip by train, and I won’t do that again. You miss a lot if you don’t drive through the countryside. Many people are nervous about driving on the other side of the road, but believe me, after the first 10 minutes it isn’t hard to adjust. But do not attempt to drive in London. Wait until leaving London before renting your car and use your England cell phone rentals to do so easily.

-Show your gratitude: When visiting cathedrals, if there is no admission charge you will probably find a place to leave an offering. Be as generous as you can. It costs enormous amounts of money to keep these ancient sacred spaces open and structurally sound.

-Spend food money wisely: If you don’t need to make a big production out of meals, you can get by without spending too much on food. Eat a good breakfast at the B+B (even if you skip the fried food in favor of cereal and toast), and at lunchtime save money with a cheap pub lunch or, even cheaper, buy a packet of sandwiches at a supermarket. This leaves enough money to afford a restaurant meal at dinner. If touring a cathedral, take advantage of their refectory if they have one; the lunch is usually inexpensive and tasty and may be homemade. Pub food is nearly always a bargain. Check pub hours, because they are only open certain hours during the day, and everything closes very early by American standards. Each pub generally serves only one brand of beer, but there are many varieties of it. Sample some.

-Try the local and regional cuisine: There is an old myth that English food is boring and tasteless. No longer true! The English have discovered how to capitalize on local fresh garden produce, meats and dairy products, prepared in fresh, inviting ways. Plus you will find a huge variety of international restaurants, especially in London. So despite what you may have heard, you won’t have to subsist on fried or overcooked meat and potatoes (unless you want to). Most of the time you can count on being able to find light, fresh, tasty meals. But at least a few times, do sample old-fashioned traditional foods in pubs, and by all means enjoy local cheeses and beers.

-Credit cards, ATMs, travelers checks, cash: Credit cards are not quite as universally accepted as in the U.S., especially by small merchants. You will often need to pay cash for B+Bs. You can usually plan to use your ATM card to get cash as you go. But I warn you: take travelers checks in pounds sterling, because there will be a time when you can’t find an ATM machine, or the only one you can find is out of service. Do not buy travelers checks in American dollars, and do not attempt to convert American money while in England. Conversion fees are outrageous.

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