A month is just too short to experience all of London, let alone the United Kingdom. An entire day is not even enough to fully appreciate the treasures of the British Museum or the National Gallery. But for someone on a tight budget and ready to see a bit of everything, a good plan is key.
Here are some items to help you make the most out of your UK trip:
- A Local Sim
- Citymapper App
- Oyster Card
- The London Pass
- A Bucketlist
- Cashless Payment
For the most part, I’ll be sharing experiences from London because I spent more time there than the rest of UK, and I am sure you will too.
A Local Sim
The UK is highly connected and the internet speed is beautiful compared to what I usually have at home. Getting around a foreign country requires GPS and data connection. Plus, your Instagram will explode with the beautiful scenes you’ll be sharing. Unless really necessary, do not buy at airport kiosks! The price for the sim + 1 month unlimited data cost me 24GBP while it could have just been 10-15GBP for the
Unless really necessary, do not buy at airport kiosks! The price for the sim + 1-month unlimited data cost me 24GBP at Heathrow’s Arrival while it could have just been 10-15GBP for the Three Pay As You Go sim in Three Stores.
With the size and complexity of London’s Underground, I was surprised I didn’t get lost
much. My secret? Citymapper App. Initially, I downloaded the thing to see what buses I could take. I didn’t know that my life and time would depend on it.
The place I stayed was a good 1 hour by train or 2 hours by bus. Without Citymapper, taking the train is manageable as there are notification boards telling you which train on what platform to board. You just have to know the nearest station to your final destination. But taking the bus requires prior knowledge of the area you’re heading to. And unlike the trains, they don’t have a signboard listing ALL stops in London but just a small poster of bus routes in the area.
Also, my roundtrip rail+tube fare costs about 11GBP because of zone differences, while a bus will cost 4GBP and about 3-4 bus transfers. So you see why I need to take the bus often.
I once had to help another tourist using my app. I felt like a local citizen, hah!
Not only does Citymapper tell you which buses/trains to take, it also tells you the route and time. It is updated real time that you’ll even get notified of delays and amount of time an alternative route will take you. It combines train, bus, tram, and walking data to provide you insight on the fastest way you can go, riding solely a bus, train or combination of both.
And as if you need more convincing, you can save your Home and Work address so you can instantly see the best route to take without typing your address all the time. It doesn’t even stop there, if you type in an actual destination like the London Eye, it will guide you where you should walk past the nearest bus station or tube until you arrive at your exact destination.
Now you see why you need that local sim with data. Get it for Android or iOS and confidently step on the platform!
Which to get is usually a concern for tourists. Generally speaking, if you have only a week’s time in London and plan to hustle your way around numerous attractions each day, get a Travelcard. If you have more days and plan to see the outskirts of London, get the Oyster Card.
Why you should get either one: In London buses, you cannot buy a single journey ticket. Either show your Travelcard or get yourself an Oyster. Although in Edinburgh, you have more options by loading up your Transport for Edinburgh app, purchasing a single journey/day ticket, or using the Citysmart card.
Back to the Oyster, you will rarely find someone purchasing a single journey ticket for the Tube because one a single journey ticket will cost you 4.90GBP – almost equivalent to the Oyster’s daily capping rate. This feature allows you to travel all you want within Zones 1-2 and get charged only 6.60GBP instead of the 2.40-2.90GBP single journey.
The Oyster comes in 2 types: regular Oyster and the Visitor Oyster. The fare matrix is the same across both types of Oyster cards. So which Oyster should you get? It depends on where you want to be frugal.
VISITOR OYSTER – requires a non-refundable activation fee of 3GBP, comes with special discounts at partner establishments, cannot load a travelcard
OYSTER CARD – has a refundable 5GBP fee for the use of the card, can be registered online to transfer your remaining credits in case of loss and for auditing your journeys, can load a travelcard
So which Oyster should you get? It depends on where you want to be frugal. Try to check the current offers on the Visitor Oyster card. If you think you’ll be availing many of those, then a 3GBP loss is sacrificable.
Note: The Tube is not the same as the Rail. Basically, the Tube is your way to get around Central London, while the Rail takes you in and out of Zone 1-2 to Greater London and out of Zone 9. However, the Oyster CAN be used until Zone 9.
Tip: To save more, do not travel during peak times (Monday to Friday, 6.30am – 9.30am and 4 pm – 7 pm). Each journey will cost you .50 more! You can also load up a 7-day Travelcard on your Oyster if you see yourself traveling more than 3x each day.
Take a look at the official tube and rail map here.
Unlike the Oyster which holds actual cash value, the Railcard is a discount card. You’ll only realize the value of money you’ll be saving is when you don’t have it. The Railcard is available for 6 different types of travelers: the 16-25 (for 16-25 year olds or full-time students aged 26 and above), the couple (classified numerically and not according to relationship status), the Friends & Family (for a group of 4), the Senior Citizen, the Disabled, and the Network (Southeast-bound travelers).
Different Railcards offer various discounts and partnerships with attractions and restaurants. Each Railcard is valid for a whole year and the more you travel, the more you save. I got the 16-25 railcard for 30GBP.
Who needs it? If you plan to go anywhere beyond London’s Zone 9 and take the National Rail service, this card will save you 1/3 of your money. Since I already plotted my calendar for my sightseeing from London to Glasgow, I searched for the cost of my train fare and found that with the railcard, I could save about 26GBP already minus the cost of the railcard.
Delivery is free to London postal addresses so make sure to time your ordering to the date you’ll be arriving. And notify the front desk that you’ll be expecting a letter. They won’t be able to use it anyway since it bears your name and photo. Do leave a tip afterward :)
Tip on Purchasing Rail Tickets: If you are sure of the time you’re heading home, get a roundtrip ticket during the off-peak hours, it’s cheaper than getting separate tickets.
The London Pass
When it comes to saving time and money while sightseeing in London, the London Pass is your best bet. Their passes come in 1-day, 2-days, 3-days, 6-days, and 10-day pass. Note that the pass activates on the first attraction you’ll visit and counts the day consecutive from that. So I suggest clearing your schedule and starting early to maximize the amount you paid for. I wanted to get the 10-day pass, but my aunt insisted on spending her day off with me #clingy
You can have this shipped to your home country in advance for a fee, or claim it at their stalls for free. What you’ll get is a guidebook of their partner attractions and a pass card. The app is also free to download which you can sync with your pass later on.
They suggest 3 attractions in a day, but I was able to make 2/day for distant attractions like combining Windsor Castle and Hampton Palace in a day and then doing 4 attractions on other days. Try to factor in your location and your selected attraction’s distance from each other.
For starters, you can follow their suggested itinerary. But some attractions may be closed on a particular day or unusually close earlier than expected due to weather conditions or an event. So try to consider those too when planning your itinerary.
Why you should get the pass: Aside from saving money, you also save time from the ticket booth queue which can get very long particularly at Royal Palaces, Westminster Abbey, and Tower Bridge London.
I am extremely satisfied that I’ll be getting their passes for Paris, Berlin, Rome, Vienna, and Barcelona if I ever travel there.
How to save more: Weeks before your travel, try to order from their website and don’t check out your cart. Days later, you will receive an email reminding you of your cart and a 10% of 20% off coupon :) Or you could check out their website, and move on to other travel sites like Trip Advisor or blogs without clearing your cache. You’ll usually be shown a 20% off banner ad. Try the code ’10db’ and see how much is on offer!
The London Pass took 6 out of my 25 days in London. On other days, I went with Golden Tours for a day tour of Oxford, Warwick, Stratford, and Cotswolds for 86GBP.
A Bucket list & Technique
For one’s first trip to the UK, a bucket list is a must. Unless you’re part of the 1% and can afford to jet to London on a whim, then please enjoy yourself. For the rest of the once in a lifetime travelers like me, knowing where you want to go and what you want to see is a must to save time and money. Efficiency is my favorite word.
The first thing to do: list down the places you want to visit or things you want to do in an Excel file. Then individually plot the locations in your personal Google Map (go to Your Places > Maps > Create New Map). I suggest the Excel file because you might eventually want to create a full-blown itinerary (complete with ETD and ETA) with your list once you’ve seen how you can save transportation time by grouping nearby places.
My tip is to plot down your hotel/hostel/Airbnb in your edited map too and start the day with the attractions farthest from you so when night falls, you’re closer to home. Or if you’re the type who sleeps in, start with the one nearest you so you won’t waste daytime commuting to the farthest place. Also, take note of the closing and opening times so you can adjust your itinerary properly.
Many attractions close by 5 pm so you definitely want to be there early to maximize the time and worry about the commute home later. The Underground will be adding more night trains so no worries about being stranded. Although, double check with the Citymapper app and see what time the buses and trains run going back to your place.
What I did: I tend to sleep in and my commute from my aunt’s place to the center is about 1 hour by train or 2 hours by bus. So I am limited to 2-3 places in a day. My day ends at West End where I catch a musical or play around 7 pm –10 pm, and I arrive home almost midnight.
Coming from the Philippines, London is incredibly at the forefront of technology – perhaps not as much as Japan’s tech world but you get the idea. As such, cashless is the way to go. From buses to trains, you’ve noticed that there is always a card for it and this also applies to purchases. At the mall, coffee shop, even the pop-up Costa Coffee stall by the street accepts mobile payment (Apple Pay, Android Pay, etc). Just tap it and go. No more fumbling for your cards or cash in your bags and just pay with the thing that’s stuck in our hands almost 24/7 – our smartphones. Just tap and go like a modern Londoner.
Of course, you can still use your credit or debit cards, and be at the receiving end of a frown when signing the bank copy of your receipt is keeping people in the queue. While local banks in the Philippines have adopted the Pay Wave system for credit cards, many terminals all over the country have not been updated to use this feature yet.
Going back, the beauty of cashless payment for tourists lies in the fact that you can keep your local currency for more important times such as when you go off the grid and cashless is not an option. The hardest thing is when you only carry a card and there’s nowhere to withdraw money from.
The ultimate cheapo traveler tip is to save and USE coupon. Whenever you purchase something from a small grocery, or top up your Oyster, or dine at a fast food, check the back of the receipt for coupons. Usually, there’s a 2-for-1 or up to 50% off deal on Burger King or McDonald’s.
Note: Some coupons are not accepted at train station branches, only in actual stores.
Disclaimer: This is NOT a sponsored post. I have not been paid by any of these companies to endorse their services. Although I would be happy if they see this and offer me something :)