How to enjoy London on a budget
One of the best parts of living in Switzerland (besides its abundance of cheese and chocolate) is definitely its proximity to other European countries. Nestled snuggly between France, Germany, Lithuania and Italy, Switzerland is constantly close to some other major European city and easily accessible for quick visits.
With such affordable low budget airlines like Ryanair and Easyjet and the open borders within Schengen, traveling around Europe is just a total breeze. Especially for a North American gal like me who's used to going through customs each time you leave the country and paying ridiculously expensive amounts to fly (even within Canada from province to province!). Something is just terribly disturbing when flying from Montreal to Toronto one way can easily cost over CAD$200 per person, whilst our flight from Basel Switzerland to London England was CHF 35.00 for TWO person!! Convert that and you just paid roughly CAD$50 for two people to fly direct from Basel to London. How bananas is that?
My Canadian head is solemnly shaking in total disbelief while my Swiss feet are doing a happy dance.
So with all that airline business taken care of, we were off to London for 3 days!
SAVING TIP #1 - BOOK SMART AND YOU'LL BE REWARDED
As a conscious traveler, I never splurge on too much while I'm traveling and more often than not, I would rather stay in apartments rather than hotels and have a kitchen available to make my own food on occasions too (eating out ALL the time really does add up!). But in the case of London, where lodging prices are on the higher scale no matter where you go, then you just have to try and find the best deal wherever you can find them.
Sometimes when I plan on staying longer in the same city, I would look for apartments on Airbnb and then reach out to the owners directly to see what prices would be if I paid them directly rather than booking on Airbnb's site. This saves the owners on the fees and that can directly relate to savings in my pocket!
** Extra Saving Tip ** : I use Booking.com to book most of my accommodations when I don't stay in apartments. And as a regular customer, I get to benefit from extra discounts, longer periods where I can cancel a booking with no fee, later check outs and even some city maps that are offered free for download. So my saving tip here is if you book hotels on many occasions, try to find one like Booking.com that will reward you for your continued use of their service and help you save some money on each booking.
SAVING TIP #2 - TRAVEL AS THE LOCALS DO
Let me tell you, those double decker buses aren't just for tourists to pose in front of. Locals flag them them and ride the buses through town every single day. Or they hop on the tube and underground their way over to their destination. Buying an Oyster card and topping it off as you go is much cheaper than traveling on the tour buses (like all of the Hop on/Hop off options available for tourists). In fact, there are even some bus lines that run the exact same route as the Hop on/Hop off buses, so you can pay a fraction of that price to enjoy the same beautiful views on the top deck.
SAVING TIP #3 - EAT OFF THE BEATEN PATH
Food. One of the biggest reason to travel anywhere.
So when in London, you are definitely spoiled in terms of options. Having now been in Basel for a few months, I can totally appreciate the amount of variety offered in London because as amazing as Basel is, their food choices are still very limited (and by that I do mean ethnic food).
London food choices are amazing and prices are decent unless you go wild and order too many fish and chips because you heard so much about them. I would highly suggest to eat at the many markets they have in London. They serve hearty food made fresh in front of you and the money goes to the right people (the cooks and owners of the small food booth) so it's really a great option to enjoy good food in a fun atmosphere. But really, there's not much tip to be offered here besides the very obvious:
- Don't eat at restaurants near popular tourist sites unless you want to pay jacked up prices for food.
You all have a smartphone, so go on Yelp or whatever and look up food reviews in the price range you are comfortable in and go. Simple as that.
** Extra Saving Tip **: I inquired before I went to London whether or not tips are included in service to which I was told yes. So tipping is not mandatory, but still, if you find the service was good, then do leave a tip. So actually this wasn't much of a savings tip, but if you want to save pennies, then at least you know tip is optional.
SAVING TIP #4 - DON'T BE A TOTAL TOURIST
photo courtesy of NYTIMES
Yes, so Fodor and Lonely Planet tells you a visit to the Tower of London is a MUST because it holds all of the royal jewelry and so on. But is it a MUST? I say NAY!
I mean I do like the royal family and would appreciate their jewelry collection but to pay £24.50 to get in simply to be on your phone the entire time taking pictures or checking if they have wifi or to pose for a few instagram photos is just not worth it for me. And trust me, that is what the majority of tourists do nowadays in any museum or site visits. And don't even get me started on selfie sticks inside a museum. Just don't.
** Extra Cheapskate Tip ** : visit the museum gift shop to peruse their replicated collection trinkets or museum book to see almost the entire collection. You aren't able to stand and view and take a photo of the real items, but if what you really are interested is to see the collection, than here is your opportunity to see pretty much all of it for free in a matter of minutes and without having to bump elbows with others to see it up close. Yay!
So my interest isn't to be crammed in rooms with camera happy tourists, but I don't wish to dissuade you if you do want to go enjoy the crown jewels or any popular site for that matter My suggestion would simply be that you be selective in where you will most enjoy spending time in and only go to those in order to enjoy it fully. If you visit whatever museums, sites, palaces, etc that travel guides suggest you do, you'll end up totally bored and underwhelmed by what beauty that is in front of you. Seeing too much beautiful stuff really makes you stop appreciating them so be selective on where you hard earned pennies will be spent on visiting and don't be a total tourist, okay?
Cheerio old chaps! Enjoy your London journey!