Backstory: I went to London this year and last year for work. I worked in Zone 1 and stayed nearby in Shoreditch. Results elsewhere… will vary.
TLDR: Big ideas are fast and light and flexible.
I’m uploading pictures here, https://500px.com/matthewbodaly/sets/london Before leaving / packing thoughts Big idea here is to make the TSA process easy and fast as well as to be light when running through an airport.
- Put every liquid in a separate ziplock bag. This way you can safely put electronics in your suitcase.
- Only pack things in your carry on that you plan to use on the flight.
- Put whatever is in your pants pockets into your jacket. Especially if the jacket has zippers.
- Pack your keys after you lock your door in a zippered pocket in your luggage. Don’t need these for a while. In fact, take your work keys off the ring and leave that key card at home. And that costco card. If you aren’t going there… Leave it at home.
- Eat before the airport. Airport food is…. Meh.
- You will need an international power adapter. Get it wherever. I got one for my laptop as everything can charge through that.
At the airport. London specific but likely other airports have similar things.
- Get a SIM card in the airport. They have vending machines for these. Get it filled with at least 20USD. You can setup auto load later. I’ve gotten both Vodaphone (last time) and 3 (this time)
- Heathrow express ticket is worthwhile also for a quick trip back to the airport.
- Get an Oyster card. It’s bus / train for London. You can get a pass. Pick your zones. Bueno. FYI. This card is used at all points of your train / bus journey. You need it on you. You can also drop the unused card in a bin and the leftover amount gets donated to others.
- In Europe getting bumped from a flight gets you a debit card with money and everything paid for the extra time you are in the country. I got a debit card with 800 on it and a hotel for getting bumped the last time. Not a super great thing, but with while noting if you aren’t in a hurry to get home. The hotel that BA puts you up in is in the suburbs of London. It looked sketchy out so I didn’t leave the hotel last time.
- Your sim may or may not be able to make international calls / texts. So you know. I generally am on hangouts and since you are 8 hour difference… Meh. Thou shalt not buy a SIM card from a store. I did a vending machine last time and a store this time. Got stuck behind a guy with three phones. Never again. Always vending machine.
- Download your ticket to passbook (on iOS) I rarely use this feature, but this is super helpful
- Download CitiMapper. Works on iPhone and Android. Is better at search and public transit (including bikes) than native maps or google maps. You can also preprogram it with your work / home address as shortcuts. Additionally, it has service disruption alerts. I also use this to sea points to come back to.
- Delete / backup old photos. You have new ones to take.
- Hunt up some foursquare / swarm lists (if you use the apps) of local things that you like. I found some for coffee and drinks.
- Save some music in your music player. I generally have a few playlists…. Ie… For the flight. Not for out on the town
- Google plus and iCloud offers to backup photos automatically and make stories. Use it.
- Put the native camera app on the home screen. It’s still the fastest to load.
- Get a secondary battery. It could be helpful… Or leave the phone off. I take a lot of pictures.
- If you use Foursquare / Swarm, turn off the neighborhood level location services. saves battery.
- Every cell service offers WiFi in the tunnels. You need to setup a login. I didn’t do this until Friday of my trip. I never was standing in a tube station long enough to actually use this.
Money stuff. Hate money stuff. But whatever
- Find out if your bank charges for foreign transaction fees. If they do, take out cash. ATMs are great. I never really did the exchange places as I’m always poor. I tend to have a little money left over from trips and I bring it back with me.
- Europe is chip and pin. Debit pins only work at ATMs. Elsewhere your card is a credit card so charges take a bit. Meh. This gets resolved next year I think as the US switches to chip and pin.
- Hotels are expensive with laundry. FYI. I’ll stay somewhere with laundry so I can pack lighter. I generally do hostel or airbnb. Pick what works for you. This option is usually farther from the airport but has the advantage of being closer to what you want to do. This time, I picked a spot in a neighborhood I enjoyed hanging out in. I can always leave a little earlier to the airport.
- Tesco and Sainsbury and Marks / Spencer are the local food stores. The local / express versions are great for getting a quick meal / drink.
- Pret and Costa are the local equivalents of mediocre coffee shops. Good ones are Black Sheep and Curators.
- Saw some of the #ridebikes here with re-breathers. looked pretty baller
- Bathrooms are hit / miss from what i’ve seen. I saw one public one on the streets when i was in zone 2. I couldn’t find any in the underground stations. Results will vary. Most restaurants have them.
- When ordering food, you’ll get asked if its for ‘takeaway’ or to go. The sit down price and the takeaway price is different due to taxes.
- Liquor licensing is based on time of day. ie, there is one for 10pm and one for midnight.
- CitiBikes are everywhere in London. The gearing might frustrate you. Citimapper can pull data from the bike stations.
- London is much denser than Seattle, but much more quiet. Kinda weird… and relaxing.