London survival tips

Little day-to-day things that you take for granted at home (in Texas, the U.S.) are just not the same in London (the U.K., Europe). This page is intended to serve as a laundry list of things you need to know to avoid discomfort and embarrassment.

UK electrical adapter

UK electrical adapter

  1. Electricity: It’s 220 volts in the UK, and they have two different kinds of plugs, neither of which looks like ours. You need a travel kit if you want to plug in your computer, a cell phone, or anything else. If all you need is plug adapters, take a look at offerings on amazon.com. For hair dryers, plan to use the ones provided by the hotel – or buy one built for 220v circuits.
  2. Cell phones: Wireless phones in Europe and Asia use different technologies (GSM) from the phones in the U.S. Unless you specifically purchase a package geared for international travel (sometimes meaning a different phone and usually a very ex$pen$ive plan), your phone may not work. High-end smart phones made since the fall of 2011 usually have the ability to be set for foreign systems. Check your cell provider: SprintAT&T.
  3. Telling time: The UK (and Europe) runs on a 24-hour clock.  You do not always  see a.m.-p.m. stuff . Breakfast is at 0800 (8 a.m.) or earlier and lunch break is generally around 1300 (1 p.m.). Dinner is typically 1800-1900. Get used to it.
  4. $£ Ca$h: You should bring enough U.S. currency with you so that you can buy some local currency (about $50-$80 worth) at the airport. Thereafter, you can use ATM machines in town to get local currency. On the day you leave, you will need enough British currency to get yourself to the airport. You will need enough U.S. currency to get yourself home in the U.S. Make sure you know how to get cash with your own credit / debit / bank cards. See “Note” under “$$Credit.”
  5. $$Credit: Credit cards work fine at most places. Visa, MasterCard, American Express are widely accepted. Discover is not so widely received. I generally have a Visa card and AmEx with me, and I get along fine. NOTE: make sure you let your card company know you will be in London / Paris the last two weeks in May and the first week in June.
  6. Supermarket, corner drug: Sorry, they are rare in downtown London, and the substitutes can be hard to find. So you need to bring sanitary needs, medicines, and such with you, to be safe. We will identify shopping options near the hotel, but they may not be as convenient as you might hope.
  7. Rooms / Facilities: This is not Texas. Not even the United States. Like other places in the UK and “on the continent,” people and businesses in London are packed close together. Our hotel rooms will be small / tight. WC’s (bathrooms) are tiny. The expectation is that your shower is quick and short-lived.
  8. Breakfast:  Continental breakfast means rolls, jams, and some fruit. Might be some bagels and cheese. If you are lucky, there could be some yogurt, may be some cereal. Anything more than that and the hotel has really gone the extra mile. Just be prepared.
  9. Weather: The last week of May, high temperatures average about 66° F  with overnight lows about 50°. Rain chances on any given day are about 53%. So you need to have a small, collapsible umbrella, and you need to dress accordingly.
  10. Shoes: Londoners do a LOT of walking – brisk walking; so will we. You can tell when you’re in the middle of tourist foot traffic by how slow they walk. You must bring shoes comfortable for walking. To be comfortable, your shoes must be broken in, not new. New shoes will almost certainly lead to  blisters.
  11. Laundry: Finding a neighborhood laundromat is more difficult than finding a corner drugstore. We are not staying in a five-star hotel; so you should plan on bringing some clothes you can wash – by hand – in the sink. You will have to bring some detergent as well (checked luggage only). We are fortunate that there is a commercial laundry near the hotel where you can drop things off in the morning and pick them up in the evening.
  12. Traffic: They drive on the other side of the road. You need to look RIGHT when you step off the curb (unless it’s one way the other way).
  13. Laser pointers: You know that cute little laser thingy that you use to tease cats and dogs? Don’t bring it. The Brits place them in the same category as knives and guns. Speaking of guns, even the bobbies leave them at home in London. If Customs or Immigration finds a gun or a laser on your person or in your luggage, the consequences likely will be unpleasant.