A good trip is the result of good planning. Getting your tickets, visa and hotel confirmations in order are important. But equally important is making sure that you have a stress free time while at your destination. So here is a list of things to do and check before you set off for your trip to the United Kingdom. Some of these points apply to any trip you plan to take; others are quite specific for your trip to the Great Britain.
Start early for airport: The traffic can kill your plans. This is an often repeated advice and need not be said here again. But still. On the day of your travel, start early for your journey to the airport. This applies to your return journey, too. Accidents on major highways can play spoilsports and roads to airports in London are famous for their traffic jams. Detours or short cuts to these airports might not be available everywhere. Airports nowadays have shopping and entertainment options that can keep you busy till your flight. So don't worry about spending an extra hour at the airport.
Exchange money at the best possible rates: With Brexit talks going on, rupee and pound rates keep changing. Any political turmoil or international move can affect the exchange rate of currencies. So watch the rate for a few days and make your move when you get the best possible rate.
Download local map/offline Google map: Make sure you download the local map of the area you are visiting. Nowadays Google allows you to download area maps for offline use. This will be helpful if you have lost your way and have no access to data on your phone. London is a walker's paradise. You can walk from one attraction to the other and enjoy the sites on the way. You can find these routes on Google Maps very easily. For example, you can walk from the Tower Bridge to the London Bridge in 15 minutes. Or from Buckingham Palace to Hyde Park in 15 minutes. There are trains too, of course. Check Google Maps for the train timings and the best available routes.
Plan your local travel well ahead: If you are in the country for a very short period of time, and want to visit all the important places, brace yourself. Keep in mind the distance between the places and transportation time required. Cabs tend to be costly (avoid Black Cabs!), and other public transports are cheaper. Google Maps are quite accurate in their directions. You can also select your time of departure or set it to the time of your arrival. Check the schedule at each venue. If you are planning to see the Change of Guard at Buckingham Palace and then see the Tower Bridge open, make sure you know the exact time of these events.
This brings us to the next point, get a local SIM card with facility for data and calls. If you are travelling on your own and are not travelling with a tour operator, it is best you have your own number (Lyca/Lebara give best India calling rates). This will be helpful when you need to check Google Maps for routes to take and to book venue tickets online. Google Maps also lets you know times of the train and road traffic situations on your routes. Also, you can use Facebook and Instagram to post your photos and make your friends envious.
Travelling on your own vs tour operators: For visiting certain sites like like Bath, Stonehenge and Windsor Castle, booking tours with operators is better. These places are far from each other and take a lot of time to reach. Tour operators arrange for your transportation and tickets at the venues, leaving you free to enjoy the tour. Some even offer food. Plus they come with the services of a guide.
If you plan to travel on your own, make sure you have all the necessary information with you, like the opening and closing time of the venue, bus numbers, train routes, ticket rates etc. Make sure you reach your destination on time and read all the instructions provided on the pamphlets. Unlike in India, in UK people are very serious about their cultural heritage and monuments. Do not litter or eat your packed lunch on the palace grounds.
Online booking vs over the counter rates: If you are planning to book tours make sure you check their rates online. Most of the time, their rates online are much lesser than the rates they offer over the counter. Also, booking early gets you better rates than booking closer to the date or on the day of the tour over the counter. If you are choosing to visit the tourist attractions on your own, the same theory applies. These venues charge lesser online. Also, you can browse through their packages which offer combined rates for two or three venues together which can be cheaper.
Get your credit card in order: If you don't have a credit card make sure you get one. Most of the transactions in foreign countries are cashless. It will also help you when you have to book tickets online. If someone else has booked tickets for you using their credit card, make sure you carry an authorisation letter with a photocopy of the credit card.
Book local train tickets online: Those who would like to experience the London Underground and the National Rail Service should check the train ticket rates online. Book return tickets online and you will see that these are much cheaper than the rates they offer over the counter at the station. Just make sure to carry an ID card and the credit card with which you booked the ticket.
Oyster Cards are a good option if you are travelling in the trains a lot. These cards can be recharged at the kiosk at each station. They can also be used in buses, Tube, tram, DLR, London Overground, TfL Rail, Emirates Air Line, River Bus services and most National Rail services in London
Get the best walking shoes: Prepare to walk a lot. Like I mentioned earlier, London can be a walker's paradise. There are plenty of walking tours available which will enlighten you about the history of even the smallest lane. Google Maps should help you find the easiest routes.
If you are travelling with infants or toddlers, make sure you check the rules of transporting them on vehicles. Car seats are compulsory and some cabs refuse to take you if you don't have car seats. It is advisable to use a stroller while you travel from one place to another, leaving your hands free.
Instructions and directions are displayed everywhere you go in London. There are certain etiquette to be followed while there. For example, on escalators if you are not planning to walk up the stairs stand to the right so that people who want to walk up can easily do so. In trains seats are marked for those with disability, elders and pregnant ladies. Make sure you make space for them. Also, even if the trains are crowded you will be surprised by how much people do not jostle or push each other. Personal space is big there, and you will be scorned at if you invade someone's space. People are generally very polite. 'Excuse me' and 'Thank you' are used quite often in a day. Wait in line everywhere. It might be a long line, but be patient and wait. Service is usually quite fast.
Buy power converters: Our phones chargers and laptops need power converters to plug into the sockets there. Make sure you buy the suitable kind.
Get ready for some cold weather: You might be used to Delhi's cold weather, but if you are visiting the UK when it is cold, get ready for some bone freezing chill. It is also quite windy or breezy in UK. So the minute you step out of the airport, the cold wind will take your breath away. Be ready.
In some places, shops close early. As early as 6pm. If you are not in London, which is the most happening place, make sure you check their closing time and visit them ahead of it.