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Saturday, August 3, 2013

Save By the Pound in London

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In honor of my trip to London, I have chosen to give you some of my best tips for saving in the city: When choosing a vacation destination, we often decide where to go based on what there is to do there. Those things may be different for different people. Some may go for the food, the museums or theme parks. Still others will go where the shopping is. While London has some of the world’s best shopping, it also is one of the most expensive travel destinations. To offset your spending at the boutiques and shops on High Street, it is important to find other ways of saving on your trip. Luckily, even though there are plenty of ways to go broke in the city, there are even more ways to stay on budget.

Photo credit: Melinda Capener
When to go
As with almost all destinations, the time to avoid is summer. Airfare and hotel rates can be almost twice as much as at other times, leaving you less money to spend on shoes and things you actually need, like food. Summertime is also super crowded. There’s nothing worse than running out of money halfway through your trip and also having to push your way through throngs of tourists everywhere you go.
Plan your trip to London in the fall or winter to save a ton on airfare and even accommodations. Hours for attractions and shops will be shorter than in the summer, but without having to brave the hordes of vacationers, you’ll be able to see and do more in a shorter amount of time. This lets you have a relaxing sightseeing experience.
Where to stay
No one will ever say it’s cheap to stay in London. In fact, you can pretty much expect to pay double what you pay most other places. You can save a bundle by renting an apartment or staying in an apart-hotel. These options give you kitchen facilities which can help stretch your dollars – or euros or pounds – by allowing you to eat some meals in your room. Unless you want to dine at fast food establishments most of your meals, food costs are going to add up quickly. Even if you only pop up to the store and bring back breakfast staples, that’s going to save you quite a chunk. You can purchase food for a week of breakfasts for less than the price of one sit-down morning meal for two.
Photo credit: Melinda Capener
Getting where you want to go
Although London is totally walkable, you may not want to hike miles and miles every day. Fortunately for you the public transit system is awesome. Purchase a travelcard from Oyster for multiple travel days. It will save you money, because you can ride unlimited on the Underground, the bus and trains on the days it is valid. The more you ride, the more you save.

Avoid cabs as much as possible. Those little black cabs may be adorable, but the fares won’t be. You could spend the same amount on one ride across town as you would for several days of public transit. This small change in the way you travel could be the difference between going home with another awesome fashion find or returning your purchases in order to eat more than bags of crisps (potato chips) for the last few days of your trip.

Budget shopping
London has a variety of open-air markets, which can be great for finding bargains or just browsing. Two of the most popular, where shopaholics may still find a deal, are Camden Lock Market and Portobello Road Market. Open 7 days a week, Camden Lock Market is always bustling and is really diverse. Buy a rare book and have your palm read in the same trip. Maybe the reader can tell you if you’ll find that perfect souvenir to take home! In the two miles of Portobello Road Market, you’ll find everything from antique treasures to fruits and vegetables. The market may look very familiar to those who saw the movie Notting Hill. You can grab a bite to eat while scouring the stalls for a vintage dress.

Photo credit: Melinda Capener

Do more for less
In between shopping, you will probably want to see the city. There’s so much to do in London and no matter how long your trip, you will never be able to see it all. Want to see as much as possible and not have to pay it off on your credit cards for years to come? Here are some ways to squeeze in as much as you can with the time and budget you have:
  • Get a London Pass – This is literally your ticket to the city. You pay one price and this little card can get you into over 60 attractions in the London area. It allows you go straight to the head of the line and, since you’ve already paid, you don’t have to keep looking over your budget to see if you can afford to do something else on your trip. If it’s on the list, you’re covered. While not “cheap”, the London Pass is affordable and especially useful if you are spending a week or more in the city. You probably won’t visit all the attractions covered, but if you did you could save over $800. Even if you just visit half, you’re getting a significant savings on your trip.
  • Go for a walk – London Walks has a variety of walking tours you can take any day of the week. Tours usually last for one to two hours and cost less than $20 per person. You never have to make a reservation. You just show up at the tour’s starting location, pay your money to the guide and enjoy a stroll around London, learning about the city’s history on themed tours, such as Jack the Ripper, Harry Potter, the Beatles, pubs, Westminster Abbey and more. This is perfect if you aren’t sure if your feet will cooperate with you for more walking and also a really affordable way to see the city. 
  • Look for the freebies – Like most of the world, London wants your money, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t things you can do that won’t cost you anything. You can spend a whole day, or two, saving your money and visiting sites like Hyde Park, browsing vender booths at any of the many street markets, taking in the sights way above the city in OXO Tower, watching the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, marveling at works of art in Tate Modern or learning the history of the city through exhibits at the London Museum. The list goes on and on. Mix some free activities in with your other activities and your budget will stretch much further. 
  • Save on the West End – London has a ton of theater experiences that shouldn’t be missed. Two tickets can cost a small fortune, but travelers using Broadway Box will find amazing discount codes for almost any show that they are interested in seeing. Besides the considerable theater price cuts, dinner and show deals are also included. In some cases, dinner turns out to be free with the package purchase. 
  • Make dining reservations in advance – Sign up for TopTable.com and search participating London restaurants that allow you to make online reservations through the program. The great thing about TopTable is that they often offer 50% off discounts at certain dining venues. You can find many other deals, too, including my favorite – the special prix fixe menus for TopTable users at many restaurants. The more reservations you complete, the more points you get. When you accumulate enough points, you can trade them in for a dining certificate. Even if you don’t earn enough on your trip, you will still save a bundle by booking your dining at the restaurants that take part in the program.
Photo credit: Melinda Capener

It’s possible to visit London on a budget and still have an incredible trip. You won’t feel like you missed out on all the best the city has to offer, especially if you’re able to buy a few nice things for yourself in the process. Remember to pack light and bring an extra bag that you can fold up in your carry-on to take home all your fabulous finds. Packing fewer clothes can save you baggage fees and let you skip the baggage carousel to get right off the plane and on to your trip. Also, some of the best souvenirs are memories and photos, which are virtually free and take up no luggage space!

Thanks to my friend Melinda for letting me use her great photos from her year of living in London.
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