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Saturday, December 6, 2014

Traveling on a Budget in Expensive London

London is right up there as one of the most expensive cities in the world to travel to. It’s unfortunate for me that it is one of my favorite places to visit, but aside from the airfare to get there, you can make a trip to London quite affordable. It will take some planning and budgeting, but you can do it. True, you won’t be able to do it every year. We like to hope we can get there every five. Of course, with so much time in between visits, it means you also want to make the most of your trip. This is where you decide which things you want to splurge on and which you can skimp on.

Dining out is where we tend to spend the most money, because we enjoy trying the local cuisine and having the experience of relaxing while someone waits on us. Prices in London are the same as they are in America, but instead of being in dollars, they are in pounds, which means they are approximately 1.6 times as much. It can be confusing and then overwhelming to realize how much you’re spending. Amazingly, there are plenty of ways to save when dining.

When traveling, we realize that we are always being served large portions. Sometimes you’re starving, and that’s okay. Most times you’re not, and you’re rarely going to want leftovers – not that you can take them with you in London – and it’s perfectly acceptable to just split something. Many times during our last trip across the pond we ordered one entrée and split it for lunch or dinner.

Street food, including food carts, is a staple in London. I wished I had more time to try more when I was there. These items were quite a bit more affordable than sit-down meals and are easy to eat while you’re walking down the street.

London has a ton of outdoor markets. Some just have antiques or clothes, but several of them have food stalls where you can buy everything from pastries and fruit to cheese and meats. I found a lot of budget-friendly foods and purchase several to eat later. Some of the markets you may want to check out are Portobello Road Market, Borough Market, Brick Lane and Leadenhall Market. Besides some cheap foods, you may find a few fun souvenirs to bring home.

Use daily deal sites to get up to 90% off dining experiences (and other tourist activities) around the city. We saved so much doing this and had quite a lot of yummy food.

See the free sites, because London is full of them. Walk along the Thames or across the many bridges. The views are spectacular and make for gorgeous photo opportunities.  London also has so many parks, it’s hard to miss out on them. Stroll through Hyde Park or head over to Holland Park for a more unique experience. It’s like several parks in one and it’s not as easy to get lost in. (I recommend carrying a map and a compass when visiting London. Just in case.)

Explore the museums for nothing. It’s true. The Tate Modern, the Imperial War Museum, the British Museum, the National Gallery and the Victoria & Albert Museum are all totally free. Even if you drop a few notes in the donation box, it’s practically nothing for hours of amazing artwork and history.

Book a vacation rental instead of a hotel room. Prices are comparable and can also be cheaper, like our loft apartment was. It enables you to have your own space, feel like a local and gives you kitchen facilities to make your own food – we always make our own breakfasts. You can also look for places that have other extras, including internet, cable, proximity to public transportation or popular attractions or a washer and dryer, letting you pack less and do laundry when you’re not out exploring.

If you look for ways to save anywhere, even in a place as posh as London, you will find a lot more than you expected. Between free activities, sharing food and daily deals, we probably saved as much as half of what we did the first time we visited eight years ago. A lot of the fun of visiting London is just walking around the city and taking in the scenery and the historical buildings.

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