Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting Birmingham and London as a presenter at the WITJ Expo along with Vaughn (@msvaughntv). Since both of us have been to the U.K. a couple times, we thought we’d share some travel tips and things we’ve figured out that will hopefully make your trip across the pond easier!
Converters and Adapters
Converters adjust voltage for major appliances (flatirons, blow dryers, shavers), while adapters simply allow you to plug your device (phone, laptop, tablet) into a socket for power. There are lots of types, but you are better off purchasing converters and adapters that work worldwide so you don’t need to buy more when you travel other places. They come with interchangeable parts so you can use them in any country.
Lots of retailers such as Best Buy, REI, Target and Amazon, sell converters and adapters. Learn more about voltage converters and adapters here.
Having a way to re-charge your phone will come in handy while exploring a new place. Portable chargers generally carry enough juice to fully re-charge your battery to keep you going through the day!
Memories are what trips are made of! “Selfie” sticks allow you to capture pics of your group or different angles of attractions without having to ask people (who may not speak the same language as you, are terrible at picture taking, or may run away with your phone if they happen to be a thief) to take photos for you! It’s a quality investment.
I have the Minisuit Selfie Stick with Built-In Remote. It is Bluetooth enabled and charges via USB. There’s no connecting cords into your phone; just pop the phone in the holster, flip the Bluetooth on and use the button on the handle to snap pics!
Based on my experiences being in Europe three different times, visiting nine different cities, washcloths appear to be an American thing. If you prefer to bath with one, bring it with you from home!
You will need to exchange your U.S. dollars for currency that is native to where you are going. In the United Kingdom, it is the British pound. Exchange rates vary daily, but the dollar is weaker than the pound, so you will receive less pounds for your dollars once you convert. There are several ways to get the currency you need.
- Currency exchange stores, like Travelex, are available in many metropolitan cities.
- Your bank may allow you to order currency online and pick it up or have it shipped to your house before you depart.
- You can use an ATM on the other side, but remember you will incur international ATM fees (possibly from your bank and the machine in use) in addition to the cost of conversion. Make sure you ask your bank the rules for using foreign ATMs before you leave home.
In any of these cases, the conversion rate will be applied at the time of exchange. And if you do not use all of your currency, you can exchange it back to U.S. currency. However, they will not accept small value coins, just the paper and certain larger value coins, and you want to try and do it at the airport before returning home.
Credit Cards and Alerts
Make sure you set “travel alerts” on all of your major credit cards and your bank debit card or else you’ll run the risk of your cards being declined. Also, check to make sure there are no international purchase fees.
If you do not have a major credit card, you will want to apply for one that has no international fees and has “the chip.” Finally, card companies are inserting microchip technology in credit cards for U.S. cardholders to help prevent fraud (this technology has been used in other countries for more than a decade). If you have current cards without “the chip,” contact them and ask for an updated card. There are merchants in the U.K. that no longer swipe the magnetic strip, so having “the chip” will allow you to purchase as you please!
Getting Around Town
Just like in the U.S., foreign cities have transportation systems via bus and rail to help you move about. In London, it is the Underground rail system, referred to as “the tube” locally. There is also a bus system. The Oyster Card allows you to add money or time to use the rail and bus systems. If you have never used a public transit system, no worries! It’s color coded, easy to use, and in London, people speak English fluently so you can just ask for help when needed.
Google maps will become your best friend during this time. It gives walking and public transportation instructions as well as price estimates for car services such as taxis or Uber. If you do not have an Uber account, set one up before leaving home! (Use my code to get your first ride free: monicas831)
Most importantly, once you search your destination and the map is generated, there’s a little blue dot that moves as you do! You will be able to see if you are headed in the right direction even if you don’t have WiFi or cellular service.
What You Need In Your Bag
You will want to pack light, but still have what you need to function throughout the days. Anything you can do to minimize the number of items needed and overall weight is going to make your travel and daily excursions more enjoyable. Items like travel size toiletries, face wipes in place of full size cleansers, and travel-sized hair products will definitely make your suitcase lighter.
And don’t forget to pack comfortable walking shoes! You take for granted how small distances of walking add up over the day and you don’t want to stress your feet.
Filtered Water Bottle
The water filtration processes are different in foreign countries. The tap water in London is quite different than what you find in U.S. cities, and while it may be (may be) drinkable, you probably will not want to (should not) drink it. I recommend a travel-size water filtration bottle. Brita makes bottles that have up to 300 refills per filter and will fit easily in your tote!
Separate Your Currency
When you arrive across the pond, you will want to take your U.S. money and put it away from your foreign currency. It will make purchasing much easier if you aren’t digging through your wallet at checkout! Plus, you don’t want to be seen fumbling like an aloof tourist and make yourself a target for pickpockets.
Identify an Emergency Contact
Tell someone back home where you are headed, the airline(s) you’ll be flying, where you will stay when you arrive and your plans for sightseeing. Additionally, leave a photocopy or picture of your passport with someone you trust. If something happens and authorities need to contact your family, it will be helpful if someone has details of your trip and passport information.
Communication Apps You’ll Need
Unless you have an international cellular service, you will need to turn off your cellular data to prevent absorbent data roaming charges. You will be restricted to WiFi for connection. There are apps that allow you to place calls and send text-generated messages through the app.
- What’s App allows you to talk with friends and family who also have the app. Make sure you download the app and test it out before you leave home! It requires SMS access to send you a code to verify the app.
- Viber is another web-based app that works pretty much like What’s App, so you will want to make sure you download and try it before leaving home.
If you have an iPhone, Facetime and iMessage will work on WiFi just like at home! Just mind the time change so you aren’t Facetiming your friends at insane hours, lol.
In this video, I wash and style my hair using the TGIN collection! You can see a full review here.
Vaughn and I hope these tips are helpful as you plan your international travel! While some of these tips are geared toward travel in the United Kingdom, many are universal and apply to most international destinations.
If you are interested in taking part in a guided tour where you can see popular city sites and monuments without having to figure things out and plan every step, try a travel agency. I took a ten-day tour to six European cities back in 2013 and it was amazing! You can find a video recap and travel information here.