I had the privilege and opportunity to spend some time in England this week. It was my first solo trip to Europe and I was terrified at first. I had this irrational fear it would be like Taken 4: The return of Liam Neeson. Then I went and put my brave boots on and had a brilliant English adventure I will never forget. I am fortunate to have now done something so far outside of my comfort zone. It reinforces I am fully capable of empowering myself to live the life I desire.
Here are 25 tips, observations and lessons I can share now thanks to London:
1. Activate international data plan before day of arrival. Sprint made for a shitty and confusing first day. I could not make any calls or use the Internet (including Google maps — can you imagine?) to figure out things. The silver lining was I lived pre-Google old school and just asked people. Thank God it is an English speaking country and also people are friendly. I found out though many people who live in London have no clue where things are.
2. Fly Virgin Atlantic. The high level of customer experience I received in economy (coach for us regulars) was amazing. Just imagine first class. Truly Virgin was phenom from check-in to landing. I even had to tweet Sir Richard Branson and his staff about it. Thanks again Richie B for giving me life.
3. Mind the Gap between the train and the platform.
4. Heathrow Airport offers 4 FREE hours of wifi. There is no limit on devices. There is no catch. There is not even a password you need to type in. London’s hospitality is off the charts and this is a classic example in its purest form. Where I’m from, there is no such thing as free wifi in airports. Not even 15-30 minutes. Sad in comparison isn’t it?
5. The underground train is not all underground. Barreling through the deep, dark tunnels of London I was expecting this ho-hum florescent light experience. I was miracles only if I wanted to check a site on my phone. Every now and then though we burst through the darkness into the light and it was glorious. Keep some gum handy though while riding the Tube. The speed and pressure makes for intense eardrum plugging.
6. Press the open button to enter and exit DLR trains. The Docklands Light Railway is accessible by the underground Tube but operates differently. If you don’t want to look like a fool and you are the first one on or off the railcar, be sure to press the “Open” button otherwise you won’t be leaving. The doors do not automatically open on these trains so paying attention is key. I struggled to remember the first couple of times.
7. Tap your Oyster Card at the beginning AND end of your trip to be charged the correct amount. I kept forgetting to do so at the end because (mainly on DLR), there is no gate to exit through which serves as a reminder. For a while I thought maybe it operates on the honor system. You could potentially ride and never pay. Station attendants can request a ticket or Oyster card at any time though so not worth the risk. Later I also realized there are penalty charges involved. I think some fees for my forgetfulness ate up the pounds on my card pretty quickly.
8. London is more ethnically & culturally diverse than I expected. It was quite amazing. I saw blacks, whites, christians, muslims, asians, even Asian muslims cycling through life together. My AirBnB host was born in Bulgaria. My amazing airport Uber driver was born in Pakistan but had an English accent after 9 years of residence. I met a multitude of women from different nations at the Trailblazing Leadership conference. There were over 400 women in attendance from all over and I was the only American. It is always really lovely to see the globe represented any place I go.
9. People watching is universal good fun.
10. Google maps tells you what stop to get on and off at but never the direction to travel in. I never knew which side to stand on or which platform to be on. Every time I thought I knew…wrong lol. When in doubt, just ask.
11. Police can be approachable, friendly, helpful and harmless. Novel idea really. I could walk up to any of them and ask a question. They were literally always happy to help. I never had to feel intimidated though I still did a little bit but who can you really trust these days right?
12. Having staff at every train station to answer questions from tourists like myself is genius. I am convinced London is the most hospitable and accommodating city I have ever been to. If you look lost, they will ask how they can help you. They genuinely want to do their jobs well. Friendly doesn’t seem to have an expiration date.
13. Use the Thames River as home base. Almost every major viewing point in Central London is a short extension from the Thames. There is a gorgeous riverwalk and easy to find Tube underground lines or buses along the way.
14. The Underground Tube is mostly quiet. No one is asking for money, selling socks or yelling incoherent words & profanity on the platforms or trains. I enjoyed the change of pace.
15. Most of the men & women walking around in the city are in high-class business professional suits. I occasionally felt quite under-dressed. Some women were walking around in classic silhouette dresses with those cute hats we see for English weddings and such. Many men are in really fancy, nice suits. I saw one man with a top hat and coattails like I have only seen in movies. Where do these people work?
16. AirBnB makes traveling solo so much more enjoyable. My host was funny and cool. It reminded me of my days living with a host in Nicaragua. The level of quality care from a stranger really puts humanity in positive perspective.
17. Even when mean, Londoners sound nice. I went to the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace and there were people climbing on the gates so they could see better. The police kept saying, “Please don’t climb the gate. Thank You” and never got crass about it. They could have said, “Please don’t climb the palace gate or I’ll bash your effing head in. Thank you” in that English accent and it would have sounded just as pleasant I imagine.
18. The English accent makes regular sentences sound so full of drama. I enjoy listening to the English speak unless they have the Eliza Doolittle twang
19. Public transit elevators do not have to smell like urine or other abominable human waste.
20. The English love the F-word and I love hearing them say it. Consider it a guilty pleasure.
21. Don’t book an early flight on a Sunday morning. Don’t do it that is unless you’re ready to spend lots on an Uber or express train. I learned public transit doesn’t run as early on Sundays so I was almost stuck but Uber saved my life and got me to Heathrow in plenty of time.
22. Bring shoes that make sense to walk around the city in. A great way to see the city of London is by foot so stay smart and keep the shoes comfy so you can enjoy exploring.
23. The children naturally sound incredibly intelligent because of that English accent. Unless they sound like My Fair Lady. See number 18.
24. My English inspired vocab replacements are as follows: Brilliant! (over awesome), biscuit (over cookie), loo or toilet (over bathroom), rubbish (over trash), bloody, proper, surname (over last name), piss off (over leave me alone), queue (over line) and diversion (over reroute).
25. People are beautiful all around the globe. I was fortunate enough to spend time at a Trailblazing Leadership conference for 2 days with over 400 women. We had great, meaningful conversations about our goals, dreams and fears among other things. It was wonderful to be in a room full of women to both cheer and challenge other women along. I was fortunate enough to develop some good connections out of that. The Internet makes it almost effortless to keep connected with new friends around the world. The important thing is to make the effort. I learned from and shared personal stories with strangers that made us not so strange to each other any more. When we get to the core of things, we’re not so different — you and I. I love when I catch glimpses of the mountaintop Dr. King always spoke about.
I would definitely live there if given the opportunity. Regardless, I will for sure be back to visit. Thanks London for making me feel at home.