Everybody has a certain idea about London. A specific idea that I have about London is how to enjoy it without spending too much money. When it comes to traveling, my key belief is this; spend money where it’s worth it and skimp the costs everywhere else. You want to enjoy your travels and try many new things, but you don’t want to come back home and eat instant noodles for the rest of the month either. So, whatever matters the most to you – be it dining, buying mementos, signing up for local activities – spend money on that, and for everything else, go low-key and stick to a minimalist’s budget.
Here are some things I thought was worth doing around London. Some of them cost a bit more, some of them cost nothing at all, but they are mainly things I look for when I travel.
1. Free Orange Umbrella Tour around London – This is a tour that is free of charge, and very, very enjoyable. You can google about them, or their fliers are everywhere around London. This is how you do it; 1. Look up the schedule of tours. They have many kinds of tours, like the history tour, Jack the Ripper tour etc etc. 2. With the schedule, they will tell you where to meet (usually at a subway station). When you are there, find a guy with an orange umbrella. This is your tour guide. 3. Follow the guy everywhere. You will have a lot of fun, know a lot of new things about London, visit hidden gems, meet other people and burn a hell of a lot of calories 4. Upon dismissal, you may tip the guy (you will feel obliged, because they will be that good).
2. Eat lobsters at Burgers & Lobsters – I always, always associate good travels with good food. At Burgers & Lobsters, you pay 20 quids for a whole lobster, steamed or grilled. Or even better, a lobster sandwich! 20 quids is a pret-ty good deal for a lobster, if you ask me. The restaurant has a nice ambience about it, perfect for a long dinner with friends after that free tour.
3. Walk around the Big Ben area with a water bottle and Walkers chips – a small bag of Walkers chips costs 50p. But the enjoyment of snacking while walking around the old historical buildings and sitting around staring at people is priceless.
4. Shop at Primark for cheap, fabulous clothes – The clothes are cheap, much trendier than the ones back home, and did I mention the clothes are cheap?
5. Eat Peking Duck at Oodle Noodle – Oh, sure. You’re in London and you’re eating Chinese food. But Peking duck at Oodle Noodle restaurant is worth the dinner queue. You’ll find the place swarmed with Malaysians, and for good reason, I say. Nothing like crispy-skin Peking duck served with thin wraps, a simple side salad and hoisin sauce.
6. Rent an apartment – Websites like AirBnB.com, TripAdvisor, & HomeAway.com provides excellent options for cheap apartments. Apartments have facilities like a kitchen, washing machine and microwave. This means you can save on laundry money, make your own breakfast and preheat leftovers, all of which could save you a lot of money.
7. Go into the smaller streets – take a trip down the beaten path and you’ll be surprised at the amount of hidden interests you’ll be able to see. For example, the small pub called The Cheshire Cheese, which originated way back in the 1850s. It has seen many famous literary figures such as Mark Twain and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as its regulars. You can even get a meal here for a reasonable price.
Renting a car and driving cross country is a great way to see places, especially if there’s more than one of you. If you maximize the car capacity, chances are the costs are the same or even less than taking the public transport. We embarked on a week-long drive from London to Wales, taking our time to make stops whenever we wanted and exploring smaller towns and countryside. Here are some of our main stops and what to look forward to in these places.
The first stop was Oxford. Why Oxford? Because Lewis Carrol was inspired to write Alice’s mystical quirky Wonderland here. Because Harry Potter was filmed at the college library. Because I just wanted to know how it feels to be super smart. We stayed at a bed and breakfast, small but with a lot of character, and travelled on foot around the main part of the university town. It seemed like it was a town within a university, instead of the other way around. People moved around with bicycles, and at night the students hang out at the small delis and cafes along the street. There were small little shops selling all sorts of thing – antiques, graduation robes and Italian delicacies.
The old centre was like something pulled out of a medieval history handbook. You can spend hours just wandering around this part of the university, visiting its old library, churches that are turned into lecture halls, and small cafes overlooking the college compound. The library is worth a visit, not just to see where Harry Potter was filmed, but also to marvel at the thousands of old books chained to the wall, and listen to the history of the library itself. After that, you may reward yourself a coffee or a small parfait in one of the cafes. One that I would recommend is the café right next to the library within a church chamber. There are even seats next to a grave of some famous Whatshisname.
If you’re into outdoorsy things, a popular activity here is punting. It basically means boating along the small river across Oxford. You can also visit the beautiful parks around campus, armed with a sandwich or a bag as pillow for naps under the tree.
Where to Eat: University means globalisation. Globalisation means you can get almost all types of food from around the world along a single main street. Food is not at all a problem around here, and best of all they are mostly catered to a student’s budget. Follow the crowd to see the where the best hangout spots are at night, and the main town is generally safe to walk around at all times.