How To Enjoy London On A Budget

traveling in LondonBack in November, my family took a vacation to England. In the past few years, we’ve struggled through a financial difficulties, and 2012 was the first time we were able to save money and begin paying off some debts. We decided about 6 months before we left that we wanted to go to London for Taylor’s week of vacation at the beginning of November. We started saving money for several months, and were excited that we had enough money to see attractions that we were too broke to enjoy on our 2009 trip to London.

The biggest difference in our 2012 trip, besides having enough money visit some paid attractions, was that we brought our 12-year old daughter Rosie with us. We also traveled with our friend Clint, who flies with my husband at the same airline. We were able to use our travel benefits to pay for the majority of our flights, but we still had a full 8 days of travel with a moderately limited budget.

London is one of the most expensive cities to travel to in the world, but with a few simple tricks, you can make your time in London quite affordable.

taylor nicole milennium bridgeKnow your lodging options: There are so many different places you can stay in London: hostels, hotels, bed and breakfasts, home/room rentals, and more. Whether you choose a swanky hotel or  premier hostel in London, you will be able to find lodging to fit within any budget. There are many websites that can help you score a great deal, but my personal preference is Priceline, which I’ve been using avidly since 1999. Not only can you browse hotels at the lowest listed rate, you can “Name Your Own Price” for an even better deal. That’s how we scored the Crowne Plaza for $105 USD per night (a steal during a busy travel week).

One thing to note: It’s very difficult to find hotel rooms for 3+ people. Most rooms are equipped for 2 adults (2 twins or 1 full/queen/king), which proved to be difficult for a party of 4 traveling together. If you want to stay in one room, look for hotels that have rollaway beds or pull-out sleeper beds (which are usually an additional fee). In some cases, it was less expensive to book two rooms than to find a hotel with a more expensive sleeper sofa room.

£3 Tesco meal DealDon’t eat at restaurants every meal: One of the most shocking price differences was how expensive restaurant meals are in London. When you see a price on a menu in the UK, it looks like it’s about the same as the US…before factoring in the currency exchange rate. At the time we visited, the rate was about $1.60 per pounds sterling, which made every meal 60% more than we were used to. Even a non-fancy pub meal ran us  £47 ($76) and we split our plates. We tried to pack food along with us during the day, and grab street food when it was available. We usually shopped at the Tesco Express markets, which offered a sandwich, crisps, and drink special for £3. Also, see if your hotel offers a free English breakfast…they are quite hearty.

Get a Travelcard or Oyster Card: While there are an abundance of transportation options in London, the most cost-effective options are the Travelcard and Oyster Card for Transport For London. They are good for use on the bus, Tube, DLR, tram, and most National Rail services. Oyster is an electronic smartcard ticket that you tap on the yellow reader at the Tube gates. Oyster is more cost effective for single journeys on public transit, while the Travelcard is more suited for days that you will use public transit multiple times in a day. If you’re travelling regularly, a Travelcard can be loaded onto your Oyster. Travelcards and Bus Passes can be purchased for 1 day (Travelcards only), 1 week, 1 month or 1 year’s travel.

london travelcardWe bought our Travelcards as a package deal with the LondonPass. Unfortunately, the passes were purchased in advance online, and we had to go into the city to pick them up from Leister Square. We had to pay for a single journey Tube pass and for our ride on the Heathrow Express (quite pricey, but worth it if you’re in a hurry to get into the city).

Invest in package deals: There are a lot of tourist attractions in London that participate in discount cards. The post popular multiple-attraction discount card is the LondonPass. You can choose a 1-day, 2-day,  3-day or 6-day pass. The LondonPass grants you access to 55 different attractions, some with front-of-the-line privileges, including the Tower of London, Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower Bridge Experience, and a Thames River Cruise.

As a side note, the LondonPass does not include the London Eye…but it’s totally worth the price.

wicked londonOne thing that we were pleased to find was that Broadway shows were more affordable in London than many touring through the US. Taylor and I had planed to see Wicked in Salt Lake City, but decided tickets were too expensive. We were able to buy 3 tickets for about $140 total, instead of $75-$150 each in the US.

All-in-all, our trip was just over $3000 (for flights, transportation, lodging, entertainment, food, souvenirs, etc), which is coincidentally about the same price as our wedding in 2004. I’d hate to think of how much our London vacation would have been if we hadn’t been so discount travel savvy.

Bullock Family Christmas Card 2012

One hundred Christmas cards are in the mail, but I couldn’t send them to everyone. So instead, I’m posting it online for all my readers to see. Don’t you feel lucky?

I failed to write a Christmas letter to go along with our cards, so I’ll give a little update on what our family has been up to this year.


Our family moved from Midvale to Lehi, Utah, this year, which was a fairly easy move after the 4 cross-country moves we made between 2006-2009.

Taylor is in his 5th year as a first officer pilot for an east coast-based regional airline. He’s been based in Memphis this year, and commuting to and from Salt Lake City can be tough at times. There is a FedEx base in Memphis, and pilots are able to jumpseat on the FedEx planes, so he often “FedExes himself” to work. When he’s not in the air or waiting around an airport, he likes to keep tabs on all the recent movies, TV shows, and video games, and is trying to reteach himself how to play the guitar.

20121211-095814.jpgRosie has been growing up faster than we can keep up with. She is turning into an amazing and eclectic young lady in so many ways. Rosie is in 6th grade and turned 12 years old in September. She loves being a Beehive in Young Womens, and is enjoying the countdown to being an official teenager. This summer, she was in Murray Community Arts’ production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” and has a strong interest in theater (just like her mom). She got to see stage productions of “Les Miserables” and “Wicked” this year, and has the soundtracks on heavy rotation on her iPod. Her number one obsession right now is Doctor Who, which her Pinterest account will attest to.

20121211-095745.jpgMy year has been focused on regaining my health. I opted to have weight loss surgery as a tool to get my weight under control. So far this year, I have lost over 120 pounds, and I intend to keep working hard to lose the rest of my excess weight. Professionally, I am working as the social media manager for, and am on the board of Social Media Club of Salt Lake City. My leisure time often revolves around blogging and social media events, and my trips this year included Charlotte, NC for Type A Parent Conference, New York City for BlogHer, and Atlanta for the Obesity Help weight loss conference. I’ve had a lot of success with my blogs this year, including some appearances on TV and mentions in the newspaper.

20121211-095657.jpgThe highlight of our year as a family was our trip to England in October. The three of us met up with our friend Clint, and we had a fab adventure together. We spent 4 days in London, seeing the sights, sampling the culture, taking lots of pictures, and meeting up with old friends.

Next, we rented a car and drove north to spend some time out of the city. We spent a day in Liverpool, a day in the Lake District, and ended our time in England in Manchester. When standby flights were full out of Manchester, we found out that we could get back to the US in business class on standby the next day from Dublin, so we hopped an Aer Lingus flight to Ireland for a day. We only got to spend a few hours in the city of Dublin, but it was fun to experience a little of the land of my heritage.

We would like to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy, and prosperous new year in 2013. Cheers!

London: Coming Home

We packed up our suitcases and checked out of our hotel around 10 am. We spent a little time in the Business Centre checking flight loads again, and coming up with more contingencies. We got a breakfast croissant at the kiosk in the Tube station, made with delicious ham and emmental cheese. We scrounged together the rest of our change to pay for our tube ride to Heathrow. It took about 30 minutes to get to LHR terminal 4. We checked in at the kiosk, went through security, and walked around the airport to pass the time until our flight boarded. We got a few snacks and drinks, and crossed our fingers for seat assignments. We missed out on business class by two passengers, and got seat assignments one row apart. A nice passenger offered to let us sit together (giving up an aisle seat for a middle…talk about a good samaritan!)

We napped, snacked, read, and watched movies. I watched “Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging,” “The Hangover,” and “My Life in Ruins.” The flight was slightly longer back to the US, approximately 10 hours. We came back through customs, grabbed some dinner, and checked out the flight boards. We were hoping to catch a 9 pm flight to SLC, but we still had about 3 hours till boarding. Taylor went down to Ops to check Deltanet, and it was pretty evident we wouldn’t make it on that flight. We looked at alternate flights through DEN, HOU, ABQ, PHX, MEM, OMA, DFW, DTW, CVG and TUS, but all of those cities would require an overnight stay before the connecting flight to SLC. We were exhausted from the day of traveling, and decided to call it a night. Taylor got a $36 crew-rate hotel (with free wifi…hallelujah!)

In the morning, flight loads didn’t look any better, and we wanted a to find the most certain option for getting back to SLC…which ended up being San Antonio. Once in SAT, we ate lunch at Las Palapas Mexican Grill in Terminal 1. I’ve got to put in a plug for this place…very delicious food and insanely inexpensive for airport food. Two full meals with drinks, tax and tip came to $16. We were happy when our names were called for a seat assignment, and even more happy that we had seats in first class. First class in a short flight on a CRJ isn’t too swanky, just more opportunities for free drinks and more legroom.

We arrived in SLC in the late afternoon, picked up our car, and headed down to Lehi to pick up Rosie from my parents’ house. We shared our trip pictures with them, and got back to SF around 8:00. It was an exhausting 2 days of travel home….but it was totally worth it.

London: Day Three

Saturday was our “touristy” day. We had a lot to see, and only one day to do it in. We grabbed breakfast and lunch from Tesco, and headed for the Tube. We started at Buckingham Palace. We arrived 45 minutes before the Changing of the Guards. After about 10 minutes, the crowds were so unruly that we gave each other a mutual “Are these crowds bugging you as much as they’re bugging me?” glance. We decided to walk around the attractions nearby and see how the crowds were as the procession started.People, people everywhere
St. James Park

We listened to a few songs by a military band. The highlight was a orchestral version of “One Moment in Time.” The epitome of British culture, let me tell ya!

And now a word from our sponsors…

One of my product placement photos (I’ve got a few more on Facebook) I thought it was funny that the Dr. Pepper Zero was “sweetened with vegetable extracts.” It tasted less sweet than Diet Dr. Pepper. Coca-Cola owns the Dr. Pepper licensing in the UK, thus the “zero” brand name. UK Coke was awesome – sweetened with cane sugar, not HFCS. So was Pineapple Fanta. Lilt was pretty good, but too tart for my taste. I HATED the Diet Coke with Cherry….tasted like rancid cough syrup.

Westminster Abbey

Houses of Parliament (aka Big Ben). I thought it was the most beautiful thing I saw on the whole trip. It sounds to touristy cliche, but it really was ornate and spectacular. The photos just don’t do it justice.

Waiting for our boat ride down the River Thames

View from the Thames

The dome shaped building is called “The Gherkin.” I also heard others call it the “Towering Innuendo,” and the “Crystal Phallus.” Definitely one of the more modern buildings in the London skyline.

London Tower Bridge

Taylor in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral

St. Paul’s Cathedral was the only paid attraction that we did on the trip. We were tempted by the London Eye and a double-decker bus tour, but I don’t think anything we could have done would have been as awesome as St. Paul’s. We toured several parts of the cathedral, and then started our trek up to the dome. After 250 steps, you reached the “Whispering Room.” 150 steps later was an observation deck with this gorgeous view:

We ascended another 150ish stairs to the observation deck at the top of the dome. I was huffing and puffing, and very tired after all those stairs, but the view was definitely worth it!

Coming down was much easier!

We crossed the Milenneum Bridge to Tate Modern. We looked at exhibits on two floors.

We also saw the replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater

View from the top of Tate Modern towards St. Paul’s

Our legs and feet were aching by this point. The closest tube station happened to be closed, and we couldn’t figure out which one to walk to. We ended up walking about 25 minutes to Waterloo station, and I felt like I was going to collapse (Yeah, I’m out of shape. Not used to walking 8+ hours in a day) Our last “must see” stop was Trafalgar Square…and that’s where we went.

We got dinner at a pub called Garfunkels. Taylor got fish and chips, I got a chicken and mushroom pie with mash. For dessert, we had bread and butter pudding with warm custard.

We got one last view of the Square, and headed underground to go back to our hotel. We had about 30 pounds in cash left at this point, so we went to Tesco to pick up some sweets and souveniers to bring home. Chocolate digestives, Bird’s custard, Smarties, KitKats, Fruit Pastilles, Jammy Dodgers, and Aero bars. I cannot even describe the look on Taylor’s face as I kept piling sweets into the basket.
We got back to our hotel, and went into the Business Centre to use the internet (20 minutes per pound) We needed to check flight loads, and come up with backup plans in case our Heathrow to Atlanta flight fell through. In this process, we realized that our flight wasn’t going to be free…we’d have to pay the taxes and tariffs to get back into the US. That increased the total price of our entire trip about 30%, but we still completed it all for less than a one-way ticket to London would have been. We are so grateful for the kind friends and family who allowed this trip to happen….and that’s where most of this candy went to.

London: Day Two

This is the map to the Underground. If only more cities had a system this organized…

The tube kept us from having to drive around and make sense of all the roundabouts and people driving on the other side of the road. I probably would have killed us if I just drove out onto the road here.These mailboxes remind me of the movie “Help” where they’re trying to cut off Ringo’s finger…

Friday morning we did a lot of walking around. We were hesitant to use our cell phones ($1.29 per minute, $.50 per text) so we looked for a place that we could get breakfast and wifi. After not finding any other suitable options, we hunkered down at a Starbucks for about an hour. I got in touch with Emma and we made lunch plans. She and David would pick us up from the Croydon station, which was within the 1-6 Travelcard zone. We took the tube back to Victoria Station, and onto the overground train to East Croydon station. Unfortunately, the ticket agent unknowingly sold us a 1-2 zone Travelcard. When we tried to exit the Croydon station, the gate wouldn’t release and we had to go to the “unpaid fare” window. The agent said we’d have to pay a twenty pound penalty each, but we talked her into just selling us the fare between Victoria and Croydon.

The first pub we went to was on a friends’ reccomendation, but when we arrived they said they didn’t have license for children to enter. Since Annabelle was with us, we asked for another suitable local pub. We drove to the Sandrock Pub. I got fish and chips with mushy peas, Taylor got bangers and mash. We had a lovely time visiting, and were sad we had so little time to spend with them.

David, me, and Emma

When they dropped us off at the train station, we totally flubbed on social ettiquite. We uncultured Americans just aren’t used to those friendly cheek kisses! We’ll get it right next time! We took the train back to Victoria, and spent the afternoon sightseeing.

First we went to the Science Museum. We knew we only had a few hours to spend there, so we focused on the medicine and aviation floors.

Taylor was in airplane heaven!


Assisting the Harrier Jet

This Rolls-Royce engine made me feel tiny (for once in my life)

For the next few hours, we did lots and lots of walking. We walked to Hyde Park, and it started to rain a little bit. We were blessed to have excellent sunny weather for the majority of the trip, but it wouldn’t have been a true experience without some rain.

Prince Albert Memorial

Trying my hand at some funky artistic photography
Gardens in Hyde Park

Princess Diana Memorial Fountain

By the time we got the the Serpentine, it was raining pretty heavily. We took turns with the one umbrella we had, and both ended up pretty wet.

Next we walked to Harrods was so posh, which is one of the most fabulous department stores in the world. I felt silly walking around in my sopping wet clothes. We toured the several departments, but especially loved the food halls, It. If I’d wanted to pay 5 pounds per kilogram of eggplant, approximately $15/lb, this would have been the place.

Ah, the sweet confections that I dilligently avoided buying (but I did get a free hazelnut truffle. Yum!)

We walked around for a few minutes, but it was starting to get dark, and we didn’t feel like staying out in the rain, so we took the tube back to Hammersmith.

We stopped at the Tesco market in the tube station and picked up sandwich fixings for dinner. We watched Zombieland after dinner, as well as some BBC. We had a pretty exhausting day, and decided to call it a night around 10:30 pm.

London: Day One

Emma picked us up and we drove back to her village. Her children Harry and Jack were getting ready for school. I brought a bunch of American candy for her family (Mike and Ikes, Fruit Roll Ups, Sugar Babies, Dots, Hershey Kisses, US KitKat) as well as the Great Harvest Popeye Bread. Emma offered me some squash to drink, but I had no idea what she was talking about. It is a juice concentrate that you pour into a glass of water. We walked Jack to school, and toured around her village.

When we returned from our walk, we drove to the London Temple. We walked around the grounds and snapped a bunch of pictures. It was smaller than I expected (similar in size to the Atlanta temple) and the metalwork on the exterior reminded me of the Los Angeles Temple.

Next, we drove into East Grinstead. We got hot chocolate milano drinks at Caffe Nero. It was the richest hot cocoa I’d ever had, made from Belgian chocolate.

I was so excited to finally meet Emma in person. We had become acquainted through our blogs almost two years ago, and have regularly kept in contact over Facebook and Skype.

Annabelle, Emma, and Nicole

East Grinstead

After our drinks, we went into a grocery store (to validate our parking). It was fun to see the different brands of food, and compare what is available in US markets. I was drooling over the sweets aisle. Back in her village, Emma got us some Rowntrees Fruit Pastilles, Kinder Bueno, KitKat Senses, Haribo gummies, and a juice box of blackcurrant Ribena.

We returned to pick up her pilot David, who was flying a daytrip to Egypt. After dropping him of at Gatwick, Emma dropped us off at the Three Bridges train station. We got the rail fare and travelcard at a discount by borrowing Annabelle for the familly fare. We said our goodbyes for the day, and headed toward London Victoria station.

By this time, we were really exhausted and jet lagged. Taylor fell asleep on the train, and I was pretty close to doing so myself. We transferred at Victoria station to the District line on the tube, and got off at Hammersmith. We stayed at the Novotel London West, a “four-star” hotel that only felt posh in the foyer. Our room was pretty basic; double bed, small sofa, desk, and telly. We napped for a few hours.
For dinner we went into Piccadilly Circus. We walked around for about an hour, trying to decide on what to eat. We ate at an Indian place called Chowzi. I had Palak paneer and he had lamb curry. We walked around more afterwards till we were zonked.

Me in Chinatown

As we walked back to the tube station, I ran my fingers through my hair, and something was crunchy in back. When we were back to our hotel room, I noticed the tell-tale splat of bird poop on my jacket. Yep, a bird pooped on my head in London. We watched a movie in our room and went to bed around 10 pm.

London: En Route

Since our trip to London has so many details and pictures I want to post, I figured that I would split if up into sections so it won’t take so long to post about the trip. Now for part one: Getting there!

I spent the evening before I left frantically packing. I went to the store to get some trip snacks and American candy to take to my friend Emma. I was going to bake some banana bread too, but ran out of time. I think I finally got to sleep around 11:30, and my alarms went off at 4:15. I double checked that I had my passport, ipod, chargers, and other necessary items and hit the road to the SLC airport by 4:40. I dropped my car off at Park and Jet (cheapest SLC parking spot, by the way. $5/day with a free car wash), rode the shuttle to the terminal, and checked in for the 7:00 am flight to Atlanta. The standby list was sketchy, but I got onto the flight at the last minute. I arrived in ATL and Taylor picked me up for lunch. We drove to my favorite Thai spot in Toco Hills called Top Spice. Then we stopped by Great Harvest Bread to use up a gift card on bread and kahuna bars. We got back to the airport around 2:30. He dropped me off at the terminal and went back to park in employee parking. I was to print out our boarding passes and meet him near the employee entrance.

Taylor forgot to write down our confirmation code when he booked the reservation, but I tried checking in at the kiosk anyway. No luck. Then I had a Delta Agent try to help, and she couldn’t get it to work either. I waited in a long line to talk to a ticket agent, who found our reservation easily. She swiped my passport, and then let me call Taylor for his passport number so I didn’t have to wait in line again. After security, we waited in the E concourse for the flight to board. We were thrilled when we were assigned seats in Business Elite!

It was so nice to have the swanky treatment for the flight. Our FA was wonderful and spoke to us by name. We had all the Dasani water and Coke Zero we wanted. We had a lovely four course dinner:

1. Veggies and hummus, curry soup, and green salad
2. Crab cakes (me), beef tenderloin and shrimp (Taylor), ciabatta rolls, risotto
3. Cheese and fruit platter
4. Hot fudge sundae

We watched “The Ugly Truth,” then tried to get some sleep. I slept about 90 minutes, but Taylor got even less. Breakfast was served about an hour before we landed, which was an english muffin sandwich with scrambled eggs, spinach, and havarti cheese with some fresh fruit. Before we landed, I stuck off to the lav to get my LAVIATOR shot.

We landed at Gatwick around 6:30 am, made it through passport control and customs fairly quickly, and called Emma to let her know we’d arrived. While we waited for her to “collect” us, we enjoyed looking at all the cars you don’t see much in the states: Citroens, Fiats, Vauxhalls, Peugeots. Even the Toyotas, Hondas, Nissans, and Fords looked different than their US counterparts. Although we were feeling jet-lagged, we were excited to get out and explore.

London: The Short Story

Cheers! It’s me blogging from London! Just a quick list of what Taylor and I have done in the London area:

Met up with my bloggy friend Emma (twice)
Piccadilly Circus
Hyde Park (including Princess Diana memorial fountain)
Science Museum
Buckingham Palace
Big Ben (Houses of Parliament)

Westminster Abbey
St. Paul’s Cathedral (all 600 stairs to the top!)
Tate Modern
Thames River Cruise
Trafalgar Square
LOTS of trips on the Tube

We head back to the states in the morning. It’s been an amazingly fun jam-packed 3 days. I’m still jet lagged and have about 15 blisters on my feet from all the walking….but I have to say I love this city!

More details when I return 🙂

Tetris Packing Skills

I just wanted to show off my suitcase – All those years of Tetris pay off in moments like this. This is a 20 inch carry-on, the biggest I can bring on board with me without checking luggage. I’m impressed with how much I was able to fit in this time: two sweaters, two pairs jeans, four shirts, pajamas, unmentionables , socks, lint roller, chargers for Blackberry and Ipod, flat iron, small first aid kit, snacks, magazines, umbrella, non-liquid/gel/aerosol toiletries, hardback book, flip flops, and a few other miscellaneous items.

Taylor and I are going to London for our 5 year anniversary. It’s a trip we’ve wanted to take for a long time, but circumstances were never right. A few loved ones chipped in enough money to make this trip possible…I can’t thank them enough. I’ll fly from SLC to ATL, meet up with Taylor, and continue on to Gatwick. We’ll cram in as much as we can between Thursday morning and Sunday morning.

My two alarms are set for 4:15 am, so it’s time to quit blogging and hit the sack!