Saturday, 18 February 2012

UK Visitors Guide

This guide is specially published for my fellow MMSU CN alumni who will be coming in the UK for a reunion and  see parts of the country as an additional agenda next year. Most of the overseas visitors will be coming from the US so most of the things discussed here will be applicable to the US delegation, but still  relevant to those coming from other places.

Is Visa Needed?

This is the first question even before thinking of booking a flight. We need to be sure we will not be short on paper works to avoid inconveniences. US passport holder tourists can enter the UK without a visa., as long as they do not plan to stay more than 6 months. If you are staying in the US but a holder of different passport, then you need to check it from the link below. You just need to answer 3 questions and it will tell you straight away if you need it or not.



Booking a Flight

If you are tight on budget, going into flight comparison sites will be the best option. Going straight into the company's  website may not give you a lower rate. That is because these aviation companies also allow booking agencies to advertise for them for at least lower price than the company offers for the same itinerary so that the booking company can also survive the competition.

The flight comparison below is a good start in finding out roughly how much you will be paying for the flight. Sometimes if the flight is bundled with hotel or car rental or both, the whole package becomes cheaper compared to separately shopping from different companies. Although these may not apply every time.


Preparing For the Trip

This is the most stressful part once booking is done, to figure out things to bring along your trip. Deciding which outfit to bring for the kind of weather is very important. It is not practical to guess what's the season at the intended destination.  Looking  at the weather forecast is a real essential. Ten day weather forecast for London and other parts of the UK is available at


Using a dedicated electronic travel organizer that can be downloaded in your PC or smartphone can help you ease the stress of preparing your travel by creating a list specifically for that particular travel. You can do this with the application by simply ticking the parameters of your travel. The software has a predefined checklist of what to do before your travel and the things that you might need according to what you specify at the start, you can print this out as a guide once you've finished. You can check this great tool at 




You also need to be careful in bringing along electrical items taking into closer look at the input voltage. USA  mains have 110 volts and the UK 220 volts. Please make sure your gadgets, especially the chargers or adaptors that come with it are auto volts. To know that it is an auto volt, the voltage stamp showing the input of the device should read 100-240 volts. If it just reads 110 volts, then the device can explode when plugged in. So you need to take only auto volts electrical items or devices that can be set into 220 volts.



The type of plug or socket of the US electrical cord needs a little makeover as well. You will need a plug adaptor or converter to use your US plug in the UK. Please do not think this device will effect and change the originL voltage setting of your device. It won't.  If your device is not auto volt and at 110 voltage then it will still explode when plugged into 220 volts mains socket. You can buy this from any hardware or electrical store, or online. 

If you are planning to bring along food products while in the UK, please see the food items you can not bring along in the UK at

http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/TravelAndTransport/Foreigntravel/BringinggoodsorcashintotheUK/DG_064942

Tips While in the UK


Embassy

Just in case you want to contact the US embassy their number is 02074999000, for other countries, please see the list at




Emergency and Police Numbers

The equivalent of 911 for emergencies is 999. You can dial this number from your mobile free of charge even when you are using your US sim card. Interesting fact is, even when your phone is locked you can still dial it without unlocking it first. If you need police assistance, non emergency number is 101. Call to this number costs 15 pence per call no matter how long your call lasts for. I am not just sure how much it would cost  when you are using a roaming phone.

Mobile Communication

Roaming charges for mobile phones may cost you a fortune especially data calls. So be sure to disable your smartphone in using your network's data services when in the UK. Or you can buy a local sim card form O2, Vodafone, 3, or T mobile as long as your mobile phone is unlocked. You can check if your mobile phone is unlocked by replacing your sim card from another network. If the other sim card works, then it must be unlocked. If you are traveling in a group, buying a sim card from one network, like O2 can give every user a free O2 to O2 unlimited voice calls and text  for every £15 top up without any deduction from your balance which you could  use in calling any network and land line. The free O2 to O2 call and free text lasts for a month the day you top up.



What To See

London might be expensive but there are also free attractions especially museums that includes
  • Royal Airforce Museum located at Grahame Park Way, Hendon, NW9 5LL
  • National Gallery at Trafalgar Square, WC2N 5DN
  • National History Museum at Cromwell Road, SW7 5BD
  • National Army Museum at Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea, SW3 4HT
  • Science Museum at  Exhibition Road, SW7 2DD
  • V&A Museum of Childhood at Cambridge Heath Road, E2 9PA
  • Victoria and Albert Museum at Cromwell Road, SW7 2RL
  • The British Museum at British Museum, Great Russell Street, WC1B 3DG
London iconic attractions includes the

  • London Eye at Riverside Building County Hall London SE1 7PB (save 10% when booked online)
  • SEA LIFE London Aquarium at Westminster Bridge Road London SE1 7PB (25% off after 3pm)
  • Houses of  Parliament and Big Ben at Westminster, SW1A 0AA
  • Tower Bridge at Tower Bridge, SE1 2UP
  • Madame Tussauds at Marylebone Road, London NW1 5LR ( combi tickets available)
  • Buckingham Palace at London, Buckingham Palace, SW1A 1AA 
The Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Sea World, and the London Eye are just walking distance to each other. You can also try the river cruise after you've visited these attractions, and again with in walking distance.



Transportation

When touring around London, the cheapest forms of transport is to use the bus services and tubes (underground trains). I would recommend to research the location of the places you want to visit and plan for your travel a day ahead. You can use the link below to plan for your journey, once you've decided where to go, you just need to fill in the post code of your location and the post code of the place you want to visit. The site is also useful in telling you which tube or bus you need to catch. During weekends, some tube stations might have service disruptions because of engineering works.


Black cabs(London taxi cabs) are at least three times more expensive than radio cars(pre-booked cars). If you are planning to drive around central London during 7am and 6pm Monday up to Friday, you need to pay congestion charge of £10 excluding parking charges. For more information on the congestion charges, the areas covered and how to pay it please see




    Interesting Facts in the UK
    • Comfort rooms are called loos, so if you want to spend a penny or wee, ask for the loo. 
    • Elevators are called lifts
    • At the escalator, you need to stand at the right side as people walk at the left. 
    • When a property is for rental, you can see the sign "to let".
    • Tea is a popular drink
    • The term "bloody" is as nasty as F..Y..
    • Tips are not compulsory
    • Vehicles are right hand drives
    • CCTV's everywhere
    • Roundabouts even at narrow roads

    Help I'm Lost!

    When you've got lost specially in London, going into the nearest tube station is the best way for your UK friends to find your location. You can also get a tube map from there and I am sure you can figure out how to get from one point to another with the guide map.

    Travel Essentials


    items discussed in this blog can be purchased from Amazon, this include the plug adaptor, map guides for London, Newcastle and Scotland. Have a look!

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