London is expensive, and with me not working, I took many solo day trips, but tried not to stay overnight (save a trip to Germany, where I stayed with friends), in order to save money. I found that a day was long enough for me to see most of the things that I wanted to see in the smaller towns of England. I even managed to fit in many sites during my whirlwind day trip to Paris. After much trial and error, and revisions of my practices, I became quite adept at taking a successful day trip by the end of our time in London. Here are some tips and tricks (and a rant or two) that, hopefully, you will find helpful when planning your own trips.
Canterbury Cathedral on my day trip there
Tips for Taking a Day Trip:
1. Pack Light. You are going to be lugging things around on your own all day, so there is no need to carry the world with you. I bring a purse and put my camera in said purse (I sometimes even bring my SLR with a 50mm lens attached). I am the girl that brings 25 shirts and 10 pairs of shoes on a 7-day trip, so if I can do it, you can do it too.
2. Keep the guidebook small. I love the Lonely Planet Pocket Guides. It is all in the name—pocket. It has just enough stuff to keep you busy, but not so much that you’re overwhelmed with information, and it’s size allows it to fit right into your (yep, you guessed it), pocket. It is perfect for one-city trips. The husband and I even used the London guide to find new, different things to do in London.
3. Bring a portable charger for your mobile. When you are traveling, using maps, looking up lunch spots, and taking photos, the battery on your mobile phone tends to drain quickly. I have found that this is especially a problem in the winter, which I swear cuts battery life in half from the get-go. To avoid being stuck in a city without access to the train schedule to find the next train home, invest in a portable battery. I use this one from Anker that I got on Amazon, and love it. It allows me to charge my phone twice over, essentially guaranteeing that I will not be stuck with a dead phone when out in a new place. The husband uses this one, also from Anker. It only gives one charge but is slightly larger than a tube of lipstick, allowing it to fit easily in his pocket. I also pre-ordered this one which is set to ship this summer. It is considerably more pricey, but uses your kinetic energy to charge your phone. The husband and I were even able to help out a fellow traveler at a pub in Bruges who had his phone die while trying to coordinate a meet up with a friend thanks to our both carrying portable chargers.
4. Leave the iPad at home. I am consistently baffled at how many people lug their iPads around all day while traveling, using them to take photos. The husband and I have a running joke regarding tourists that carry their iPads and take photos with them. I could write a whole blog post on why I find this ridiculous, but I will spare you and just share a few reasons.
First, the camera sucks. I love apple products, but the iPad camera is horrible (because its designed to be used with FaceTime, not to take photos!!). My iPhone 6, on the other hand, takes great photos. The iPad is not a cheap device, and I would venture to guess that if you can afford one, you also have a smart phone that takes equally good, if not better photos and is 1/8th the size.
Second, the thing is massive. Have you heard of a camera? It is this thing that is smaller, takes better photos, and is generally cheaper than a tablet. Try it, I promise you will like it better. Why, oh why, would you lug that giant thing around all day? If you’ve got back pain at the end of the day, I can assure you, the culprit is the iPad.
Third, is there a better way to be robbed than by taking your iPad on a tour of a city, pulling it out of your bag every 30 seconds to snap a photo? I think not. If I were a pickpocket (which I am not), I would pick the tourists silly enough to carry iPads around all day and follow them, stealing their devices when they were not looking.
Fourth, you are ruining everyone else’s shots. There is nothing worse than trying to take a picture at a crowded site and having some tourist in front of you whip out their massive tablet. What is worse, for some reason, those who take pictures with their iPads have equally massive cases that double the size of the device, making it even more obnoxious than it already is. Stop blocking the view for everyone else and leave the darn thing home. I have an old iPhone I will send you if you just want some internet while traveling (I’m not even kidding).
Fifth, you just look silly. I guarantee that there are other people just like the husband and me looking at you and wondering what you were thinking bringing that thing out as your main source for photo taking. We are probably also automatically taking 30 IQ points off of your estimated intelligence just because you’re lugging that thing around. No, having the latest technology isn’t making you look cool, it’s just irritating the people around you.
This post from Thrillst hilariously outlines all the reasons you should stop carrying your iPad around with you while sightseeing, and really resonates with me.
5. Research payment options ahead of time if you are an American (aka, your credit card does not have a chip). When I arrived in Paris, I realized that you must have Euros in coins in order to get a metro ticket at the Gare du Nord train station if your credit card is not chip and pin. This was not apparent until I got to the front of the 30-minute line to get a ticket (the ineffectiveness of the Paris metro is a whole different story). Luckily, I had the change, but it could have been a very annoying oversight had I not. Until the US gets it sh&t together and its credit card technology into this century, you may run into some issues using your credit card at automated machines. You have to go to the counter to buy a train ticket in England using your card, though 95% of the time it works just fine to top up your Oyster card on the underground. In Paris, some of the metro machines only accept chip and pin cards or coins. Out of about 10-15 ticket stations in the Gare du Nord metro, only one was working while I was there, and there was no ticket booth open to speak with an actual human. This lead to long lines and annoyance from many travelers who did not realize these restrictions until they got to the front of a very long line.
6. Choose wisely and stop to enjoy the culture. If there is a lot that you want to do, get up early and prioritize the things that you “must see”. Do not race around from site to site, not actually enjoying anything, just to say that you saw it all.
Take your time to stop and enjoy the culture (which in Paris means eating one of these beautiful meringues)
7. Look into what is open, and when, before you go. I booked my ticket to Paris on a Tuesday, before I realized that the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays. Luckily, I happened to have wanted to visit the Musée D’Orsay instead, anyway, but would have been very disappointed had I not been to the Louvre previously, and missed it due to my poor planning.
8. Get yourself some internet. Most service providers allow you to purchase internet for a day. It typically costs around $10 to $15 and really increases your efficiency when traveling. I loved being able to reload google maps when I took a wrong turn, rather than having to either ask someone for directions or find a cafe to use some internet and get directions to my next stop.
9. Dress Smart. I love to shop for vacation, looking for cute outfits to wear while traveling. I don’t want to be the stereotypical tourist in an ugly sun hat, brand new white tennis shoes, unfashionable jeans, and a fanny pack. I also don’t want to be that girl who’s freezing her butt off or limping around because she didn’t bring enough layers, or forgot to bring sensible shoes. My favorite traveling outfit fail was when I saw girls in high-heels at Machu Picchu. As if they didn’t know that its being an ancient site on a mountainside, where it happens to rain a lot, would render those shoes useless. When you are taking a day trip you can’t just pop into your hotel to change if you’ve made the wrong outfit decision, so the choices you make are that much more important. Research the weather ahead of time and dress accordingly. It’s possible to look fashionable and also be able to handle 10 miles of city walking, or a downpour in the middle of the day. If you’re traveling in England, just wear your wellies, and there’s a 70% chance you’ll have made the right choice. Otherwise, find yourself a pair of cute shoes that don’t make you want to be pushed around in a wheelchair by the end of the day.
That time I forgot to do my research and didn’t realize that visiting the sites in Sintra would require a lot of hiking…I was wearing booties. It was hell and I was that girl that I usually laugh at while traveling.
10. Have fun, obviously.
Hopefully these tips help you to have a more enjoyable and successful day trip. I can say that I’ve failed to do pretty much all of these things at one point in time, so hopefully my mistakes can help you to not make the same ones in the future (except for the iPad thing, clearly). I would never do that.