Now that I am back on US soil, I have some tips for surviving your trip to London.
- GSM Phones. If you are one of the millions in the United States who subscribe to a CDMA service (Verizon, Sprint, etc.), invest a few bucks on eBay and buy a low-end, unlocked, tri-band GSM phone. I have used GSM for years, and the unlocked phones give you an amazing advantage — you buy a pay-as-you-go SIM card once you arrive.
In the UK, incoming phone calls are free. If you have a half-decent office phone system, you should be able to remotely forward your desk phone to your UK number and voila! You have a local number that folks in the US can always reach you at.
- OYSTER CARD! If you plan to travel anywhere on the London Public Transit system, buy an Oyster card. Same concept as the pay-as-you-go SIM card. And you’re never fussing with change or daily passes for the tube, DLR or busses.
- Saline Nasal Spray. This seems like a bit in the “too much information” category, but trust me on this one. London’s atmosphere makes New York seem like an untouched Alpine pasture. After one day there, your sinuses will feel and look like the inside of a pool filter after a dust storm. A simple nasal spray takes of this, and often provides a somewhat scary indication of what man does to the urban environment he lives in.
If you don’t want to pack one with you, you can buy some truly awesome stuff at any Boots — Sterimar. What makes this stuff unique is that it is aerosol powered. Unlike the wussy atomizers we use over here, this stuff is freakin’ jet-propelled — if it can’t blast the crap out, it’s likely brains.
- Look to the right. Yeah, we all know that the Brits drive on the other side of the road, but many an American has been nearly killed in the first twelve hours on the ground by using their instincts and not their brains. I am in this group.
Thankfully, the Brits provide nice warning labels at most crosswalks; look down, and they will tell you which direction to look in to avoid becoming a hood ornament for a Bentley.
- Change Wallet. Dear lord; you will need one of these or you will blow out every pocket you have. The Brits still use a lot of cash, and like the rest of the world, the lower denominations of their currency are coins, not bills. A solid change wallet is key.
- Take the red-eye. You will search online and find a multitude of strategies for dealing with jet-lag. I have a simple one — make sure your flight takes you overnight so that you land at Heathrow/Gatwick/Stansted/Dublin/Luton first thing in the morning. For folks on the East Coast or Central Canada, this means flights between 19:00 and 22:00 Eastern. For West Coast folks, it’s a 11-12 hour flight and an eight-hour time change, and Heathrow opens at 07:00, so 11:00-14:00 Pacific is a good range.
These are the top six I can think of right now. Comment on your strategies if you have them.