We’re about two months out from the start of a three week visit to the U.K. and I’m very excited to have just started planning all the details. Being so busy on the show this season actually worked to my advantage as I was not able to google all day and start scheduling things any earlier. I think sometimes my habit of planning so far in advance can actually work against me. I’ll commit and pay for things early on, and then as we get closer I’ll realize that a different plan makes more sense logistically, or something we didn’t know about before but really want to do comes into conflict with something more mediocre we’ve already scheduled. It’s actually already happened to some degree. You see, we are starting in London and then moving on to cities in Scotland and Ireland afterward. We thought it might be fun to stop in Liverpool for a day because we’d never been there, and thought why not break up the train trip a bit on our way to Edinburgh? From what I have learned, Liverpool is a pretty inexpensive city, so when I found a super cute hotel room for one night at a steal of a (non-refundable) price I snapped it up in an instant. It’s only now since we’ve started to try and book trains that we’ve discovered that one way trips to Liverpool from London are oddly pricey. I think we’ll have to eat the cost of the night in the hotel and skip our Beatles plans. Luckily our AirBnB host in Edinburgh has no problem with us coming in a day early and in truth, I think it will be great to have four days there instead of three.
Planning our travel is one of my favorite parts of the whole experience. I love the build up of the anticipation. I love coming home and telling my hubs about a food tour I found, or passing him the I-Pad while we’re lying on the sofa and saying, “should we do this?!” I used to get worried that I wouldn’t plan perfectly. Or more that we would miss something that was really a “can’t miss”. The more we travel though the more I’ve lost that anxiety and instead found a comfortable reassurance that with a balance of planned and fly by the seat of our pants days, the Universe will provide a most surprising and excellent experience.
I utilize a combination of resources when I plan a trip. I rely on different sites for different things and also often employ a bit of a cross-referencing system that I think can be really useful. For example, we research food pretty extensively; we really want to sample cuisine that’s representative of the culture, and we don’t want to end up in tourist traps. For that reason, I never use Trip Advisor for our culinary conquests. Instead I usually depend on publications like TimeOut, Eater, and Thrillist. I make a special note of restaurants that show up on more than one list, add them to others that interest me, and begin to run those names through Yelp so I can weigh critical opinion vs real people’s reviews and photos. The last step I take before securing a reservation is running the restaurant’s address through Googlemaps to see if it’s in a convenient location either to where we are staying, or a site we may be visiting. My stomach always wins out over convenience though. If some hole in the wall is a little out of the way but reviews say it’s out of this world–we’ll go the distance! Restaurants that are smaller or more casual and don’t take reservations, I usually just bookmark on Yelp and add any key notes that I found helpful from reviewers (like a time to get there by to get a table or a dish that’s a can’t miss). Generally, I think the bookmarking function on Yelp is incredibly helpful. If all of the sudden you’re in the Marais in Paris and not sure where to eat, you can pull up your bookmarks by location and it will let you know what you’re near. (Although honestly, I’m not sure there’s anywhere bad to eat in Paris!)
Blogs are another resource I use frequently to research travel. I think the best travel bloggers are the ones who stay true to themselves. By that I mean, they present what they love about a place, not what they think we want to see. The top of the Trip Advisor lists are gonna give you the best of the stuff everyone does when they are in a city. I think a good travel blog tells you a bit of which of that stuff is legit (and is at the top of that list for a reason) and a bit of what’s best off the beaten path–the things you’ll only find if you look outside the normal tourist guides. I get excited when I find an authentic voice and can feel the vibe of the blogger–it makes me feel like I’ve got a bit of an inside scoop on a place. It’s almost as if you’ve got a friend guiding you towards your best adventure.
Although this blog is not exclusively about travel, I do love to feature our exploits as often as I can. I learn as much about life (or maybe even more!) from venturing into other cultures as I do from running or yoga, so I’m always inspired to share where we’ve been whether it’s near or far.
This time, instead of solely filling you all in when we get back in the summer, I wanted to try something different. I’d like to create a bit of a forum–one that I hope will not only aid me in planning the rest of our activities while in the U.K., but that will also be available for you all to reference in case you decide to make a similar journey. I came up with this idea through the last piece I posted about goals. There was SO much good content in the comments. Not only did you guys have me looking at things from a different perspective, I think I actually might have changed my mind on a few things throughout our conversations. It made me think: I’ve got so many well traveled blogger friends and ones living in or native to the U.K., why not crowdsource some ideas for things to do/see?
Admittedly, I’ve got a bit of a jump on the London planning. My friend Jan at JanCanRun has been the most amazing pal and resource the past couple months. She’s given me so many tips on restaurants and things to see that I’m getting more and more excited every day. This will actually be our second time to London. This time we want to focus a bit more on day trips, as we only took one the last time we were there. (We went to Stratford-upon-Avon and toured Shakespeare’s birthplace, and saw Merchant of Venice on stage at the RSC. It was thrilling.)
So, here’s where I (and everyone else) need your help:
What day trips from London would you suggest? Or not suggest? Right now we’ve got tentative plans for a day in York, one in Brighton, and one in Oxford. The one in York is set–train tickets are purchased already. (So if you have food or to-do tips for York, please share!) I know the two hour train ride is less than ideal, but there is something about the history and charm of the place that drew us both in–it had to be on the list. What about the other two? There’s a bike tour in Brighton that looks like a blast. I thought it might be fun to see a more casual and laid back beach town just to get some contrast. What about Oxford? Is it worth our time? Or should we skip it and plan something in the city instead?
If you’ve got any suggestions for things to do in London proper, we’d love those as well. Also things to skip are equally as valuable. I wish someone had told us before we went the last time not to shell out the arm and a leg for the London Eye–it was totally not worth it to us! If there’s a tour you’ve been on or a museum we shouldn’t miss, please let us know.
You all know my stomach is a number one priority. Where should we eat? Admittedly, this is where we have the LOWEST expectations for London. Despite plenty of research, we found the food to be pretty terrible the last time we were there. It really shocked us since it’s such a major world city. Even the Yelp reviews really let us down. Diners would give a place five stars and we’d leave confused and often still hungry (and with much lighter wallets too! Pricey buggers!) I am hoping with your help, we will fare a bit better this time!
Where should we run? Parkrun BABY!!!! All my U.K. running pals know I’m always yapping about how much I envy these awesome FREE neighborhood 5ks you guys have going on. I CANNOT wait to participate in some. Please let me know–which one should we do in London? I am assuming there are several to choose from? We are staying in an AirBnB in Islington so I am hoping there is one close by. I know I can google this one but it’s fun hearing from you all as well. If you have a suggestion on somewhere we should run that’s not a Parkrun, please let me know that too!
What I am hoping to get here is your most honest answers–what do you love? What would you tell a friend to skip? Where’s the best fish and chips you’ve ever had? (Ok seriously, I need some help with this one. Last time we went Poppie’s in Camden and I’m sorry, I was not impressed!). Your answers are not only helping me, but all other fellow London and London area travelers, so please speak up!
I’ll be putting together a similar post for Scotland, and one for Ireland as well so I hope you all will continue to participate. Participating means suggesting because you know but also suggesting because you’ve dreamt! If you’ve yet to go someplace or do something but have always had it on your bucket list–let me know about that too. Who knows whom or what you’ll inspire?!