How to spend time in London without spending all your money

IMG_5962Early in June, Pav and I decided to go to London for our high school reunion. And since London can be fairly expensive, we wanted to be as smart about spending it (and to still be able to shop).

Considering our trip was planned fairly last minute, we managed to get great deal on both flight and hotel. So, how did we do it all?

The flight

Here, we decided to look for the best deal that was available. Two weeks before the trip, this meant Ryan Air. For the same price we could have ticket with other airlines, we had two with Ryan Air. Their flight times were convenient for our itinerary. The downside was their baggage policy (as is with most low cost carriers), so we each had to pack into a carry-on. Which, for us, is a challenge. But we managed! And after a fairly uneventful flight, we arrived and London Stansted airport. (Ror a full Ryanair review, click here)

Public Transportation

Having never been to Stansted, we had to figure out beforehand, how we’d get to London. We decided National Express buses were the best way to go (even though there are a bunch of other options). The bus was comfortable, had Wi-Fi and the journey would have been a pleasant, if there hadn’t been an accident on the highway, causing us to spend two hours in stand-still traffic. Finally, we got off at Liverpool Street station and quickly navigated the tube and bus system to get ourselves to the hotel.


The Hotel

Since we were, trying to stay on budget, we decided to stay in EasyHotel Old Street. You get what you pay for – good location, easy public transportation access and decent sized room are offset by the loudness and lack of space. But, let’s face it, if you’re in London for two and a half days, you really won’t be spending that much time at the hotel anyway.

The Activities

Our first trip was to Oxford Street, with its Marks&Spencer cafe and their jacket potato we just can’t get enough of. As an added benefit, we had lunch under £5.

Since we were already on Oxford Street, we ducked into our favorite stores – New Look, Forever 21, M&S, and then landed in Boots and Superdrugs to buy some makeup, that we recently learned we needed. We peeked into Primark, but the crowds looked too menacing for us to venture inside… thinking “maybe tomorrow”, we backed out as soon as we hit the entrance.

TIP from Alena – if you want to shop on Oxford Street, go in the morning on a weekday, you’ll avoid most of the crowds and save a lot of time by not having to constantly wait in line.

And while we were at the Marble Arch end of Oxford Street, we couldn’t resist and went to see the newest statue, the She Guardian. If its purpose is to frighten people, it definitely succeeds. In real life, it’s even bigger than it seems on pictures and makes even less sense. The tube ride wrapped the day up in a fairly uneventful day and we were excited to get back to the hotel. You might think that that’s a bring way for two girls in their twenties to spend a Friday night in London, but it was just what we needed. And we always knew that there were a few charming looking pubs within a few blocks if we suddenly changed our decision.

On Saturday, we got up bright and early (as far as we could tell in our windowless room) and headed out with no specific destination in mind. After a stop in Starbucks to fulfill our coffee quota for the morning, we knew what we wanted to do – go to Kings Cross and take a picture at platform 9 3/4.

We got there surprisingly quickly and found the famous Harry Potter spot – along with a line of about 50 people waiting to take a picture. You can stand at a cart that is partly “inside” the wall and you even get a Gryffindor scarf to put around your neck. Or, you can be like us and sneak in a picture while people in the official line are switching places. Security is not fond of this though, so we soon got shooed. (Pav’s phone decided to not work, so I had to do the sneaking)


Our next stop was Buckingham Palace and changing of the guards – or so we thought. After I admitted to Pav, that I STILL haven’t seen changing of the guards, we decided it would be a necessary stop – the timing was perfect, we had time, so why not. Only after deciding against it and turning to leave, we noticed the TV cameras. So we doubled back and caught a decent place in front of the palace. And then we found out that it was not changing of the guards, but dress rehearsal for Trooping of the Colour parade. It was definitely worth it – and we even saw Prince Charles. We got lucky – not only were we standing near the front and had a good view, the police officer that was stationed near us was providing a group of tourists with very detailed information about the event, so we even learned something.


From here, we took a walk through St. James’ park towards Westminster Abbey and Big Ben and took the mandatory selfie there. Even though it was colder than expected, it was a bright and sunny day and those are always great in London.IMG_5969

Our last “touristy” stop was St. Paul’s Cathedral and with sunset lighting, it was breathtaking. We spent Saturday night at our high school reunion and flew out via Ryan Air and Stansted Airport at 6am on Saturday, which required a 2:30 am wakeup.

IMG_5461  Overall, we didn’t spend a lot of money, and if we hadn’t shopped as much as we did, the whole weekend would’ve been a bargain. So London is definitely possible on a budget, you just have to know where to look and not insist on amazing locations for your hotel.


How we flew with Ryan Air

Festival survival tips

How we flew with Ryan Air

Our trip to London with Ryan Air was quite entertaining. True, we probably found it more interesting because of the coffee/sugar high, but even now, looking back, I laugh at the thought of the Ryan Air employee and their wonderful safety cards. We’ve done low cost airlines before, but this was our first trip with RyanAir. And we were not disappointed.

The journey started normally enough, we went through passport control and security checks to our gate, where we waited. After quite some time, two buses arrived and took us to the airplane. Like I said, everything was normal. Once I got used to the fact that there is no seat pocket in front of me, things were good. They actually started looking up when we had the three seats all to ourselves.

The first sign that things were, let’s say, a little different was the grin on the flight attendant’s face as he tried not to crack up during the safety briefing. I understand that after doing the briefing so many times, the seriousness of it might not be so clear. And I know that I shouldn’t judge since I haven’t actually paid attention to this procedure in years, but is it appropriate to laugh while showing where the emergency exits are? Probably not, but like I said, who am I to judge?

When everyone finally buckled their seat belts and cross check was completed, we took off.
Only once we were in the air did we notice the one of a kind safety card on the seat in front of us. Since pictures are worth a thousand words, here are the pictures we took of the card:

                                                 pic5 pic3

Since this was a low-fare trip, you had to buy the food. When you buy cheap tickets and it’s a short flight, you usually don’t get food. But what struck us as a little strange was that they went around twice. First the flight attendant asked if we want food and the second time he asked if we want “fresh food”. Suddenly, we had serious doubts about they food they offered from the first cart.

Overall the journey was quite enjoyable. The service was pretty good and once the caffeine dissipated a little, we even stopped thinking everything around us was so strange. It was a smooth ride across the board and if you’re looking for cheap tickets to London, Ryan Air is definitely a great option.

If you want to know how the rest of our trip went, come back later this week!


9 tips for train travel in the summer

Festival survival tips