Traveling to Britain seems like it would be easy. It seems like as Americans, we already know them. They speak the same language, have McDonald’s, drive on the wrong side of the road and have the iconic Queen Elizabeth. We really feed into the stereotypes presented about the United Kingdom. There is so much more to this country than what we choose to see at the surface. When I first arrived in London, it was and still is a major learning curve in adjusting to the lifestyle. There has been a lot of trial and error, but I am really learning to love the differences in the culture here. With that being said, here is are five differences I wish someone would have told me about before I arrived.
In the UK, public transportation is huge, as taxis and Ubers are really expensive. We all know about big double-decker buses, but there are actually a few different options to get to where you’re going without breaking your wallet. You can take a train, the Tube or a bus to get pretty much anywhere and everywhere. The Tube is like the subway system of London – it is underground and has trains and multiple lines. Trains cost a little more than the Tube or buses and are the most expensive of the three (and the most environmentally friendly!). If you book them far enough in advance, it’s pretty cheap. There are also discounts for being in groups or being students. Trains are great for going to other cities and countries far from the one you are staying in. It is the fastest way to get around and costs far less than the trains. Finally, the double-decker red buses are the cheapest. You can find a bus stop anywhere and there are some that have 24-hour buses, which is great in a pinch. I highly recommend taking them, it’s a great way to get to know where you are. An important note – for buses and the Tube, buy an Oyster Card. You preload the card with money, and whenever you need to get somewhere you just tap it and go.
When traveling to the EU (European Union) and the UK, always remember to bring an adapter. If you don’t, you will be unable to charge your phone, laptop, and any other devices you bring. The adapter is really important as it serves as a filter for electricity in these countries. Adapters are used because the voltage in the power sockets here is much higher than the States. Be careful, there is a difference between EU adapters and UK adapters. Using the wrong one is almost as bad as not using one at all – misuse could lead to exploding hairdryers and sparking outlets, so take the time to make sure you have an adapter.
Even though we just voted to leave the EU, their regulations for environmental safety still stand here in the UK. A big thing here is reusable bags for groceries and shopping. There is a tax on plastic bags, and to avoid paying it we use reusable bags. This saves the environment and our wallets. In sustainable practices here, the use of trains is widely advertised. There are also many different kinds of recycling bins. Where there is a trash can, you can find a recycling bin. Finally, a lot of coffee shops offer discounts for using your own mugs and cups. Overall, it’s good to bring reusable bags, water bottles and mugs.
Stairs are the bane of my existence. I thought Tallahassee’s hills would have been good training for this, but nope. I live in a flat (an apartment) that requires seven flights of stairs to reach and I am out of breath every time. Before you come to the UK, be prepared. There are so many stairs everywhere. Stairs in the streets, in buildings, parks, they’re everywhere. A lot of the buildings are historical, and oftentimes do not have elevators (they’re called “lifts” here). You will definitely get your steps in here.
First of all, I would like to clear the air – food in London is fantastic. It is a cultural melting pot of food from every ethnicity. What also makes their food great here in the UK is the EU standards set on health. All the food here has no preservatives and pesticide use is limited. When you go grocery shopping, food (especially fruits and vegetables) will go bad within a few days instead of a week, so don’t leave groceries in the fridge too long. Food expires more quickly, but it’s way more fresh, healthy and accessible than it is in America.
So there are my five tips that you should know before going to the UK. I hope they help you on your travels!