American visitors to the United Kingdom are often surprised to find that words they’ve been using all their lives suddenly have new meaning. Some of the changes are easy enough to adjust to: soccer is football, elevators are lifts, and bathrooms are water closets (unless they’re lavatories). Food can be a little trickier: cookies are called biscuits, fries are chips, and chips are crisps. “Tea” still denotes a hot infused beverage, but one that’s strangely more popular than coffee. To confuse the issue even further, sometimes tea can actually refer to an entire meal.
However, the word that gets most lost in translation is “affordable.” In American English, it’s a common adjective meaning inexpensive or reasonably priced. In British English, particularly the dialect spoken in London, it might seem as if there’s no equivalent word, affordability being a practically unknown concept in the world's most expensive city to visit.
As an American ex-pat living in London, Rocketrip CEO Dan Ruch survived both the high cost of living and the occasionally perplexing language. He’s since moved back to New York, but London remains near to his heart, right next to his one true love: saving on business travel (Editor’s note - Dan asked to clarify that his wife is somewhere in there too). Dan recently returned to London on Rocketrip business, and we caught up with him afterwards to talk about his trip.
What brought you to London?
The London Business Travel Show, as well as meetings with some of our favorite current and future Rocketrip clients. I also managed to spend some time with old friends that I met when I lived in London. It's an incredible town with incredible people, who say some incredibly strange things. "Too small to swing a cat" actually means something. 50 Rocketrip points for whoever gets it right.
Where did you stay?
I usually try to find an Airbnb near where I used to live in Notting Hill. Airbnbs are a great - and affordable - way to experience a foreign city as a local.
How was the flight? Do you have any tips for beating jet lag?
All you need is noise-canceling headphones, NyQuil ZZZ and a glass of red wine. The rest will take care of itself.
London's an expensive city. What are some ways to cut costs that a first-time visitor might not know about?
Before starting Rocketrip we nearly started a foreign exchange platform to address this problem specifically. Exchanging currency can be crushingly expensive. Use your bank ATM and withdraw local currency whenever possible. Avoid Travelex and other travel exchange providers at all costs. They can fleece you at rates up to 30% of your withdrawal!
Did you get to do anything outside of work?
After wrapping up in London, I went to Paris for the weekend with my wife. Bleisure travel is one of my favorite ways to save on business trips. The money you save on airfare by avoiding peak demand days can go a long way to funding a nice weekend vacation.
How'd you get from London to Paris?
The Eurostar train. 2 hours flat from city center to city center. Can't beat it.
How was Paris?
Paris was Paris - which is to say fantastic. There’s nowhere else like it. We used SPG points to stay at the Prince De Galles hotel. Sometimes you need a little luxury. We walked the city, drank great wine, ate great food.
How much did you beat your budget by on this trip?
I did alright and saved around $200. Since I was traveling with my wife, I chose nicer accommodations than if I were traveling alone. I typically save around $300 - $400 per trip by using Airbnbs or staying with friends.
Traveling to London? Check out some more tips below:
Greater London is served by several major airports, though exactly how many depends on your definition of “Greater London” and “major.”
- Heathrow undoubtedly qualifies: it’s London’s primary airport, and only a 15 minute ride from Paddington Station on the Heathrow Express. Round trip tickets cost £35 when purchased in advance. The other options for getting between Heathrow and central London are a bit slower, but considerably cheaper.
- Gatwick is London’s second largest airport. Located 30 miles south of the city, Gatwick also has multiple ground transportation options across a range of prices. The Gatwick Express will deliver you to Victoria Station in half an hour, and costs £31.50 round trip with online ticket purchase.
- Stansted and Luton Airports are hubs for discount carriers such as Ryanair and EasyJet. Though farther from central London than either Heathrow or Gatwick, both are accessible by rail and bus.
- London City Airport mainly serves short-haul business travelers within Europe. As the name suggests, it's located close to the City of London and Canary Wharf. LCY’s proximity and small size means that a business traveler could get from his desk to gate in just half an hour.
London’s black taxis are iconic, but expensive. At least you get what you pay for: London’s cabbies are required to memorize every one of the 25,000 streets and 320 routes within 6 miles of Charing Cross. On average it takes three years of studying to pass the infamously difficult licensing exam known as the Knowledge. Minicabs are cheaper than regular black taxis, but can’t be hailed on the street. You can arrange a pickup over the phone, or download one of these apps for finding a taxi in London.
The London Underground is the world’s oldest subway system. Fares have gone up considerably since the Tube began service in 1863, when tickets cost all of twopence. These days your best bet is ordering a prepaid Oyster card in advance of your trip: fares are discounted up to 50%.
Where to Eat
British food and weather don’t have the best reputation, but that’s changing, at least in the case of the former. As befitting a global city, London has a hugely diverse culinary scene.
- Poppies - A not too greasy take on fish and chips, with locations in Spitalfields and Camden Town.
- Chettinad - London’s ubiquitous curry houses offer some of the city’s best, and cheapest, food. Chettinad, in the upscale Fitzrovia neighborhood, specializes in the Tamil cuisine of South India, and somehow offers a full take-out lunch meal for only £3.95.
- Burger & Lobster - A cheeky take on London luxury dining, at this restaurant the name and the menu are identical. Burgers. Lobsters. Take your pick - both are good.
Where to Stay
London’s a huge place. Before booking a hotel, check that it's close to where you'll need to be for business. Here are some hotel options across the city:
- Hotel Russell - The architect of this luxury hotel in Bloomsbury also designed the interiors of the Titanic (the dining rooms are nearly identical).
- The Hoxton - This boutique in the hipster enclave of Shoreditch offers an apartment with fully stocked kitchen, ideally suited for team meetings by day and parties by night.
- Aloft London Excel - Located in the Canary Wharf commercial district next to the ExCeL International Convention Center, this hotel caters to corporate travelers without being unbearably sterile.
- Grange St. Paul's - Another conveniently located option in the heart of the City.
London has the third most Airbnb listings of any city in the world, and that number should only increase with the passage of legislation officially legalizing short-term home rentals.
Have any London travel advice of your own? Share with us @Rocketrip.