How Much Does it Cost to Travel in London?
Looking at a list of the countries we are traveling through, you would think we had a trust fund supporting our trip. Alas, it is just our savings account fueling this journey and it got another little jolt after the time we spent in London, England.
We'd been traveling for almost seven months by the time we arrived in London and I was beyond tired of tracking every dollar spent in our spreadsheet. It had been a depressing few months looking at the dollars going out during our time in the expensive countries of Australia and New Zealand. We had little hope that London would provide any budget relief. To our great surprise though, most things were cheaper in London than they were down under. Whether it is the over-abundance of choice that drives a better supply/demand economy there or that the recession has lingering effects on the city, we were pleasantly surprised that we could find a number of meals under $10 and great values for lodging. The exchange rate while we were there was $1.50 USD for every pound.
Our main reason for traveling to London was to meet up with one set of family members and then join another set on a cruise through the fjords in Norway. The city probably wouldn't have made our itinerary otherwise, but it was a great place to see family, catch up with a number of friends and reset for the next phase of our journey.
By the Numbers
We spent $1,500 during 11 days in London over three separate trips in and out of the city for an average cost per day of $136. Being with family and friends (and just being tired of being so budget conscious) prompted a few splurges. Without those, we would probably have come in closer to our $125 per day target. (We also had a little help on outings when our family was in town).
Food & Drinks
Inter-country long distance travel
London accommodations are expensive - probably the most expensive we have seen to date. We flexed our Airbnb search skills and landed rooms in two fantastic flats for portions of our trip. We were also very fortunate to stay in a friend of a friend's flat for a few days with our family at very little cost.
We adored Islington, found Marylebone to have all the luxuries you could ever want in London and enjoyed seeing "real life" in the working class area of the East End.
Anyone traveling to London as a single person or a couple would benefit from using Airbnb. The listings across the city are a much better value than many of the hostels and lower-budget hotels.
We always blow the budget on food and drinks, but I guess that is how we choose to see a city. From Persian wraps at a market for 4 pounds to a huge beef rib at a BBQ restaurant for 21 pounds, our meals cost us more than anything else in the city. The best deals to be had are at the numerous outdoor markets that occur all over the city. My favorite days in London included wandering around markets and finding a spot to picnic afterwards.
Broadway Market - Hackney's Saturday market, this lively and fun vintage clothing and artisan food market takes up a few city blocks. Grab lunch from any of the stalls and hang out in London Fields for a picnic on a nice day. Walk off all you ate along the Regent's Canal path. Hands down my favorite market experience in London.
Borough Market - London's biggest foodie market near the London Bridge tube stop. More vendors and delicious food than you could ever handle in one setting. Picnic anywhere along the river.
Camden Lock Market - Not to be confused with the famous, touristy Camden Market. The Lock Market sits near it along the canal and is mainly food focused. Lots of free samples and good, solid options. Walk along the canal to Primrose Hill for a great picnic overlooking the city.
Chapel Market - Near the Angel tube stop in the Islington neighborhood, this daily market is less glamorous than others, but has some great, cheap eats for lunch. Dave's porchetta sandwich for 3.50 was a steal.
Covent Garden Market - A popular spot in Central London, the market is a mix of established shops and food stalls in the plaza. Amazing food being cooked in front of you is all over this market. You can easily picnic in the shadow of Big Ben if you walk a few blocks.
Over $120 on subway and bus trips in 11 days? Yes, the London transportation system is expensive, but amazingly effective in getting you where you need to go. We tried to walk as much as we could, but after a few back-to-back 10 miler days, our feet couldn't take it anymore.
When you arrive in London, you can purchase an Oyster card at any of the tube station customer service desks. The card requires a 5 pound deposit, which you can get back from any tube station service desk when you leave London. Trips are cheaper with an Oyster card than cash single fares and they are easy to top up. Also, we discovered that bus trips in London are almost half the cost of a tube ride - albeit a little bit slower. You can also purchase an all-day ticket for the tube if you know you'll be taking a lot of trips that day.
London is full of attractions and most of the popular tourist sights are expensive, but there are a host of free museums around the city. We enjoyed strolling through the old documents like Beatles lyrics, the Magna Carta and Mozart music sheets in the National Library and took advantage of sunny days to hang out in parks. For anyone on a budget, I would recommend having a few things on your list that you can't miss and then being selective on the other things you may need to pay for. The London Eye, while pricey, was well worth the view on a sunny day. Walking across Abbey Road and dodging traffic to get a picture was also a fun, free afternoon outing.
One of our favorite nights out was seeing the musical Once at the Phoenix Theatre. The theatre offers day of tickets for 25 pounds at the box office starting at 10 a.m. We scored fourth row seats (the last of that day's offering) by getting to the box office a little after 10 a.m. If you go, get there early to have a drink on stage at the pop up pub surrounded by the cast playing their instruments.
RTW Costs to Date
We have spent $27,960 in 235 days of travel for an average per day cost of $119. Adding in major flight, long-haul transportation and visas, our grand total so far is $30,220.
Included in these totals are our cruise through Norway, which added $3,705 to our overall spend. As we have already written though, it was an amazing 10 days we wouldn't have traded for anything. The music festival in England was a budget killer at a total of $1,091 (but a crowd pleaser in our eyes).
What hasn't been captured before in these posts are the costs of the other things we pay for on a regular basis like our storage unit in California, my monthly student loan and any souvenirs or gifts we have sent home. So far, we have spent close to $3,000 on all of those things combined over the last eight months.
We are traveling through Western and Eastern Europe over the next two months, trying to balance time in expensive places (bonjour France!) with more budget friendly spots (bom dia Portugal!). As always, I hope this helps anyone planning their own adventure.