This year Jonny and I decided to take North America out of our vacation equation and visit merry old London. Because the dollar to pound exchange rate is sad (even the clerk at our hotel apologized for the abysmal exchange rate), I wanted to pinch every penny I could so we’d have that much more to spend when we got to the big city. I hate parking, much less paying for it, so I decided right away that we would use the 100 to get to RDU.
Our flight was scheduled to leave RDU for Boston at 11:30am. In order to catch the 100 that leaves at 9am, we left our house at 8:40am and parked in the Regional Transit Center’s Park and Ride. We parked and then we rode, easy as that! With no issues whatsoever we walked into Terminal 2 at about 9:15am and did all the necessary check-ins and checking. Not too shabby!
Coming into Heathrow early on Saturday morning was a great move. We got through Customs quickly and located our luggage in record time. There was a ticket counter where we could purchase fare for the Underground, but since it was early Saturday morning, no one was there. Lucky for us, there was an automated machine. I had read it costs about £5 to go from Heathrow to Central London so we bravely inserted our credit card into the machine and selected the “Pay as You Go” option. There was a £5 deposit for the card and we decided to add £5 of value to it. We bought one card and inserted the same credit card to purchase another (we couldn’t figure out how to buy 2 in one go) but the machine rejected it because we had just used it. Interesting. Undeterred, I dug through my bag and found my debit card and purchased my very own Oyster card. We checked the tube map, made our plan, and boarded!
We got off at Hammersmith and switched to the District line that took us to Victoria Station. The trip took a little less than an hour, but compared to a cab (£60) or the Heathrow Express (£34 for 2), it was the cheaper option. Besides, since our hotel check-in wasn’t until 2:30pm, we had lots of time to kill.
Victoria Station is HUGE, and because our hotel had an entrance directly from the station, it became our base camp. In addition to all the trains, buses, and the Underground this place had a lot of shops. Of particular interest to me was the Sainsbury’s (I like grocery stores and their self-checkout let me easily offload the massive amounts of change I accumulated) and the Upper Crust sandwich counter for a tasty and cheap nosh.
After depositing our bags at the hotel for safekeeping, we set out to explore the city. One problem– we had purchased a London Pass with 7-day travelcard that included unlimited travel on all London Underground, buses, trams, light rail and over-ground Trains within zones 1 – 6, but we didn’t have it yet. Furthermore, I had forgotten to print out the confirmation for the Passes and I couldn’t recall where we were supposed to even pick them up. We decided that instead of adding more money to the Oyster cards we’d just hoof it until our more organized friends arrived. On foot we saw the Eye, the Houses of Parliament, St. James’s Park, and Buckingham Palace before turning back.
By 3pm the rest of the party had arrived and we were ready to get the London Passes. Our friends, since they used cabs to get from Heathrow, were not yet familiar with the Underground. Our confidence, gained from navigating the system when there were very few riders, was quite impressive since the traffic in Victoria Station had grown exponentially in the 8 hours we’d been in London. They bought tickets and we topped up our Oysters and headed to Piccadilly Circus to pick up the passes.
There was only one time during the trip when I thought we’d have to hail a cab. Jonny and I took a long stroll after dinner and ended up in unfamiliar territory without an Underground station in sight. Unable to get our bearings, we decided to jump aboard a bus and take our chances. Just a few blocks in we saw an Underground station so we got off, boarded the tube, and went home with more money in our pocket than if we’d had to hire a driver.
Our travelcards expired the Friday before we headed stateside, but lucky us had more than enough on our Oyster cards to take the tube back to Heathrow on Saturday. We got back into RDU at about 10:30pm on Saturday, which is more than 4 hours too late to take the 100 to the RTC. Our car-free week ended with a cab ride to the RTC. The cost? $24. All in all, I think using transit saved us a big chunk of change.
How much did we save? Well, let’s do some math. Taking a cab to and from Heathrow would have set us back about $186, and parking at RDU would have cost at least $54. By taking the bus to RDU and using the Underground to get to our hotel we only spent $76– $4 for Jonny’s ride on the 100, $24 for the cab to the RTC, and £30 ($48) for the Oyster cards. We saved $164! Anybody need an Oyster card? I’ve got two.