Are you considering a tour such as the one I’ve just been on with Back Roads Touring in the UK? Cooper and I are fans of tours because put simply, if you’re short on time / on your own / not travelled much / don’t want the hassle of getting lost or stuck in dreadful accommodation, then generally with a tour you can’t go wrong. There are however, some important factors to remember if you’re embarking on a tour. Further to this, if you begin a tour in London but are a first-timer in the city, here are a few tips that may be of use…
Top tour travel tips London and UK
11 tips/preparing for a tour + first time in London:
How long will you be in London – is it worthwhile buying an Oyster (transport) Card? My rule of thumb is that if you’re going to be commuting in London for over three days then buy a ‘weekly pass’ – it’s MUCH cheaper than ‘topping up’ all the time and allows Tube and bus travel in all the areas you’re going to need. If travelling within the city for just a day or two, buy a ‘day pass’ each day, unless you literally are only planning one trip on the Tube for the day (unlikely).
Consider day tour options around the city – it’s huge with lots to see. The ‘big red bus’ hop-on-hop-off option is always a good one.
Be careful when commuting on buses and the Tube – while these services are efficient for familiar users, sometimes visitors will find the rush of busy passengers overwhelming and insensitive. Be aware that buses can pull off without warning.
PLAN what you want to see and where you want to go – Tower of London, Kensington Palace etc. Organise passes in advance. London is vast, and it can be arduous and tiring to navigate if you’re unfamiliar with the city.
Most pubs and cafes offer free WiFi, so if your hotel is charging through the roof for this service, chances are there is a free option within just a block or two of your location.
On tour, always be on time back to the coach – it is only fair on the driver/guide and fellow passengers, and it’s very stressful for everyone if people have to wait and/or come searching for you.
Never go anywhere / leave the coach without a credit card and your passport, as well as contact number(s) for your guide and other emergency contact details – just in case!
In the UK, Orange Mobile offers inexpensive pay-as-you-go SIM cards (easy to top up at any ATM) that can be utilised in most mobile phones, iPhones, and even iPad / tablet options. Orange or T-Mobile shops are all over London.
Don’t over-pack! Inevitably everyone who ends up with too many (large) bags admits they’ve brought too much, and it becomes painstaking trying to get from one place to another. Also, take clothes that you can mix, match and layer. It helps to bring clothes you can wash together too – you don’t want to be doing ‘separate loads’ on the go. If you’re stopping somewhere for two nights, do your washing as soon as you stop which leaves ample time for drying. Wrap washing in a towel and ring as much water out of it as you can, then hang washing around the room or on coat hangers. Jeans are serviceable, but can be quite heavy if you take too many.
Ask your tour guide where the nearest supermarket is, and buy your water in big bottles which is far cheaper.
If you see a person travelling on their own, include them in your outings. The more people you embrace, the better. You’ll also get more out of your trip by talking to and getting to know your co-travellers.
As those of you reading this blog will know, I’ve recently been on a journey through the ‘Heart of England’ with Back Roads Touring in the UK (organised via Escape Travel in Australia).
Back Roads Touring offers a wide range of options throughout the UK and Europe, and in fact I have my eye on several more trips in the UK that I’d love to book over the coming year or so (particularly the Corners of Cornwall 7-day, The Red Dragon of Wales 6-day, and Secrets of Southern England 4-day tours – take a look at the itineraries on the website and you’ll understand why). A few of our co-travellers had even booked two or three Back Roads Touring adventures in a row, with our Heart of England tour sitting in the middle of their holiday plans.
The Heart of England tour itself though is a classic choice, especially if you’re trying to decide on one particular option in the country. Four days was a nice length of time to be on a tour, there were no early morning starts and we generally had enough time to explore each destination. Best of all, this tour offers an overview of all that we’d typically associate with England – green countryside, old English pubs, castles, royalty, Shakespeare, medieval sites all the way through to mythological and mysterious destinations such as Stonehenge.
Evidently these tours are ideal for a person with a mature, intelligent and interested mindset who is a keen, (sometimes) seasoned traveller seeking a low-stress adventure, as well as quality, comfortable accommodation and up-market dining options.
With so many tour operators to choose from these days, why consider Back Roads Touring?
Small travel groups.
Mini bus means travelling through towns and seeing them (many large buses can’t go where Back Roads Touring can).
Quality dining options.
Personalised service including travel advice and assistance.
The opportunity to get to know everyone on board.
Relaxed travel experience.
Expert guides who introduce ‘local’ experiences at each tour stop.
Back Roads Touring offers the discerning traveller the ultimate in exploration options based on over 25-years experience in the small group and tailor-made tour industry in this region.
My own trip highlights? This time around I’d definitely say Windsor Castle (vast, stunning, lavish, historical) and Stratford upon Avon (romantic… Shakespeare! Need I say more?). I was also impressed by the accommodation and delicious meals that were part of the ‘Back Roads Touring’ experience.
I was looking forward to today’s visit to Stratford upon Avon. I haven’t seen all of England’s towns (wish I had) but I think I can safely say this is definitely one of the prettiest of them all. Obviously this medieval market town is particularly famous for one writer – William Shakespeare.
I’ll admit, I’m a fan. He’s influenced so much of our language and his stories continue to stand the test of time. I’m intrigued by the entire period he represents and so visiting Stratford upon Avon has always been part of my own ‘bucket list’ of places to see.
Today it’s my birthday – I’m an Anzac Day baby. Happy Birthday to me! It was a special day in Stratford upon Avon too, as April 25 marks the anniversary of Shakespeare’s funeral.
His birth home, Anne Hathaway’s cottage, Holy Trinity Church (where he’s buried) and various other monuments around the town showcased tributes and flowers to mark the occasion. Interestingly, William Shakespeare was born on April 23 – and he also died on April 23 (evidently in different years)! Weird – the thought did cross my mind today – is it sad, ironic or completely extraordinary that you’re born and die on the same day? Perhaps it just means you’re extra extra special, which he definitely was (and is).
Everyone in our group enjoyed Stratford upon Avon – apparently the second most visited place in England outside of London. It’s a delightful and interesting town where even if you’re ‘not into Shakespeare’, it’s impossible to not feel a little whimsical and romantic exploring the old streets and homes – all well maintained by diligent workers and fans of the Bard.
As part of the day’s adventures we visited Anne Hathaway’s enchanting cottage (pictured above). Steeped in history – if only the walls could talk.
Anne was William’s wife, and her family lived in this home for generations – up until 1911 in fact. Historical items in the home include beds (Anne’s parents’ bed as well as a bed that is thought to have been Anne and William’s ‘marriage bed’), kitchen and garden items.
The guide at the cottage, Alison, was SO knowledgeable and the visit was worthwhile for all her interesting facts and stories alone.
One thing I found incredibly entertaining was that she told us how in Tudor times, among much other baking, bread emerged from the oven burnt on the bottom (remember, no trays then); children under 11-years-old got the bottom bit first (they were ‘lowly’, like servants), next cut (or the ‘cut(s) above’) were distributed to the older children and so on; then the ‘upper crust(s)’ were given to the man of the house or distinguished guests. Hence class system connotations derived from a ‘simple’ process with a family loaf of bread – this, like so many other phrases coined from this period are still used to this day.
Today we also passed through quaint, intriguing little villages like Mickleton – home of the Three Ways House – a pub that lays claim to the popular ‘pudding club’ – renowned the country over! We also explored the exquisite villages of Broadway and Snowshill and stopped by a worthwhile lookout point (where on a clear day you can see all the way to Wales), Dover Hill – named after a guy called Robert Dover who actually came up with the concept of the Cotswold Olympick Games which this year celebrates its 400th milestone and highlights important cultural sports like… shin kicking – see a video here!
This is the second tour I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of, and once again I’m struck by how lovely it is to get to know different people from various parts of the world whom I might otherwise never have crossed paths with. Over breakfast, lunch, on the bus and while sipping on an afternoon coffee – each conversation with co-adventurers – solo travellers, couples, friends, mother-daughter teams and siblings – reveals something new: a positive attitude, life challenge overcome, surprising secret skill, a helpful piece of advice… It’s really possible to make lovely friends and be inspired on trips like this, because the bond of exploration and new experience is shared by all. We’re lucky to have amazing organised journeys on offer to us now – I’m a huge advocate of these tours because as I’ve said before – it ends up being about the travel and the (new) friends.
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