Update: London on a Shoestring

London at Night
(Astronomy Picture of the Day).
Image: ISS Crew, Earth Sciences and Image Analysis Lab, JSC, NASA [larger view].

Even though I’ve been quiet about my London trip for the upcoming European science blogging conference, I have been working on arrangements behind the scenes. This is what I’ve decided so far;

It took me awhile to realize that, before I make a reservation for a roundtrip flight, I need to know how long I can afford to stay in London. So of course, I am trying to find the least expensive (most affordable) accomodations possible. Not only that, but because I am visiting the city and not a hotel, I really only need a room with a clean bed (no bedbugs!!), a toilet and shower although, if I can afford it, I’d also like to have access to a microwave oven. I am also fine with sharing a room with another traveler, if I can find someone who doesn’t smoke who is trustworthy.
With these goals in mind, I have been investigating staying in university dorms at several colleges that are near the place where the conference is to take place (in the W1, WC1 or WC2 postcodes). I think at least some of these rooms give a discount for a stay of 7 or more consecutive days, which is good for me. So far, I am busily reading about university accomodations and emailing the people in charge of reservations with my questions (I think I’ve figured out what “catered” and “self-catered” mean, for example). I am only starting to explore the availability of hostels in the area.
I have learned that airlines are rather .. disingenuous regarding the price of their tickets. For example, after a lot of searching on the internet, I was so pleased to find a round-trip ticket to London that costs only $195! WOW! But unfortunately, I discovered that the ticket is the least expensive part of airtravel since the taxes and fees raise the price of this so-called “bargain ticket” to $700! Yes! Worse, these mysterious taxes and fees are not a consistent amount from one ticket to the next, even for those offered by the same airlines. So I have tried to learn what they cover and how the sums are arrived at, but without any luck. So I have learned that international airline tickets are much more expensive than a Google search suggests.
But in the midst of all this confusion, I have decided one thing: I need an Oyster card to cover my travel expenses while in London. Everything I read about an Oyster card is clear and reasonable, so that’s one decision that seems to be a foregone conclusion.
I am also looking into getting a good map of London, and was told that the London A-Z is good, but I should be prepared to print out a more up-to-date map from the internet so I can carry it with me while I travel from one destination to the next. So I will do this after I have decided where and how long I will stay (and can plan how much I can see and experience while I am there — and there is no shortage of what I want to see and experience in London! ).
I am also looking around for a useful and informative travel guide. Since there are more travel guides to London than translations of the Bible, this is a daunting task. I have looked through shelves of these books at the bookstore, and read about even more of them on Amazon. Quite frankly, I have no idea how a person can choose an appropriate travel guide to London without closing her eyes and just grabbing something off the shelf. Anyway, I am still browsing and hope that something suggests itself to me.
Okay, that’s all for now. As soon as I make a reservation for my accommodations in London, everything will fall neatly into place, I hope!


About GrrlScientist

grrlscientist is the pseudonym of an evolutionary biologist and ornithologist who writes about evolution, ethology, and ecology, especially in birds. After earning a degree in microbiology (thesis focus: virology) and working at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, she earned her PhD in zoology from the University of Washington in Seattle, where she studied the molecular correlates of testosterone and behaviour in white-crowned sparrows. She then worked a Chapman Postdoctoral Fellow at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where she studied the speciation and distribution of lories and other parrots throughout the South Pacific Islands. A discarded scientist, she returned to her roots: writing. Formerly hosted by The Guardian (UK), she now writes about science for Forbes and for the non-profit think tank, the Evolution Institute and she writes podcasts for BirdNote Radio. An avid lifelong birder and aviculturist, she lives with a flock of songbirds and parrots somewhere in Germany.
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0 Responses to Update: London on a Shoestring

  1. travelgirl says:

    depending on how long you will stay in london, getting an A to Zed may be overkill. it should be enough to be near a tube station and have a good understanding of where you need to go. at worst, you ask one of the station guards or attendents how to get close to your destination…
    W1/2/3 is not bad… i personally stay near russell square, which is walking distance to the british museum and a ton of tube stations (holborn, russell square, a few others), mostly on the piccadilly line (with lots of cross-line stops within one or two stations, or a long walk to the british library and (for potter fans) kings cross/st pancras or leicester square / charing cross in the other direction…
    send me mail if you want particulars, ideas for places to eat, things to do. my london information may be a few years old, but i have spent enough time there over the last ten years to think of it as one of my favourite urban homes…
    oh, and the oyster is a necessity…

  2. Bob O'H says:

    For accommodation, the UCL hostels look the best bet. Make sure you reveal your decision on the group at NN – I think it would be great if a lot of us stay at the same place (and also means I won’t have to go through the same hassle!).
    You should ask Matt Brown about guides to London – he seems to be something of an enthusiast in that area.
    Oh, and good news. You wont need to buy an Oyster card.

  3. csrster says:

    The A-Z will show you every little side-street in every residential suburb. I think you’d be better off with a decent fold-out map of central London. There are some links to these on visitlondon.com.

  4. I’m not sure about sightseeing guides, but for more practical use if you are intending on eating out while in London, you might want to consider getting an up-to-date copy of the CAMRA Good Beer Guide, as it will have useful entries for loads of pubs in London, including information on whether and when they sell food and proximity to rail or underground stations, as well as descriptions of any unusual or historic features the pub may have.
    For navigation purposes I’d personally recommend selecting key places you intend to visit in advance and looking them up on Google Maps to find out where they are relative to where you’re staying or the nearest train/tube station. For any other use the London A-Z should do fine (although it’s a lot of pages to wade through) and it includes the most indispensable thing for a trip to London – the tube map!
    Depending on how much time you have try to visit some places outside of London if you can, there’s plenty of good Nature reserves in the south-east, I could personally recommend Rainham marshes in Essex, Elmley marshes on the Isle of Sheppy, Stodmarsh east of Canterbury or Dungeness on the south coast, or if you wanted a shorter bird-watching trip, reservoirs or old gravel pits are ideal (Bough Beech reservoir near Sevenoaks is great for Little Egrets). The only problem with these places is transport, you’d probably need someone with a car.
    Alternatively if you can’t get out of London there’s plenty of sites within the city that are great for bird-watching, if you visit Kew Gardens you’re probably fairly certain to see some Ring-Necked Parakeets (they’re a bit noisy to miss!).