LONDON TRAVELOGUE

12 days in London, and £1000 to cover airfare, accommodation, food, transport, and (oh god) shopping. It seemed like an insurmountable task at the time, but my bank account and I are back in one piece – we lived and are here to tell the tale.

If you’ve never stepped foot into Europe before, £1000 might sound like a lot of money. And I’m not denying that it is. But that’s also SGD2000 to cover a hefty flight ticket to another continent, plus lodging and living expenses in one of the most expensive cities in the world. And when you’re a complete shopping nut like myself, Primark alone isn’t going to save your wallet.

So how did I do it? Here’s a friendly listicle. (Mind you, some of these tips I’m not entirely proud of…)

Book early on Expedia

londonPhoto from alternatifecs.com

Obviously, flights to the UK are expensive. And so the only way to go is to embrace your innate kiasu auntie and check flights consistently. Using third party comparison bookers really helps save time and effort – Skyscanner and Kayak are great but they aren’t tailored to Singapore users so I find that the prices displayed are a little iffy. I recommend Expedia simply because

1) They’re transparent – the final price you see on the website is what you get; no hidden additional costs like a lot of other booking sites

2) The Best Price Guarantee – if you find a better deal elsewhere (but mind you, it has to match exactly), Expedia reimburses you the difference

Really, there’s no other way to go. And it always helps to book early. Thanks to seasonal promotions, you can bag some great deals on economy flights to London, Paris, and many other destinations. I booked 3 months in advance and got a non-stop flight (Singapore Airlines, no less) for S$1100, 1% Cashback from ShopBack included. *happy dance*

Tip: Book on magical Tuesdays. It’s a tried and tested internationally known fact that prices are lower then.

Damage so far: S$1100

Bunk with friends

This might seem like cheating, but the cheapest accommodation is… free accommodation. Since my intention of flying to London was to visit friends studying in universities there, I had a list of very kind offers to host me. Of course, I didn’t want to impose on anyone, so whenever I stayed with someone it was only for a few nights at each time. If you’re able to do the same, be gracious! And the occasional appreciative dinner treat will help to make up for things too.

Damage so far:  S$1100 + S$0 (woohoo)  = S$1100

Get an Oyster Card

london5

The adorably-named Oyster Card is basically your EZ-link to London. As much as London is a very walkable city, there will come the time when you need to catch the Tube to somewhere a little further out. The Oyster can be used on all forms of transport within London – the Tube, London Overground, DLR, and yes, even the famous red double-decker buses. It’s a handy way to travel around simply because it’s cashless, and it does save you quite a bit compared to if you paid for paper tickets. Top up works the same way as an EZ-link, and you can pay as you go or load in a lump sum at one shot.

If you’re there on holiday there’s no need for a Student Oyster; an adult card is sufficient. £20 (S$40) saw me through my 12 days, and in all honesty taking the Tube can feel pretty therapeutic and fun – when it’s not peak hour, of course. Plus point: You can eat or drink on transport in London, which is a godsend if you’re short on time.

Damage so far: S$1100 + S$40 = S$1140

Low-maintenance dining at Tesco and Marks & Spencer

Food in London is notoriously expensive, but it’s all about knowing how to prioritise your meals. When I wasn’t splashing out on The Breakfast Club or Burger and Lobster, I ate within an extreme budget. Do as the locals do – or at least the poor University students – and get takeaway meals at Tesco. Affectionately termed ‘Meal Deals’, the proposed set includes a sandwich, a drink, and a packet of chips or an apple, for just £3 (S$6).

You’ll soon notice that Londoners are all about quick and hassle-free eating, because they’re always on the move! Having meals on-the-go turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because it meant having more time to explore London, while getting the authentic London experience of efficient, snappy lunches. And of course, when a sit-down meal in a café or restaurant can easily set you back by £10 (S$20), £2-£3 (S$4-6) wraps or pastries are a welcome alternative.

london1

Another Broke Student tip – check out Marks & Spencer after 6pm for discounted baked goods. M&S in the UK boasts a more attractive selection of bread and fresh food than their chains here in Singapore, so bagging bargain bread isn’t as distasteful as it sounds. I once scored a pack of cinnamon rolls for 80p (S$1.60), which I think warrants a medal.

Wake up early for a £5 musical

The early bird catches the worm – usually, no worms are worth getting out of bed at 6.30am, but the promise of £5 (S$10) tickets to Matilda the Musical had me sold. It was a mad rush to the Cambridge Theatre in Covent Garden, and a subsequent 2-hour wait for the box office to open, but all worth it because we snagged 2 of the 15 student-price tickets.

london3Photo from media-cdn.tripadvisor.com

Box office opens at 10am but get there by 8.30am latest if you even want a shot at being one of the lucky first 15, and remember to bring some form of student identification. I was in luck the day I queued, being 2nd in line even though 8.30am is considered late, but it never hurts to be a bit more kiasu. (It’s within us!!!!) And for the record, Matilda was mind-blowing, even if the seats allocated to us didn’t offer the best view.

Damage so far: S$1140 + S$10 = S$1150

Take advantage of London’s first-class customer returns policy

In short, this saved my ass. I’m a bit of a demented shopaholic, so I actually busted my budget by the 4th day because of shopping. Thankfully, most stores in London have an amazing customer returns policy that allows you to return new purchases within 30 days for a full refund. So that’s Primark, Topshop, Forever 21, H&M, even charity shops, and so on and so forth, that will take back your items and hand you your money – no questions asked. So after realizing I was broke with 8 days to go, I spent the next few days making trips down to H&M and Primark to return my purchases. In case anyone’s curious, I made it a point to go down to different Primark outlets so the staff wouldn’t recognize me.

london6Photo from hamburg.de

Total Damage: S$1150

Congratulations, you now have S$850 to budget for shopping and food! Depending on your priorities, you’ll end up going home with either an overweight luggage or being just plain overweight.

And that essentially sums up my trip to London! It was eventful, and frankly, it’s when you’re employing shameless budget hacks that you create the most meaningful memories and stories to tell. London also has a lot of free activities and attractions to offer – having picnics in Regent’s Park (my god, how English) remains my favourite memory to date, and I would definitely pick people-watching in Trafalgar Square over paying to visit the Tower of London any day.

london2

I’ll admit that I splurged a little on the SQ flight, but when you’re going to be sitting on your butt for 13 hours straight, you really don’t want to be scrimping on comfort. At least the strain on my wallet was marginally lessened with Cashback from Expedia (it paid for 2 sandwiches, which you have to admit is something). ShopBack Singapore also offers Cashback and discount deals on sites like Agoda, if you’re looking to book a hotel over bunking. In any case, have fun in London, and don’t forget to Instagram every waking moment!


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