For many travelers, London is one of the first cities that comes to mind when considering an easy, familiar place to visit abroad. Even if you’ve never actually visited London, there’s a good chance you’ve seen parts of the city in your favorite movies, on television, and in historic images stretching back centuries. Because of this, the city feels a lot less exotic than many other destinations in Europe and elsewhere abroad, making it a natural choice for travelers looking to explore a new place without too many challenges.
While it’s true that London is not a particularly challenging city for visitors – especially Americans – to explore, it still holds a few surprises that can catch unsuspecting tourists off guard. Because of this, it’s a good idea to do a bit of research before your London trip to find answers to questions you might have or correct for mistakes you may otherwise make while you’re there.
Not sure what that looks like? I’m here to help! Here are some things the average American – and traveler in general – should know before they go to London:
YOU’LL NEED A POWER ADAPTER
American plugs are quite different from the ones used in the United Kingdom. If you want to charge your cell phone, blow dry your hair, or otherwise plug-in while you’re abroad, you’ll need to come prepared with a power adapter. You can purchase one at the airport if you forget, but it’s easier – and far cheaper – to invest in one or two online before you plan to travel. You can check out my top 10 international travel essentials for more info.
And pay attention when plugging in your devices! Many outlets need to be turned on before they’ll actually provide power. Look for a nearby switch if your device is plugged in but doesn’t seem to be charging.
TIPPING WORKS A BIT DIFFERENTLY HERE
Most Americans who travel abroad are surprised to find tipping doesn’t happen. Well, the United Kingdom has chosen to embrace the American custom of tipping, so you should expect to pay a few extra pounds at the end of your meal for excellent service.
A customary tip in London is 10-15% of the total bill, but be warned – many restaurants, especially those frequented by tourists, will add gratuity to the total bill as a fixed percentage service charge. Check your receipt before leaving your tip to make sure you aren’t tipping twice!
LONDON FOOD ISN’T ALL BAD
Speaking of restaurants, England has a reputation for not bringing very much to the culinary table, and many travelers head to London resigned to eating fish and chips for a week. That couldn’t be further from the truth. While you may not be too impressed by the traditional pub fare you find in London, this multicultural city is home to some incredible ethnic food from virtually everywhere in the world. Branch out and indulge in some Indian food while you’re here, and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
Unlike some destinations, London isn’t filled with dramatic surprises for most travelers. Instead, you’ll find a few simple discrepancies between cultures to overcome – that’s it! Be aware before you go, and you’ll have a simple, straightforward time navigating the city and enjoying your vacation.