The Tube and Money.
I talked about it last time and gave you very confusing directions on how to get to our place. I really want to stress again that this is the easiest tube system EVER. All the tube lines are named rather than numbered and given separate colors on every map. There are free tube maps at all the stations and they are very easy to read. If you don’t know where you are at any point in the tube, stop, and look around. There will be a sign telling you where you are or where you need to go. There are signs everywhere. Take a breath and it will all be ok.
The best thing to do is buy an Oyster card. This will give you the best rates on tube. It is like a gift card that you can put money on and top up through your stay in London. It will cost you three pounds to get a card, plus whatever money you want to put on it.. The three pounds is a one time deposit that you can get back at the end of your trip if you turn your card back in, or if you are going to be coming back to London, stick it in your passport or suitcase and it will be there ready to go on your next trip! Tip: Put at least 20 pounds on your Oyster card when you get it. Or you will be that guy that has to hold up everyone else to go stand in line to put three pounds on the card all the time. No one likes that guy.
What’s that? You thought once you got here you wouldn’t need money because Andrea and Mike will pay for everything? Hold on a sec… hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha
Ok seriously now. Money. I do want to interject that it is still a much more cash centric society than the US. You can use cards much of the time but don’t think you don’t need any cash. If I ever had cash in the US it was a fluke, but you need it over here all the time. There is a minimum to use your card in most places and some don’t take card at all. Getting mad at them for not taking card does not help and does not change anything. There are several ways you can get cash, but first I am going to tell you what not to do. Don’t go to the first booth near baggage claim at Heathrow and fork over all your cash because you think that they are all going to give you the same rate. Most money exchange places charge a commission and a fee on top of that if you are exchanging less than a certain amount. The day before you leave google the current exchange rate so you will know what is a good rate.
First, check with whoever holds you primary use credit/debit card. Some will not charge a fee for using your cards in another country and some will. Sometimes, if it is a small fee, it is worth it because it is a simple and secure way to pay for most things. Also, ask about using atms in the UK and what the policy is. This will help you decide if you need to do all cash or cash supplemented with debit/credit card usage. It is also helpful to let your bank know that you will be traveling outside the country so nothing gets flagged as suspicious activity.
Many banks can also preorder you pounds. They will give you the exchange rate with no commission but there could possibly be a small fee depending on the type of account you have. The best place to change your money over here is a post office or bureau de change because they give you the current exchange rate with no commission or fees. Luckily there is a post office right across the street from the Stockwell station. So basically you only need enough cash to get you from the airport to our place.
I hope that helps in your preparations. Please don’t hesitate to ask questions. I am just trying to make this easier on everyone, because we learned so much on our first trips over here that I wish I knew before we left.