Traveling to the UK – What to Know Before You Go
It’s that time of year to think about a vacation/research trip to the UK.
Okay, any time of year is good, but many trips to the UK are in the late spring, summer, or early fall.
2012 is a very exciting year for the UK. With the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Summer Olympics, make sure you’re up to date on what is happening where. My husband and I are heading to the northeast this spring, and we are keeping an eye on where the Olympic torch will be traveling. We hope to see it, but we also want to be aware of possible traffic restrictions. For information on events occurring in conjunction with the Jubilee, check sites such as or
Information on the Olympic events as well as route of the Olympic torch can be found at:
Please click the “Details” button for all the helpful details …
If you are traveling on your own (not taking a tour), there are items you will need to prepare in advance of your trip to the UK. Much of the following information is aimed specifically at those from the US. Members who live in Commonwealth or the EU will have fewer issues entering the UK.
- Make sure your current passport is up to date. If it is close to expiration (6 months), even though you will complete your trip before it expires, you may be denied boarding on your outbound plane. My most recent renewal came up at the time when the Homeland Security regulations were changed. Instead of the usual 6 weeks for a renewed passport, it took more than 3 months, and I got nervously close to missing a trip. So renew early. Information on renewing your US passport is at: http://travel.state.gov/passport/get/renew/renew_833.html A valid passport is all you need to enter the UK. There is no need for a visa. However if you’re traveling beyond the UK, make sure you have all proper travel documents before you leave. Information on getting a first-time passport is at your local post office or at: http://travel.state.gov/passport/get/first/first_830.html For non-US passport requirements, check with your national government.
- You will need plug adapters for English outlets (and different ones for the continent). Plug adapters are available at travelers’ supply stores. Our first set was purchased at Brookstone, but now I buy our traveling supplies from Magellan’s Travel. http://www.magellans.com/ Only adapters are necessary if your electronics can run on both 220 and 120 voltage. My computer and my camera battery recharger have internal converters, so that’s fine. But hair dryers and curling irons are less likely to have those. Check the information tag on your electronics to be certain. If it doesn’t support European voltage, you’ll need a converter which is basically a plug that plugs between your item’s plug and the adapter plug. How many adapters and converters should you take? We figure the number of electronics we’ll be taking (and what they require)…and add a couple more for just in cases. You may be challenged to find enough outlets in your room, but we’ve learned to recharge some items while we’re out during the day and charge others overnight.
- Make sure your cell phone will work outside North America. Non-North American phones run on a different system than others around the world. Check your phone, so you don’t find yourself phone-less in the UK. Btw, the proper term for a cell phone in the UK is a mobile (pronounced with a long I).
- Planning your itinerary. This is the fun part. Also the frustrating part because you won’t be able to see everything you want to see in the time you’ve got. On our first trip, we tried to squeeze too much into our trip. We were constantly on the move. Why spend time packing and unpacking when you’d rather be out visiting sites and savoring the countryside? For example, we are spending slightly more than two weeks in the UK this spring, and we’re going to Yorkshire and Northumberland. Nowhere else. We are staying at four B&Bs on this trip. We’ll spend several nights in each location…and then the final night close to Heathrow where we’ll be flying out. We do that, so we don’t have to worry about traffic and missing our flight.
- Don’t plan to visit a zillion sites in a single day. We usually pick one major site (or a couple of small ones) for each day, which gives us time for what we might stumble upon. I take a lot of pictures (and I mean a LOT!), so we linger longer at any location where photography is allowed. Some of the best places we have visited have been discoveries we made while on our way to or from a planned site. Wandering along the path less traveled is great fun!
- Find out if you can fly into one airport and out of another. On a recent trip, we flew into Manchester and out of Gatwick. Airlines can be flexible about this – so shop around. Make sure you do the same with your car hire/rental. Some will charge drop off fees at a different airport.
- Decide on your mode of travel. Will you be hiring/renting a car, going by rail, canal boat, or bus? Rail tickets are much cheaper if you get them at the local rail station rather than ordering them before you leave. We usually get a car through a US based rental company, simply so if there is a problem with charges after we get back, we can deal with it “locally.” You can also hire a car and a driver if you don’t want to drive yourself and/or just want to be taken to a specific location.
- Consider getting Ordnance maps for any area where you plan to spend an extended amount of time exploring the countryside. You may have to order them from England, so give time for them to arrive. Or you can buy them in local tourist information centres or shops in the UK. If you are staying at a B&B, your host may have Ordnance maps you can borrow for the day. If you plan to do a lot of walking, these are great – and there are now ones that are laminated for those “misty” English days. We never go to the UK without our AA map book (4 miles to the inch).
- If you plan to visit National Trust sites, you will need to purchase a visitor’s pass before you go. http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ For English Heritage, Historic Scotland or CADW (Wales’s version of historical preservation society), you can buy an overseas visitor pass at one of their actual sites in the UK. For their web sites go to: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/ or https://www.historicenvironment.scot/ or http://cadw.wales.gov.uk
- Contact your bank and credit card companies to let them know you will be overseas. You don’t want access to your money/credit cut off because your financial institution is nervous at the sudden appearance of overseas charges. A quick call before you leave to the customer service 800# on your account should take care of the matter. It’s much easier than trying to battle the time differences and paying long distance charges just to clear up that yes, it’s you and yes, it’s a legitimate charge.
- Know the regulations for both TSA and its British counterpart on what you can/can’t carry on the plane. You don’t want to end up having to figure out what do with “extra” carry-on after you’ve checked your baggage. You can find this information on your airline’s web site.
- Unless you’re traveling uber-first class, you’ll be restricted to one or two checked bags. If you plan to travel beyond the UK, you may discover different regulations for your destination country. You will pay for overweight luggage. So how do you get all that nice research material back? One trick I’ve used on several trips is to pack “soon-to-be-retired” clothes…and toss them out after I’ve worn them. This works well for jeans (and the Brits now wear jeans almost as much as the Americans do, so you won’t look out of place) because they take up a lot of room. Also with shoes. I’ve traded in sneakers (trainers in the UK) for space for books.
- Make sure you’ve got vital items in a carry-on bag, in case your luggage gets lost. It happens, and once it took us two days to get our bags because we were far up north. My minimums for carry-on are: my camera (with an extra battery and charger), my sound-reducing headphones, a change of underwear and socks, and toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant. Don’t forget meds if you need them!
- Prepare for your long flight. Put a book (or ereader) in your carry-on. Some airlines have movies on demand in all classes; others have it only in business and first class. The flight from the east coast is at least 6-7 hours. I’m short, and if we’re flying in coach, I know that without a footrest, my legs will be aching by the time we arrive. I take an inflatable footrest with me.
- On the plane, you will be given a card to fill out with your name, home address, place of birth, citizenship, and address in England. You need only fill out the first address where you’re staying in the UK. Each person needs to fill out one and have it ready along with a passport. You may spend 45 minutes or more in the queue at immigration/passport control. US citizens go to non-UK/EU queue. When you get to the head of the line, everyone in your party should go forward together. You’ll be interviewed by an immigration officer – the usual questions are how long you’re staying and why you’re there. If you’re there to do research, just say you’re on holiday. If you’re doing other business, say that and answer any further questions. Be polite, but not chatty. They want to get everyone through as quickly as possible. Then you collect your checked luggage. Get a luggage trolley if you wish. They are, unlike in many US airports, free. Once you have your luggage, leave via customs. Unless you are bringing in product to sell, just go through the door “Nothing to Declare.” Follow the signs to your mode of transportation.
And get ready for your holiday! You may be suffering from jet lag. Our usual way of handling it is to have an easy day (usually driving to our first B&B), get an early supper, and then crash. We find if we take an afternoon nap, we take longer to adjust to the time difference. However, the method of an afternoon nap works for some people. But either way, by the next morning, you should be ready to be in the UK and enjoy every minute of it.
Jo Ann Ferguson recently had some more good news. She was offered a 3 book contract by Harlequin’s Love Inspired Historical for her Regency-set SANCTUARY BAY series, writing as Jo Ann Brown.