Britain is calling, and if it is calling you as well to hop on an international flight and cross the Atlantic or the English Channel, or whichever body of water you will have to cross to arrive on British soil, this is an episode I think you will find helpful to ensuring you have a wonderful trip to your destination.
So that I don’t repeat myself, I wrote and shared a detailed 17-point list on how to prepare for international travel in episode #183. This list is for traveling anywhere internationally, not just Britain, but it is definitely a list I always refer to before I head out the door at Le Papillon to France or Britain.
Today what I would like to share with you are more specific tips and insights for traveling to Britain specifically so that you can enjoy the journey to your accommodations as much as the trip itself once you arrive.
Assuming you have your passport all squared away as well as your Global Entry pass should you wish to utilize this swift admissions through security, let’s talk about everything else (again, for general preparation for international travel, check out episode #183).
Flying to Britain
Everything depends upon where you are traveling from. This affects flight options, length and prices, and it also will determine how you best function when it comes to jetlag.
I share this last point, because I wrote and shared a detailed episode in 2022 for how to fly from the west coast of the states (I typically fly from Seattle, but have also flown from Portland, OR, LA and SFO) to western Europe, episode #333 and based on my experience having in the past tried to ‘save money’ and thus had many connecting flights, flown economy, etc., it actually reduced the quality of the trip and contributed to unnecessary exhaustion.
When I am able to plan ahead at least 4-5 months, I purchase a business class ticket and fly out of SEA (I take a commuter plane from Redmond, Oregon, for the first leg), or any of the other international airports on the west coast. I also subscribe to my airline of choice British Airways newsletter and am a member of their Executive Club where I accumulate points for future trips. The newsletter is helpful because when a sale is announced (usually 4-5 months ahead of the travel date), I can save a significant amount of money on tickets. By significant, I mean over half of what I would have to pay (and will not) for a regularly priced Business Class ticket.
There are often errant assumptions that I didn’t realize some people had about business class until I spoke to them about having flown it and highly recommending it. Some thought they had to be flying for business, or doing something related to business, and while originally this is why the Business Class section was created to afford those working while flying the comfort and amenities to do so, it has evolved into a middle-ground between First Class and Coach. And there is no prerequisite that you must-be flying for work or business. Simply, if you want to feel well-rested when you arrive wherever you are going, and are willing to pay for the ticket, the ticket is yours. Here is a helpful post from Alternative Airlines detailing the history of Business Class airfare.
And while you may not prefer British Airways, whichever airlines you fly, sign up for their newsletter to stay apprised of sales, and so long as you book about 4-5 months in advance, you are getting a fair price.
It has been my experience, and I shared this before in the aforementioned episode/post, I would rather wait a few more months to travel due to having to save up in order to have a comfortable 9-10 hour flight and arrive rested and ready to enjoy my trip, then ride in Coach after having flown some very uncomfortable flights in my younger traveling days. Thus, why it has taken me 18 months to return to Britain since my last trip in April 2022. But it is definitely worth the wait. The trip now begins when I head to the airport, and not two days after I arrive at my destination.
Why? The service, the space, the comfort. As well as while you are waiting at the airport for your flight, you have access to the Lounges for your airline, and all food is free – ALL of the food and drinks are free. This is a tremendous savings, especially if you have a long lay-over which I usually do in Seattle (about 5-6 hours). I can have my tea (as much as I want), and work away in the comfort of the lounge so that once I board the plane, my blog post and business is tended to and I can relax, as well as sleep a lengthy amount of time and enjoy the flight without feeling I need to pull out my computer and type away feverishly.
At the British Airways lounge in Sea-Tac Airport.
Clothing and Accessories for the Flight
Knowing I have a full day of travel (14 hours, this includes the layover), and will be sleeping on the plane, I have learned a few things work best for me after trying a couple of different approaches over the years on this same flying pattern (time, destination, etc.).
I now choose something that is comfortable enough to sleep in, but also stylish enough to be at the airport in. In other words, I used to wear jeans or a decent outfit to travel, and then I would change into my linen pajamas on the plane. And while this is still a good idea, and if the flight were longer than 9 hours, I would likely revert to it, it is also a pain to have to change two times while on flight. But not wearing something comfortable enough to sleep in is a big nope after my first couple of flights to France and Britain trying to sleep in coach, not fun for multiple reasons and little if any sleep was had.
Michael Stars jersey dress (four colors available). Their style has a side slit which I didn’t want, so I took it to my tailors and had them close it for $13. It is now exactly what I have been looking for and is less than $110.
Now, I wear a jersey body-con midi-length dress (see above). Long-enough for coverage, supple fabric for comfort while I sleep and stylish enough to be accessorized with ease and flatter. This is also a dress I will have laundered once I reach my destination or vacation rental because it will have been worn for a full and long day and need a good tending to. But that too is why I choose it, it isn’t delicate and can be laundered and look like new when washed and dried.
With regards to the accessorizing. I bring my trench coat that hits just below my knees (a wool one if it is winter), I wear a ribbon scarf (or wider if again, flying during colder months), Rothy pointed toe nude flats as they are comfortable and breathable (see below: there are more colors available, but these three other options – leopard and gray with black toe and beige with black toe are timeless and could work with all sorts of outfits you might have), but also slim and chic to lengthy the leg, and then I have my watch, but no other jewelry.
Here is an episode to help you pack for your entire trip if you are visiting Britain, both the city and the countryside in Autumn:
episode #263, Timeless Seasonal Style — Autumn in Britain
But the travel attire isn’t complete without the tote: My carry-on tote is my consigned Longchamp long-handle canvas tote that holds the following:
Carry-on Tote Necessities
- A small toiletry bag from Longchamp for my makeup essentials
- I don’t wear much makeup, so this is my makeup bag for my entire trip – quite narrow and fits nicely anywhere. Only makeup, no skincare.
- A separate small toiletry bag made of tapestry fabric picked up at Westminster Abbey’s gift shop that holds all of my skincare, simple prep and eye-care essentials (key facial care needs, contacts and solution, dry shampoo, hand lotion, toothbrush and paste, micellar facial wipes, deodorant, lip balm, etc.)
- This is not all of my toiletries as those are in my checked luggage or if I bring a carry-on piece of luggage. These items in my tote are only the items I know I will want to stay fresh or feel refreshed while flying.
- Tech and entertainment and relaxing essentials: portable charger (Nimble’s), magnetic phone/airpods charger, airpods, laptop, planner, books/Kindle, other reading material – newspapers, etc., journal and pens, cashmere zipped hoodie jacket, mini humidifier – Hey Dewey, empty water bottle – Hydroflask, silk eye mask.
- One adapter (the rest are in my checked luggage), and converter as necessary. The adapter you will need for the UK is Type G, the plug-in has three rectangular pins in a triangular pattern. I purchased these so they have multiple plug-ins and access points for charging my tech devices.
- Reading glasses.
- Travel wallet: larger than my typical wallet as it contains my passport, room for my flight and transportation tickets, currency to use immediately – cash and coins, Tube Oyster card, Global Entry card and a card holder for credit cards and ID that can be removed and placed into my usual handbag upon arrival. I use Brontibay’s Ayala Cassandra leather wallet as it is just the right size.
- Travel Umbrella – after all, we are headed to Britain 😊 Learn more about my favorite British brand for my umbrellas, both traditional and travel here.
- Tea bags, my favorite English and French varietals — now granted, when I fly to Britain, I usually ever have to use my own, but always have them with me just in case.
My Carry-On Luggage
If I don’t check all of my luggage, I travel with my small wheeled Props luggage as shown here in a previous This & That post. I love this small piece of luggage for two key reasons: it has a front open, so I don’t have to fold open like an accordion my luggage to get inside out in public should I need to; and second, it has legs to enable it to stand up so I don’t have to lay it on the floor and can place my laptop or feet on it while I am waiting during layovers if no such table or ottoman is available. Here is what I include in my carry-on luggage if I have checked baggage (which I always do for international travel).
- Primarily toiletry bag with all of my necessities that were not previously included in my carry-on tote.
- One outfit – casual
- Hair care needs – necessary tools such as brushes and blow-dryer (I pack a UK blowdryer so I don’t have to worry about converting the power while I am in Britain – I have destroyed more US-made dryers, and figured I will save money in the long-haul by just buying a regular size UK blower dryer and only bringing it with me when I fly to the UK)
- Any delicate items or tech tools I want with me for safe-keeping.
In Flight, How to make it part of your Vacation or Getaway
First, if you are traveling business or first class, it will seem obvious, but in all sincerity, the moment I arrive at the airport, this is when my vacation begins. I am away from any responsibilities at home, my pups are in good hands so I can relax, and I just let the airlines and the airports tell me what to do.
At the Airport
I arrive at least two hours early, check my luggage, and use my Global Entry pass to swiftly move me through security lines; this too is a worthwhile choice as even if there are lines as there were in 2022 as it seemed everyone had a Global Entry pass, I always remind myself that nope, the line is much worse without it, and the security pass-throughs much more invasive without it as well. And often, if you are traveling Business or First Class, you will get special attention to move you swiftly through the lines in certain airports (you don’t have to ask for it, as your tickets will indicate your ticket class).
While you are waiting for your flight, head to the Lounge for your airlines and enjoy free food and drink, find a comfortable seat and table and often quiet atmosphere, and it will truly feel like a mini-spa moment to begin decompressing.
Sometimes, depending upon the airlines and the airport, there will be a separate lounge for First Class vs. Business class as there is in Heathrow for British Airways. Once you are greeted at the entry point, they will check your ticket and direct you in the correct direction.
This may also be a time when you will want to shop Duty Free at the airport. I don’t typically do this, but this is also part of the benefit of shopping at the airport.
Take your time and set up your seat as you need it. Many airlines have a Business Class that have seats that completely recline into a bed, so you also have more room for your tote, etc. Take the time to set up as you need, and place what you would like in the overhead bin.
Enjoy their welcome drink or nibble.
If you have some work you will need to do, enjoy the comfort of the space to do so with ease.
Watch new films and shows on their entertainment system for free, and generally, let yourself do what you will most enjoy all in the comfort of your own small, and often private (British Airways and a few others even have sliding doors that enable you to create a private cubicle so no one can see inside).
Nolly, the new limited British series was available for viewing, a series that will not be available in the states until March ’24, starring Helena Bonham Carter.
When the main meals are served, enjoy the service of the staff, the presentation of the meals on actual porcelain dishes, not plastic, and let yourself sip a bit of wine or spirits. A little won’t hurt, and may help you fall asleep. Just remember to hydrate throughout the entire trip with water.
When you choose to sleep, wear something comfortable, snuggle under the blanket, set up your pillow, recline your chair all the way back and down, put on your eye mask, and catch some Zzzzs. Yes, this is part of the vacation. Enjoy.
Transportation from Heathrow to your accommodations
Absolutely, you can hail a taxi, or schedule a taxi ahead of time and pay the £85+ in pounds to take you to the city of London (if that is where you are starting your trip), and I did this for two of my initial visits to London. I have also taken the Tube. However, let me introduce you to a better option that is both swift and comfortable, but also will save you money which is the beautiful marriage of the two previously mentioned options.
While there are a lot of factors to consider when it comes to which transportation is best (where you are heading, how much luggage you have, budget, etc.), if you are traveling with at least one large piece of luggage and will be staying in the heart of London, the best choice for ease, swift arrival and budget is the dedicated Airport Train – the Heathrow Express.
If you have very little luggage, simply hop on the Tube (the underground) and it is the Piccadilly line that winds up at Heathrow, from there you can navigate to where you want to go. I wrote a detailed post here sharing 16 tips for taking the Tube to navigate London with ease on how to navigate. This will take a bit longer (about 60 minutes), but you will pay pennies compared to any other option.
Let’s talk about the Heathrow Express.
First, all it does it go back and forth directly (without stops) from Paddington Station in London to Heathrow. Terminal 5 is a separate stop which tacks on a couple more minutes, but that is it. And the cost is minimal. For a round-trip ticket in economy class (a trip that will take about 15 minutes each way) you can book ahead and pay only £37 (in total!). First class/business class is £55. And the beautiful part about booking your tickets is that the window is wide open for when you take the train. You have a four-day window for your first leg and an entire month for the return leg, so you don’t have to adhere to any specific time that you arrive at either Paddington or Heathrow as flights change, plans change, etc.
I highly recommend spending £7 pounds more (each way) and enjoying Business First. You can even upgrade on the train ride as they will check your tickets. Quiet, fewer people, more space. (I will share more photos in my Travel Diary posts later this week.) I was also told by the gentleman working on the train that when I have my advance tickets for my return trip, it will expedite me through security.
London Toolkit is a great resource to explore all of the options for transportation to and from the airport. Here’s a link.
The first few hours after you’ve arrived
Depending upon when you arrive during the day, what you will be able to do will vary; however, as I shared in episode #333, I try to leave SEA in the evening and take a straight flight to London which has me arriving at about 1-2pm in the afternoon. This gives me 5-7 hours to get some exercise, find and settle into my accommodations and generally begin to acclimate to the time zone.
Here is what I try to do during these first handful of hours in the city, as I usually will at least stay for one night before I hop on the train to head out to the countryside where the rest of my trip will likely be enjoyed.
Give myself enough time to get on the Heathrow Express and arrive at Paddington, and then find a taxi to take me to my hotel or vacation rental. Check-in and then unpack and set up my hotel room or temporary home. Then, head out walking. Whether to take a tour or visit a museum, something that will keep me on my feet and getting some exercise and outdoor air in between destinations. I have my Oyster card on me, so if the destination is a distance, I will hop on a line to get me closer. If I am hungry, I will step into a neighborhood restaurant for a nibble or wait, and enjoy dinner at the hotel’s restaurant if it is one of note. (I will be sharing the museum and exhibit I went to and sharing pics of the exhibit in Thursday’s Travel Diary post. I will also share pics and my experience of the restaurant I dined at this trip – amazing! – in the Travel Diary post as well for TOP Tier Members.)
Remembering to bring my umbrella, if I have time, I will pop into any shops I have wanted to visit that are near the exhibits or tours I am taking.
If I have chosen to have dinner at the hotel, afterwards, I will go on a walk if I am close to the Thames or one of the Royal Parks, and take a stroll as this always makes me more than ready for a deep sleep, something I am already wanting to do by this point as I am exhausted. But that is the point. I am doing what I can to more quickly become acclimated to the new time zone.
Upon returning to my accommodations, I will draw a hot bath, and soak in it until I cannot keep my eyes open. Then to bed for a deep sleep that will come quickly.
And then when the new day comes, I will wake up realizing I am back in England, London specifically, and gather up all of my excitement to begin the trip I have been planning for quite some time.
Wishing you a wonderful trip to Britain the next time you have your plane tickets in hand. Bon voyage!
Similar EPISODES/POSTS You Might Enjoy
episode #183, International Travel Prep List
Why Not . . . Travel Internationally? (3-part series)
episode #220, Traveling Alone Well
~Explore more episodes of The Simple Sophisticate podcast here.
~Brown Betty TeaPots, the original