London for beginners – The full guide (Part 1)

Hello beautiful travelers,

How (and where) have you been? I have been to London (a.k.a home away from home where I lived for 9 years of my adult life) and had an AMAZING holiday. This time I took with me a friend that has never been to the best city in the world and it made me think how confusing London can be, so I decided to finally write a full guide to the London beginner 🙂 This is going to be a 2 part guide (maybe even 3); the fist post will give a general “how to” overview (how to plan your trip for an ultimate London experience, how to get around and my personal do’s and don’ts). The second part will give you a full schedule of a standard beginner’s visit to London and a potential 3rd post might include some fun recommendations but we will cross that London bridge when we get to it.


London is BIG!!! I have seen so many people waste time just traveling around the city, not realizing that within the center alone it can take 45 minutes getting from east to west. Proper planning of your trip can save you a lot of time that you can later fit other activities into. If you plan your trip right, there is a good chance you could take only a couple tube/bus rides during the day and do the rest by foot, seeing so much more of this beautiful city.

London travel time
Just to give you an idea of how long it takes to get around the different areas

Thankfully there is one thing that can make it easier to plan your trip even if you’ve never been to London. Make a list of all the things you know you wish to see and all the places you wish to visit, then type them into google maps and write down which underground station or stations are closest (different stations have different train lines so the more stations the better). After you have a list with all the respective underground stations use a tube map (that you can easily find here) to simply find the location with the same, or close by stations, that way you know these locations are walking distance from each other as there are about 10 minutes walk between close by stations. It saves you loads of time to plan your days with everything in the same area (as much as possible, as there are things that are only open on specific days and they are not always close to each other so if you want to see them all you will need to travel).

Another common habit I noticed was for people to call/post/text from the airport asking how to travel into London… Plan ahead, the airports are far and while there are several very convenient ways to get into the center, if you don’t plan ahead you might end up paying a lot more than necessary. I will help you with that on the Getting Around section that is coming right up.

Before you pack check the weather forecast for your visit! I know it sounds obvious but in London you can have 3 days of light rain, followed by 5 days of sunshine, followed by a storm… The secret to packing for such weather is layers. Pack a couple of whatever you need (sweater, long T-shirt, short T-shirt, tank top etc), check the weather every morning and dress accordingly, remembering that almost nowhere in London has air conditioning so you might get really hot in shops, museums and theaters but freeze as soon as you go outside. Also, don’t trust your eyes, looking out the window and seeing a supposedly sunny day can be very misleading and more often than not means there are no clouds to buffer and it might be even colder than a cloudy day. Seriously, check the weather!!!

London weather
The upcoming week’s weather in London, you get clouds, showers and everything in between

When I go to London I know there might be a lot of shopping involved so I pack all I need in my hand luggage, put the full hand luggage in an empty suitcase and that way I have a big, empty suitcase for all my shopping and souvenirs. as I layer up I bring many tank tops and T-shirts and less sweaters so I can fit in quite a lot in a hand luggage. No need for 4 pairs of shoes, 2 comfortable ones are more than enough, you might even get more when in London, so you might as well save that space. Before you pack a ball gown for a night at the theater remember this: London has an average of 1,000,000 tourists a day, they are used to people coming to the theater with jeans and a T-shirt and guess what?! They don’t care! Pack smart and you will have that much more room to buy those awesome new clothes to wear back home.

One last thing about the planning: when I go to London I usually don’t take the standard medication pouch I take to places I don’t know. I pack only meds I take on a regular basis and have a prescription for and maybe add antibiotics for good measure. I also don’t pack a lot of shampoo, conditioner and washing soap, just enough to last me for 1-2 days. There are Boots and Superdrug shops on every corner and they are cheap so I just go into one on my first day and get what I need, and in case I catch a cold I do the same. But that’s just me and this is just a recommendation, feel free to take it or not, whichever suits your traveling vibe.

Getting Around

I recommend you download to your phone the CityMapper app, define London as the city you are visiting (you can edit it later to any city you visit that is on the app). This app is basically a Google Maps, Uber, TFL (Transport for London) and A to Z one stop shop. You put in the search bar where you want to go (whenever you can, use post codes, in London they are actually useful and super accurate) and the app will show you EVERY POSSIBLE WAY to get there: by foot (just tap that option and a walking map will open), by car (the app connects to Uber and gives you an estimated price for the ride), by tube (changes are mentioned, best place to sit for a quick exit, best exit from the station… the lot!), buses and every possible combination between everything I mentioned above. Each track will mention how long it will take, how many changes are on the way and an estimate price.

Uber is also very effective in London (if you don’t use it where you live I recommend downloading the app), there is a great amount of cars around and they are significantly cheaper than black cabs so if it’s the middle of the night, or you have a million shopping bags Uber is a great choice.

First let’s get to our accommodation from the airport! If you land during the day you can travel from Heathrow with the underground, the Piccadilly line (dark blue) will take you right to the center. If you land in any other airport there are buses/trains that go into the center regularly and often, you don’t even have to book a ticket in advance.

If you landed at night or have too much luggage to carry around or you are traveling with kids and want the comfort of a shuttle there are great ones you can find online. For trips directly to and/or from Israel I like to use Nahagos , they are very communicative and super efficient but unfortunately work only with direct flight from and to Israel. From all other countries or a connection flight I found this car service pretty great and relatively cheaper than many other. Of course you can also google and find other services as there are many.

The Underground – Oyster Travel Card

Oyster Travel Card

On the first tube station you frequent buy an Oyster. The London travel card will cost you a £5 deposit that you get back in full when you return the card. It will continue being active even without use for 2 years so if you know you will be back in London I would recommend keeping it, I keep mine for years now and it is still as good as new.

If you are staying in London more than 5 days I recommend charging your Oyster with a weekly plan, for 4 days and under I recommend Pay-As-You-Go (you charge your Oyster with an amount of money that you choose and it comes off every time you travel until it reaches a daily maximum and then you can keep traveling but it will not charge you any more money, usually a weekly pass costs the amount of 5 traveling days but gives you 7 full days of travel, however if you are in London for less than 4 days but planned your days correctly you might not use the maximum daily budget and so Pay-As-You-Go will be the more economical choice, see all the daily and weekly fairs here).

You will mostly need only zones 1-2 on your Oyster as those are the central and most touristic areas, and even if you did a weekly plan for zones 1-2 and need to go outside those zones once or twice, you can add some funds via Pay-As-You-Go, gotta love a good mix and match travel card plan.

One last thing about the Oyster, as the weekly travel card is based on date I recommend that if you arrive in the morning start your weekly plan the same day, if you arrive at night however start the weekly travel cars the next day, that way you get 7 full days. The Oyster machine allows all option so just take your time and you will do just fine.

The Underground – Finding Your Way

London Tube
London Underground (Tube) Map

The locals often call The Underground “Tube”, I am telling you this just in case you ask for direction and someone uses the term, they are one and the same.

I highly recommend picking up a small underground map (they are free and you can find them in every station) just in case you don’t have an internet connection underground.

Inside the entrance of every tube station you will have signs leading you to all the different lines in that station (and as you were smart and planned ahead, you already know which line you need to take :P), go in the direction of the line you need where you will always have 2 platforms, either north and south, or east and west, depending on the line. On the wall on each side there is a sign displaying all the stops the line is going to, the stop you are at will always be at the top and under it all the following stops the train is heading to on that specific side. If you check the sign on one side and can’t find the stop you need, turn around and check the other side and you will find it there (if you need to change lines in the middle of the trip don’t forget to look for the station in which you make the change and NOT your final destination), if you can’t find your stop on the other side either it means you need to take a second look, or that you might have ended up on the wrong platform/line. Looking at the final stop of each train is another good indicator to help you figure out if you are on the right side of the train.

*** Notice that the northern line (black) splits in two, if you want to use it to go to Camden Town (and you really do, trust me on that, Camden is awesome) it is not a problem as both sides arrive in Camden Town, however to get to stops on a specific side you need to pay attention you are on the right side (either Via Bank or Via Charing Cross) because if you are on the wrong side you will need to change a couple of times to get to your stop, all you need is to pay a bit of attention. ***

Getting In Touch

Nowadays people like to stay connected, posting statuses on Facebook, sharing photos on Instagram etc’. While traveling, having the internet at our fingertips makes it easier to get around, navigate, book a cab and make plans with friends. While many people like to book an internet package in their own country, I prefer buying a local sim card as I find they are often cheaper and give you better coverage. In London you can buy them in a vending machine at the airport (6GB by Vodafone for £20 or 12GB for £30) or via every mobile shop on the high street. If you do decide to get a local sim card at the shops I highly recommend going to a mobile company shop (O2, 3, Vodafone etc’) and not shops that combine all the companies together (Carphone Warehouse, Phones4You etc’) as they are usually more expensive.

That is it my traveling friends, you are now ready to explore and discover my favorite city in the whole world. The next post will give you a full trip plan for the London beginner, it will include what I find to be the “must see” and also several things I know people like to see then they visit London for the first time. Feel free to copy it, take ideas from it and of course, ask me anything you wish to know about it 🙂

Go wander, your Traveling Unicorn x

“Passport and Boarding Pass Please” – The Traveling Unicorn’s Full Pre-Flight Guide

I travel A LOT! As much as I possibly can, I find it hard to breath if I don’t have a plane ticket booked and ready. Right now, as I write this blog I have 3 tickets for this year, and I promise to share these adventures with you when they happen.

I love the whole process of going abroad from beginning to end; booking flights, booking a hotel/Airbnb, making a packing list, packing, getting to the airport, even going through security, and knowing that all those will eventually get me to the departure gate, to those magical words: “passport and boarding pass please” and to my beloved window seat on my way to another adventure. Be it an old destination or new, a weekend or several months, the excitement is always at a maximum. What can I say?! I have the soul of a wanderer.

Through the years and during my many trips I learned some things that I take with me, things that make my life easier during the whole process of flight preparation, at the airport and more often than not abroad as well. Since sharing is caring please allow me to introduce my Full Pre-Flight Guide. It has a slightly less story telling vibe than usual and it is a bit more informative but if I manage to save you some time at security or a few dollars to be used later during your adventure it will all be worth it.

Booking a flight – When I come to book a flight I start off with two main websites: The firs and also the one I use as a main resource is SkyScanner and the second which I use mostly for comparison is Momondo. After I find good, potential flights I will always check at the airline’s website directly to make sure that I am not missing out on a potentially cheaper flight if I book directly.

*** Things that I would spend extra money on to enjoy the flight more: will pay up to $100 for a direct flight instead of a connection (which is where you can save money if you don’t mind a connection). Will pay for a window seat so I can be comfortable. If I need luggage I will pay for it while booking the flight as paying for them at the airport costs more (a story about that a bit later). ***

Booking accommodation – For a new location I always research the internet and question people I know what are the safe areas to stay in. After deciding on a location and depending on my budget I will book either a hotel or an Airbnb. For a hotel I will go to and search usually for something central and always something close to public transportation. As with the flights, I always check the hotel’s  website to match the prices. If I have a tighter budget or if there are no affordable hotels in the area I want, I will usually go for Airbnb where the search criteria will be a bit different: good area and close to public transport are a given, for me I prefer to pay a bit more and have the whole flat and not a room in a flat even though I stayed in a room twice before and the families were AMAZING. If I arrive in the middle of the night I will look for self check-in (little coded boxes that hold a key for you and save you from needing the host to be present) and I ALWAYS read at least 10-15 reviews to see that the place is legit. I know there are some horror stories out there but if you take the time and do the proper research you are more likely to have a wonderful experience.

*** If I stay at an Airbnb I try to bring along some nice chocolate from my country and leave it for the host with a thank you note, it is something small that can go a long way towards your review, and even more important, toward the perception people have of your country (“look how nice Israelis are!!!”), also making a host that was part of the reason your holiday was great feel all worm and fuzzy inside. ***

Packing –  I always make a packing list! I use a packing list app, my mom uses a handwritten list, no matter how you do it I recommend that you do. First of all, making a list gets you in the mood for a new adventure 🙂 it helps you focus on what you really need on your trip and also makes sure you don’t forget anything important.

When I was traveling in New Zealand and Australia with everything on my back I learned to travel light, I was sending more and more of my things home until I was left  only with what I really needed. Nowadays, no matter where I go I can fit almost everything I travel with into my hand luggage. If I go on long trips I put the hand luggage in my big luggage and then I have all that space for shopping and souvenirs. I use the amazing rolling method of packing, you basically fold everything in half and then roll it. I s*** you not, you can fit twice as much, packing that way.  I only pack the essentials, a couple of shirts, a couple pairs of trousers, a couple of layers if it’s cold, make sure everything goes with everything and that is that. There is no need for 12 shirts for a 5 day trip, you know exactly what you are going to wear and it is not that pretty shirt you haven’t touched in 7 months.  Long trips allow you to do some washing, short trips don’t require so many outfits and it is always better to leave some room for some fun shopping rather than carrying a million things from home… just saying 😛

Airport Fast-Tracking – You are all packed, ready to go and excited. You arrive at the airport, looking forward to getting rid of your luggage and go have a drink at duty-free but you find that security takes AGES! Now don’t get me wrong, my advice will not fast-track you through endless queues as this is out of our control but it will make sure that when your turn comes it goes by as quickly as humanly possible:

  • While queuing for the baggage drop have your passport ready, out of any cover and in your hand, that way when they get to you, you are ready and not looking for it and delaying yourself and everyone behind you. It also shows security that you are a frequent flyer who knows what to expect and so they might lax the questioning a bit. With that said, don’t try and be too smart for your own good, we all know the questions that they are about to ask but let them ask them, they are not listening only to your answers but also to your body language and being a know it all might actually cause them to question you more.
  • Be nice (which is a good rule in general)! When you come to the baggage drop be nice to the person siting in front of you, it will at times save you from overweight charges just because you were the only one to smile at them that day (based on several true stories).
  • Make sure that both your hand luggage and your handbag only has liquids and ointments under 100 ml, I mean come on people, this rule has been around for ages now. If you want to take it to the next level (which I always do) put all those baby deodorant/lip balm/hand creams in a zip lock bag in advance that when you arrive at security all you have to do is take it out as is and not fish for those little things in your bag. Take your belt and coat off while waiting your turn, try and wear shoes to the flight without buckles, I know all this sounds obvious but it does save time and who of us didn’t get stuck behind someone taking off their belt and coat only after they were told, holding everyone in line just a bit longer?!

The Unexpected – As promised, a little story: I was at the airport on my way to a holiday, standing at the baggage drop I discovered that I accidentally only booked luggage for the way back. The man working at the baggage drop informed me that now I can no longer pay for the luggage at the app/website for £30 but have to pay for it at the counter for £60! While he was talking I went into the app and lo and behold, I was able to pay for the luggage without a problem for £30. After paying I showed the receipt to the man at the counter, he had nothing to say in his defense so he checked in my bag and I was on my way. I learned a couple of things from this incident:

  • When you book your flight ticket make sure you got all you wanted to get for both directions: seats, luggage etc.
  • If you missed something do not automatically trust what you are told at the counter, check apps and websites as this can save you money and heartache.
  • Even if the person at the counter misled you, or as I like to think of it, made a mistake, accept it with grace and a smile, getting angry will hurt no one but you.

And lastly, if all else fails and you end up having to pay an extra fee, accept it as an offering to the holiday Gods, leave the slightly bad feeling at the airport along with your money and enjoy your time away.

Go wander, your Traveling Unicorn x