We recently went on a family UK travel trip and whilst I’m not going to bore with personal details of the vacation, there were a few key take-aways that I think would be relevant and helpful for anyone planning UK travel.
If you fall into the category of needing a Visa to travel to the UK, firstly, I sympathize with you. Secondly, with proper planning, this need not be a panic or more expensive than it already is, if you plan ahead. What you should know:
I applied using the UK Government website and the process was quite straightforward. I’d recommend looking there first to get the most relevant and up to date info for your trip, like what type of Visa you should apply for, how much it costs and how long it will take.
Set aside a few hours to fill in your application online and do this well in advance. For example, you may be thinking (like I did), “Oh it takes 15 business days, I have plenty time” but you need to factor in:
- You might not have all the info they ask for in the application on hand, forcing you to continue the next day. (They allow you to save and come back later)
- Once you’ve hit submit and make your online payment, you have to schedule an appointment for them to capture your biometrics. There are free time slots and paid time slots available and while the paid options are available from the very next day, if you want to save money, the first free option might only be 3 weeks later. You may still think you have enough time, but
- Calculate UK and SA public holidays in the time equations. There happened to be a total of three during my 15-day calculation that I didn’t account for.
- Get all your supporting documentation together and upload them onto their portal in one session way before your scheduled appointment. They close uploads 24/ 48 hours before your appointment (I can’t recall which) and if you miss out, you’ll have to scan them at the visa centre – which is an additional charge.
- They do allow you to pay quite a bit extra to expedite your Visa, however, who wants to pay double if you don’t have to and there’s a chance it still won’t be ready in time. I witnessed two horror story applications in the queue at the Visa centre. I don’t know if it was their fault or the centre’s fault, common or rare, but it was enough to put me into a panic for a full three weeks.
PUBLIC TRANSPORT VS. CAR RENTAL
Whether you decide on using public transport or renting a car should depend on where in the UK you are going, how many people in your travel party and how much luggage you have. We utilised both.
Although there are lots of public transport options available that are reasonably priced, if you’re travelling in a large group, are going to a city that is easier to get around in a car, have people with you who aren’t going to have the stamina to be on their feet for long, renting a car makes sense. But before you do…
- Choose your car rental company carefully. Look for reviews on how they deal with customer service because if issues arise you want a company who care about pleasing you. I made use of Sixt via Holidayautos and had a great experience with how they dealt with a challenging situation, which brings me to the next point.
- Be realistic when you’re choosing your car size. That means calculate not only how many people will be in the car but how many pieces of luggage you’ll have. Don’t be hopeful that you’ll make it fit, be realistic. Because even if your rental company allows you to upgrade, the next size up car might not be available at such short notice and then you might have to take a 9-seater van. True story – Fun ride though 😊
- Take out excess insurance and make sure it covers everything. This means that if something happens to your car, even a unavoidable stone chip, instead of having to shelve out an excess of +/- £1000, you can claim it back. This is a scenario where you’d rather spend an extra R1000 being safe, over being very sorry.
- Take note of your rental start time and rental end time. Any time after your rental start time adds an extra day of rental charge.
If you’re going to London as in the city, it doesn’t make sense to have a car. Not only will parking be challenging, but the UK charge all sorts of fees for driving into the city. We chose to return the car for our London leg and utilise public transport on recommendation by our London based sister-from-another-mother and host. If you’re opting for public transport;
- Try out the national express bus. I used this after returning my car at the airport to get back into London and it was super easy and very reasonably priced. I purchased a ticket at an easy to find kiosk in the airport, didn’t have to wait long for a bus and the ride was pleasant enough.
- Get an Oyster card.
- It’s valid for buses and the underground.
- The cost of the card (£5) is refunded when you return it, along with any unused credit.
- On the pay-as-you go option, there’s a daily cap – which means once you’ve reached it, it will stop charging you for individual trips. It will make budgeting really easy because you can pre-load the daily cap amount per day of travel and come and go as you please.
Pre-check the weather before you pack but know;
- It can change, and we experienced many days that had multiple seasons in them, layering is safest.
- A 20 degrees in the UK is colder than 20 degrees in Johannesburg, just bring a coat and ignore the British wearing sundresses on a freezing cold (but unusually sunny) day.
Eat what you want when you arrive but plane food is gross and I recommend never travelling without Zissy’s airplane food guide.
Have any travelling tips? Please share them in the comments so I can make use of them before my next trip! Happy travelling 😊