Melinda is the winner of “Shooting Bears: The Adventures of a Wildlife Photographer.” And here’s a hint about this Friday’s giveaway: It’s also a book, one with a personal-finance/frugality theme — and the author is willing to personalize it.
I haven’t been posting as much as I usually do because, well, I’m bushed. It’s taking a surprising amount of time to shake off the fatigue that followed my three-week trip, during which I pushed myself pretty hard.
One more mention of the U.K. and then I’ll get back to my usual mix of PF/lifeitsownself. Here are 7 things I learned across the pond:
1. Always check the math. When I got to the hostel I realized I didn’t actually need a pod bed, which was the most expensive lodging. (Also, sometimes, the hardest to climb into.) So I went back down to the office and asked if I could switch to an 8- or 10-bed dorm. They weren’t available every day, so on a few nights I was stuck with the pod bed; the rest of my stay would be a series of check-ins and check-outs.
As the desk clerk reported the fees I scribbled a running tab. The line got long behind me so he asked if I would mind coming back in an hour, which would let him check in all those weary travelers. I didn’t mind a bit; being a weary traveler myself, I went upstairs and took a 40-minute nap.
When I went back the desk guy said, “So that works out to 271 pounds.”
Um, I made it 189 pounds.
The guy added, re-added, scratched his head and announced, “Yes, 189 pounds.”
If I hadn’t added it up as I went along I might have just signed for it. Whew.
2. Look for free stuff. One company offered free walking tours out of the hostel, encompassing sights such as Buckingham Palace (from the outside), St. James Park, Trafalgar Square, Green Park and the Pall Mall (a thoroughfare, not the cigarette).
The guide mentioned that it cost more than $26 to tour Westminster Abbey, but that we could see it for free by attending services. A couple of weeks later I did just that, and and got a free organ recital thrown in for good measure.
Obviously the city is full of free museums (although it’s considered good form to contribute, and I did). The people-watching is primo, and so is the building-watching. I spent so much time staring that I began referring to my trip as the “walk and gawk” tour of London.
I wonder what it’s like to live in a city that’s so crammed with beautiful architecture? Probably like living in Alaska: People save up for years to come there and point and sigh over the stuff you take completely for granted.
3. Adjust your expectations. I ate many meals from supermarkets, walked whenever possible instead of taking the Underground (which tried to eat me when I did), brought a bunch of snacks from home and almost always drank water instead of soft drinks (more on that later). The biggest saver, though, was using the hostel instead of a hotel, which allowed me to stay for three weeks instead of one.
Of course, that meant having to walk down the hall to shower or use the toilet, and it also meant sharing a room. On the first day I discovered one of my roommates had just been arrested for importing machetes. Later that day I woke up from a nap to find three more roommates, whose names I promptly forgot. A few years ago, sleeping in a room with people I didn’t know would have freaked me out. These days it just made me hope that the police kept the machetes.
4. Wisdom lurks in the oddest places. This was written on the wall inside my pod bed on Monday, March 7: “Bad art is more tragically beautiful than good art because it documents human failure.” – Tristan Reveur (who apparently is not a real person)
5. Diet Coke addiction can be fought. A lousy exchange rate helps. After I realized I was paying up to $2.40 per bottle for just under 17 ounces, I stopped buying it. Well, except for the small ones I bought in order to use the free wi-fi at McDonalds.
6. Take hand sanitizer. And use it. In the shared hostel bathroom I saw a lot of young women leave the rest room without washing their hands. Eeewww.
7. Some people throw up more genteelly than others. I was brushing my teeth when I heard a young woman murmur, “Oh, no” and then cough. At least I thought it was a cough, until it was followed by the sound of water splashing. At least I thought it was water, until I realized the young woman was vomiting. Another murmur, some more splashing.
The young woman brushing her teeth next to me had been chatting with the ladylike little barfer just a moment earlier. She seemed unconcerned. “Is she OK?” I asked.
“Oh, yes,” said the tooth-brusher.
“But she’s getting sick?”
The door opened and a slightly pale young woman came out, her eyes wet but her face composed. “Are you all right?” I asked.
“I get sick a lot,” she said. “But I’d hoped I wouldn’t on this trip.”
At least she washed her hands.