“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”
I travel a lot and I know how to navigate my life in new places so that I have the best trips possible. That said, on my 3-week work trip to London I found out I still have a lot to learn about traveling. My regrets from my recent trip to London have taught me important lessons that will shape my travels going forward, and hopefully, you can learn a few things too.
I undoubtedly overpacked this trip. I took about 2 week’s worth of clothes. But, I did this to minimize the amount of laundry I’d need to do. I don’t regret the amount of clothing I brought with me, I regret not bringing the right type of clothes with me. I based my packing on summers in NYC and other hotter places, assuming the temperature in London would be similar. However, summer in London was cooler and cloudier than summer in NYC, so my light, airy summer clothes and open-toed shoes left me a bit chilly in London. I ended up wearing some of the same things over and over (and doing more laundry than I wanted) because some things just kept me warmer than others. Besides the weather, I spent most of my time working in a heavily air-conditioned room. I prepared for this by bringing a few pieces of outerwear, but I assumed I’d welcome the AC because it was soooo hot outside. That wasn’t the case.
I would also like to point out that I just get cold very easily, the Londoners looked fine. You may find that you like a cooler London summer. (We’re going to ignore those random heatwaves. I wasn’t there for the big one.)
2) Not Packing What I Actually Needed
For all I overpacked, what I really needed were more sweaters and jackets for those cloudy, sometimes rainy, days and that seaport breeze. I had taken 2 sweaters and 2 blazers with me, but I needed more outerwear. I ended up buying an additional jacket while I was in London. Fortunately, I lucked out and found an affordable jacket (£25) that fit really nicely with the outfits I packed, and with my wardrobe back home.
Having overpacked, lugging around my giant suitcase on the tube wasn’t something I could physically do. Instead, I had to spend money on a few Ubers to get around when I moved with my luggage. This only amounted to 4 Ubers (I wasn’t moving a lot) but, I prefer to be cost-effective. I prefer to take the train or walk, so even 4 Ubers were 4 too much for me. London is pretty easy to navigate so if you travel lighter than I did, you can get around easily and affordably by train and/or bus.
4) Being Overconfident
I had been to London two times before my recent work trip. I went once in March of 2003/2004 and again in January of 2015, both times to visit family. Going back for this trip – I thought my phone was going to work because it had in 2015. I thought the weather was going to be so much better (less rainy and cloudy) because it was the summertime, and summertime automatically means better weather. And, I thought I was going to enjoy the food like I had twice before.
These assumptions were all wrong.
This trip I could text and make calls, but I had no data. That’s right, NO DATA. I was dependent on WiFi in a way that I’ve been before in my life. This really threw off my trip because usually I always have Google maps and the internet at my fingertips. This has meant I can be a flexible traveler, changing my plans on the fly if something goes wrong, ie. trains aren’t working. Without data, I had to change how I traveled and adapt to the new circumstances of my trip.
In connection with my first and second regrets, because I was going to London in the summer I thought the weather was miraculously going to be beautiful just because it was the summertime. This was wholly incorrect and this thinking meant that I overpacked but was still unprepared.
London is grey in the winter.
London is grey in the summer.
London is just grey.
-a poem by Teanu Reid
As for the food… Because I didn’t stay with my family this trip, this meant that the food I was accustomed to from previous trips was now literally out of reach on the other side of town. I was now in a completely different area where seasoning doesn’t get delivered and I was sad. As someone who really enjoys eating when I travel and has tried some amazing dishes around the world – for example, roti and curry chicken in Suriname and Dutch pancakes in Aruba – the food aspect of my recent London trip was really disappointing.
Where I truly went wrong in my overconfidence was thinking I knew way more about London than I actually did. I knew about one tiny part of London that I visited 4 years before this trip. In my future travels to places I’ve previously visited, I will do more research before re-visiting to figure out what some of the major similarities and differences will be between my trips.
5) Not Doing More
My final regret is that I didn’t do more when I was in London. I was eyeing several West End Broadway shows while I was there but ended up not going to any. I regret that decision. I also wish I had ventured beyond London a bit more, to other cities in England and the greater United Kingdom. I did take a trip up to Liverpool, which I loved. (More on that in a future post.) It was a great experience that thought me more about British culture and I would’ve liked more perspectives from other parts of the country. I just wish I had engaged more with the city and the country, instead of just putting my head down and focusing almost exclusively on work. Yes, it was a work trip. But, I think there could’ve been more work-life balance.
Throughout my time in London, I kept a journal and reflected on these feelings, thoughts, and the shortcomings on my trip. I learned a lot this trip, even if some of that learning was sometimes for the worst reasons. All of this will be useful for my future trips not only to London but also as I travel around the world. And I hope some of this will be useful to all of you as well.