British Travels: The Biggest Disasters From Our Monthlong Trip to Britain For Your Amusement and Education

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This stroller saved our lives.

As many of our followers know, we spent a month in Britain from mid-December 2013 to mid-January. It was a whirlwind trip that was very enjoyable – but it also had a few disasters we thought we’d share. Not everything goes according to plan. Every blunder is a learning experience to improve our next trip (and we are always planning our next trip). So, take our lessons to help you plan your next trip to Britain.

Not realizing how much would be closed

This is a big one. As we were planning the things we wanted to do on our trip, we should have done something as simple as check to make sure all the attractions we wanted to visit would be open. We just assumed they would be and we had quite a shock when we discovered that half the things we wanted to do were in fact closed for the winter. This left us scrambling to find other things to do and a bit disappointed really that some things we’d always wanted to do, would have to wait for another trip.

Scratching the Rental Car

We had our rental car (or hire car as the Brits say) for 3 weeks. That’s a long time to drive a large family car down narrow country lanes and a lot of reversing out of driveways. Let’s just say that while the car didn’t have any major incidents, some (notable) scratches did occur. If we hadn’t had a prior arrangement with our rental car company, we would have been stuck with a $700 repair bill until our credit card insurance paid us back. Rental car companies take scratches seriously, very seriously.

Taking One Stroller for Two Kids

We knew traveling with two young children would be a challenge and we put a lot of energy into planning what gear to bring. Anglotopia Jr was almost three during the trip and Miss Anglotopia was just 8 months old. Since Anglotopia Jr pretty much walked everywhere at that point, we thought we could get away with taking one stroller and whenever he needed it, Mum could wear the baby in a wrap. We learned how big a mistake this was on day 2 of our trip when a long walk led to a Meltdown of Epic Proportions. A quick taxi ride to Mothercare later, we bought their cheapest stroller and the whole rest of the trip went a little smoother because of it. When the trip was over, we gave it to our friends so they could offer it to guests of their cottage and hopefully we’ll be able to use it again as well. Lesson Learned, take two strollers anyway.

Not spending enough time with friends

We’re averaging about 1 trip to Britain every 18 months or so and one thing we never get enough of is time with our friends. Since we rarely get to see them – we’re always a little sad that we didn’t spend enough time with them before we ventured home. All the more reason to go back! What’s funny is that when we started traveling to Britain 11 years ago, we had no friends there and over the last decade we’ve made a few good friends and now when we book our trips, we’re more excited about seeing our friends than seeing Britain!

The Broken Computer Saga

Anglotopia is an internet business and a mobile one at that. Armed with a laptop, I can run our business from anywhere, which gives us the freedom to travel like we do. Things were going very smoothly during the London portion of our trip until my computer had a run-in with my toddler and a cup of tea. The computer got fried. I’ll save you the whole sad story, but it took nearly two weeks to get it fixed by Apple – it didn’t help that this was over the Christmas holidays. The cost of the repair wrecked our trip budget but thankfully some Anglotopia readers donated enough money to cover the costs. We had a temporary computer from friends that allowed us to keep things running at a bare minimum. I was very happy when I got the computer back on New Year’s Day. The irony is that it still wasn’t really fixed and worked strangely for the rest of the trip, when I took it to the Apple Store upon our return to the states, they fixed it properly but I had an odd souvenir, the computer now has a UK Keyboard, which has a different layout than a USA keyboard. Takes some getting used to! Lesson: keep my cup of tea away from my toddler and my computer.

Not Researching good WiFi

When choosing a place to stay, I need to do a little more research into the WiFi on offer since I need it to run our business. The last place we stayed in advertised WiFi but I didn’t read the fine print that said basically “we’re on a farm in the country and it’s spotty” – they weren’t kidding. We went a little stir crazy without properly working WiFi and had to take the computer out with us on our days out to leech Free WiFi to get valuable work done. Despite this, I still managed to get our new t-shirt business Anglotees launched (an entirely new business – one day I’ll write an article about this, it deserves more than a sentence). So, the lesson is, when your business depends on WiFi, actually ask tough questions about the reliability of the WiFi on offer.

Not Budgeting Well Enough

I’m sure we’re all guilty of this. While we paid for most of the trip in advance and budgeted for our expected costs, the trip still cost way more than we budgeted. This caused a cash crunch while abroad which caused a lot of stress and reduced some of the fun factor (‘we can’t go do this today because we have no money’). It didn’t help that December ended up being a bad month for Anglotopia (about 40% less revenue than we usually make) so our budgets combined with unexpected expenses and blunders, really hurt us when we got back. Which leads me too…

Putting Off Pre-Trip Problems Until After the Trip

A few problems arose before our trip that were large enough but not urgent enough to be dealt with right away. To give you a few examples. A tire on our van had a slow leak, but it was drivable, you just occasionally needed to top it up with air. Well, guess what happened two days after our return? A total flat. Two new tires needed. Before the trip, our small Honda was having trouble starting. We rarely used the car so we figured we’d sort it out when we returned. When we returned it wasn’t running at all. It sat in our driveway until last week because we were so broke after our trip that we just couldn’t fix it. So, before the trip, based on our cash-flow projections, we would have been fine with these ‘post-trip’ problems we put off. But as we said above, the trip cost more than we planned and business took a negative turn we’re only now recovering from so those problems persisted! Don’t put them off!

Not scheduling enough stuff enough in advance for workload

One of the great things about a lot of the stuff we do is that you can schedule most things in advance so that if I have to be out for the day, our articles still go out and traffic still comes to our website and our Facebook page stays active. We were so busy before we left on our trip that I was only able to schedule the editorial calendar for the first week of the trip. I figured I would sort the rest once we got there. Well, then the computer broke and we became busy making the most of our trip. Our site, Facebook, Twitter, etc was very inactive for most of our trip and that’s just not a good thing. This led to lower traffic for our website, which didn’t help our ad revenue problems. For future trips, I need to plan more in advance and have more stuff ready to go out.

Not Knowing What to do When our Kids Got Sick

This was a little scary for us as parents of young children. All four of us got sick at some point on the trip with various maladies. At home, we know what do to. We know what to buy and what medicine and who to call when there’s trouble. In Britain, all the medicines are different, you don’t have a doctor to call. We certainly didn’t have any life-threatening emergencies, but that uncertainly is stressful. Especially when your kid inexplicably throws up all over the wood floors of a 300 year old pub in the Cotswolds. Thankfully, our friends were on hand to help.

Forgetting to stop the mail

We planned to stop our mail while we were gone. When I went to do it, I learned you can only do it for 30 days and we were going to be for 33. So, I made a note to do it once we got to London. I forgot. Our poor cat sitter had to gather our mail for our whole trip.

Starting a new business from a cottage with spotty wifi

When I came up with the business plan for Anglotees last year, I knew I needed to start it as close to the first of the year for several reasons – since we were doing 1 shirt a week – missing any weeks would lose us money. And since Downton Abbey was coming back the first weekend of January, I wanted to launch with a Downton Abbey Shirt. This meant that I would be launching an entirely new business while on our trip. No worries, I thought. The work wouldn’t take more than a day of hard graft in front of the computer. I did as much pre-work before I left and had the first t-shirt design finished. I just needed to get everything setup and going. Well, as I wrote above, spotty WiFi made this quite a challenge. But I got Anglotees launched on time and it was a huge hit – which greatly improved our cashflow on the last part of the trip. Next time, I won’t plan a business launch around a trip!

Overpacking and spending too much time doing laundry

Despite our best laid plans, we still managed to overpack. We just took too much stuff. This is really easy to do with two kids under 3. The problem when going for a month is that you’re there for a month – chores like laundry will have to be done. This takes time (more time than at home with inadequate European style washing machines) that takes away from your trip. Despite renting a rather large car – we still had too much luggage to fit in the car which created misery. Next time? A single carry-on per person, that’s it. It’s a personal vow.

Missing Half of a London Play

This one is rather personal but it’s one of my low points of the trip. We planned a night out on the town without the kids. We arranged for a sitter to watch the kids (a good friend) and we went to a nice dinner at Barbeqoa (Jamie Oliver’s new Steakhouse) and then to see Perfect Nonsense, the new Jeeves & Wooster play with Stephen Mangan and Matthew Macfayden. The first act was brilliant. But that’s all I got to see. Our dinner (or possibly lunch from earlier in the day) did not agree with me – I have very sensitive digestion which gets massacred on trips abroad and I ended up missing the last half  of the play because I was so sick. A perfect night out on the town in London was ruined. But Mrs Anglotopia looked great she enjoyed the whole play! I hope the play is still running on our next trip so I can see it finished!

Getting Robbed

This one is rather odd but this was the first time we were victims of a crime while we were in London. On the night of Mrs Anglotopia’s special Birthday Dinner, we met up with friends for a nice dinner out. They brought us gifts, which we left in their car during dinner. Upon returning to the flat, we all realized that the gifts were gone. They had been taken out of the car during our dinner and we didn’t notice at first. What was odd is that Covent Garden is brightly lit – so taking something out of a car was so brazen. But it happened. We lost our wonderful gifts and were shaken, but our friends felt truly horrible. They reported it to the police the next day. Later on in our trip, we discovered our friends had re-bought us the gifts, which was a truly lovely surprise and we’ll cherish them even more now. What’s your biggest blunder on a trip to Britain? Let us know in the comments!

Comments

  1. avatarTeryle Watson says

    I love your articles.I lived and worked in the UK for three years in the seventies and loved every minute of it. My blunders included not realizing that most grilled fish items arrived at your table with the head on, not specifying to the local butcher that some parts of animals are removed by American butchers prior to purchasing and above all……not having the ability to pass a British road test.There is
    a maneuver that requires one to back around a corner.I destroyed gardens, scrathed the car side and back into a petrol station…….which earned a visit from the local fire department.My driving teacher lied to me and told me that he was being transfered.I spared the other instructors and waited to return to the States before getting a drivers license.

  2. avatarBuddy says

    I’ve done 2 blunders in England. 1 I made the mistake of booking the wrong hotel. Well I booked our flight and hotel through Expedia, which I have no beef with at all, they were great and made it cheaper to package it; it’s me who didn’t pay attention. I had stayed at the hotel I thought I was booking before. Well I saw what I thought was that hotel on Expedia, so I booked it. I looked up the address and thought “yeah that’s it”. I knew exactly where to go, when I got there they had no record of my booking and I was about to freak out if they lost it and now I had to go find a hotel on the spot. Well it turns out that there is another hotel literally just around the corner with a very similar name; that’s the one I had booked. It wasn’t a bad hotel per say, it was safe, somewhat clean, and they didn’t do anything stupid. The room was VERY small and the bathroom was the smallest I’ve ever seen. I’m 5′ 8″ 200 lbs and the shower was just big enough for me, sitting on the throne you could wash your hands in the sing without really leaning over or stretching. It didn’t affect my trip really at all, so I guess it wasn’t that much of a blunder; I was just in a bad mood for most of the first day.
    2. I almost lost my mom on the Tube on the first day coming from Heathrow to Central London. I’d been to London before, but my mom has never been out of the country, she’s never even really been out of the southeast. So I thought I needed to change lines so I got off kinda late, she didn’t get off and the doors close. I just look at her through the window and mouthed “Get off at the next stop”. I worriedly waited for the next train and when I got off at the next stop she was there; and she gave me an ear full about how to never do that again.

  3. avatarDaria says

    This is not the biggest blunder but when we were visiting Scotland back in February we were out shopping for birthday presents on the high street and decided to get a snack at one of those bake shops that sell sausage rolls…meat pies…scotch pies etc. I wanted to try a Bridie but miss pronounced it in front of the lady at the counter by calling it a “birdie”. And my boyfriend who is Scottish laughed and said ” you mean a Bridie.” in front of the lady . I must admit it was funny and a little embarrassing since I like to get the Scottish pronunciations correct on the first try so as not to make it obvious I am a clueless American.

  4. avatar says

    Thanks for this. It’s so great to read about your journey. We are planning a trip to England over the summer and I’ve been so worried about where to stay, how to get around, etc. your site has been so great while I plan and make arrangements. And it helps to hear about mistakes, since I know I’ll be making my fair share!

  5. avatarMelissa says

    My biggest blunder was getting hit by a bus in Edinburgh. I was crossing the street and the driver ran a light. Though bruised and a little dazed, I was alright. I’d been living in London for the last several months, so I knew which way to look. But he came around a corner. I never even saw him. I am always very, very careful crossing now. And I vividly remember the first thing anyone asking me was not if I was ok or needed to go to hospital but if I needed a drink!

  6. avatarJill says

    I was traveling by train – quite a short trip, maybe 3/4 hr total. I had to change at a certain station. It was rush hour and very crowded. I needed the loo and had time between trains. When I came out a train was in the station & I asked a woman, who was boarding, if this train stopped in Reading. (south west of London) She assured me it did. I get on the train – the doors locked. The conductor was right there so I asked him – & he said, this is a limited stop train going to Penzance. (near Lands End in Cornwall) I had to ask someone to use their cell/mobile phone as a friend was meeting me in Reading & we were supposed to be going to a play another friend of ours was in. Needless to say, took several hours before I made it back to Reading. My friend and I looked at each other & we burst out laughing.

  7. avatar says

    Inadequate washing machines? Really? We moved from the UK to North America and find laundry equipment here inefficient and ineffective!

  8. avatarDeborah says

    Jonathan, I just wanted to tell you how impressed I am that you would share so many mishaps. As painful as they might have been, Im sure they will be helpful to others who are planning a trip over. I think I can relate most to the over spending on the budget. It’s not that we went crazy with spending— everything is just so expensive in London. One night my husband and I went out for pizza and the bill was over 80 pounds just for the two of us!! We found that food was our biggest budget buster. Of course the trip to the Food court in Harrods never helps either.

    All in all— would still travel over as often as possible. Love London, and of course the Cotswolds.

  9. avatarMary Freeman says

    I think my biggest blunder was not realizing that the Tube or trains stop service before or around midnight on weekends. All I know I was darn lucky to catch the last Tube train ( after a show) to carry me back to my airport hotel. I couldn’t afford a taxi for that long distance. I hear they are adding hours for weekend tube service soon, or even already.

  10. avatarDave D says

    “This takes time (more time than at home with inadequate European style washing machines) that takes away from your trip.”

    Do you mean because European ones are “supposedly” eco friendly and don’t put enough water in, if that’s the case, then I would agree with you, for the past 5 years (since I’ve had a new type machine) I’ve been adding 4 litres to the wash cycle through the powder drawer.

  11. avatarMary says

    Checking what time something closes, but not what time the last admittance is! Relying on a guidebook for prices instead of double checking the websites. I’ve made a lot of trips and have yet to stay inside my projected budget, they will just always cost more than you think. My in-law visited and decided to skip the stroller. OK a baby is 12 pounds but add the carrier and diaper bag, plus the hours you’re going to be there, we ended up walking around the museum with a rented wheelchair for the baby, carrier, and bag.

  12. avatarAlexis says

    The US Post Office will hold your mail for more than 30 days, but you have to go to the post office in person to do it. We just got back from a 5-week trip to South America, and our mail was held for the whole time.

    • avatarJosie says

      I was detained in London recently due to hospitalization. My daughter informed the post office via email of the additional weeks before my return. No problems — just six weeks of mall including bills to deal with. Ugh! All well worth it, though, London being my very favourite city.

  13. avatarMary says

    As always, thanks, Jonathan! Have to agree about the money and budgeting. Even thought I count the amount I have to spend in half, I still ran short this last time.
    I’ve also learned to leave the key at the desk, not take with. Especially when you are staying in an old converted manor that uses the original door keys. Thankfully, the had a skeleton key for the rest of my stay.

  14. avatarValarie says

    Pre-cell phones, my boyfriend and I agreed to meet at what I thought was the National Gallery, but I misunderstood and went to the National Portrait Gallery instead. (I actually didn’t realize they were two different places – what a moron!) That was hell.

    Also, we once got on a bus at Liverpool St Station, trying to meet friends at the Sir John Soane Museum. I asked the driver if this bus was going there and he said yes, but they were going in an easterly direction. We didn’t realize until we were in Whitechapel what was going on. It took us an hour and a half! The driver could’ve just told us to take the bus across the street, which was going west.

    And finally, I have a bad vertigo problem, so the Tube can be a nightmare for me. We’ve gotten off at a couple of stations that promised elevators, only to find they were out of order. A terrifying experience.

  15. avatar says

    I’m about to make one, I think…I’ve got a tour leaving very close to the time a train is supposed to arrive, and I’m deathly afraid the train won’t be on time. With any luck that won’t happen!

  16. avatarShannon P says

    Oh man so many blunders! One of the first was during a trip I took with a friend. Luz had never been been further than Los Angeles from our city, San Diego, in her entire life, but she decided that she wanted to do something big for her 21st. She’s from a big Catholic family and all unmarried kids still lived at home no matter their age. I took her to London because I knew she’d love it. We were having a fabulous time! I had warned her though that on the Tube, you needed to get on fast because once the whistle sounded, those doors closed. The first few trips were fine. But then we decided to go out dancing in Picadilly and the trains were crowded. Luz got on but then got off to let someone out. The doors closed! I can still see her face as I yelled ‘Nooooo!. I screamed, ‘I’ll wait at the next stop’ as the train pulled away. I was terrified that she hadn’t heard or that something would happen to her. My fellow riders were all laughing. I was angry with them, but then a guy said ‘Hey love, it’s happened to us all. She’ll be fine.’ They all started commenting about their Tube horror stories. I got off and waited. Just a few minutes later Luz did show up. She was fine!

  17. avatar says

    Our biggest blunder was on our last trip, I had rented a car from here to be picked up at Heathrow.. Avis/Budget said they had no record of it and we were totally conned into an upgrade. Way too big for the 2 of us but we were told no extra cost. When we returned it 8 days later we were charged 800 pounds.extra. We had to pay it or miss our plane home They insisted they told us. It really ruined our trip, let alone our finances!! Read EVERY word when you pick up a car and before you sign the forms. Our next visit is May and we will use buses and trains!!!!!!

  18. avatar says

    I didn’t realize that offering to pay for the next round of drinks would be a blunder.
    My male friend & I struck up some conversation with three male Brits while we sat outside the pub near our rented flat. I was the only woman in the group but am used to chipping in for a round in the US. When I stood & asked what everyone wanted, one of the fellows looked dumbstruck and said “Really? You’re getting a round?” It was only then I realized the other two looked shocked as well. I further compounded my blunder by tipping the barman, I confess to knowing this isn’t done either, but I did it anyway. I was having a wonderful time and wanted to share in the moment, US-style.
    Once they were over their initial shock, I believe I was forgiven for my impertinence.

  19. avatarCorinna says

    Although I’m a Brit, I’d spent my formative years in New Zealand before returning to London in my twenties. Husband’s boss invited us to Henley Regatta, a posh boating thing. On the day it was pouring with rain so instead of the summer dress I had planned, I wore a shirt with fashionable culottes (like a ‘divided skirt’). It was very embarrassing when a steward told me he’d have to ask me to leave as Henley had a ‘no trousers’ policy for women. We walked into the village and bought me a very expensive skirt as husband’s boss had brought us in his car and it was too mortifying to tell him we couldn’t stay. (This was in 1988, not 1888, by the way.)

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