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jun 20 2008

Affordable Europe: 4 travel mistakes to avoid in England

Like my fellow Englishmen, I always love to see Americans visit my country. But over the years, I've seen travelers (not just Americans, admittedly) make some "mistakes." [Please note that I use the word "mistakes" lightly. I don't mean to criticize—I like you! I'm just trying to help you have a better trip.]

Here are 4 "mistakes" Americans often make when visiting the United Kingdom.

1. Rushing around like a chicken with its head cut off. Americans characteristically bring with them lists of cities to visit that are greater than the number of days they have to spare. Slow down! Remember to allow enough time to chill out. Better to see three cities in 3 days each than skim the surface of nine cities, with one rushed day in each. Or if you're only here for, say, four days, consider limiting yourself to visiting a few key sites. (And really, you ought to consider staying longer than three or four days. We're a wonderful country, and there's more to see here than London.)

2. Visiting Stonehenge. By all means, call in if you're passing, or head there if prehistory is your passion. But I’m always amazed that this disappointing collection of stones next to a highway is on visitors' must-see list when it wastes a whole day from London. As a child I walked amongst the stones, but now you can only view from behind a barrier. Visit Stratford upon Avon, Bath, Oxford, Cambridge, or York instead, there's so much more to see.

3. Taking suitcases on the Tube. As a London commuter, I've regularly seen tourists struggling up steps in the Underground with bags almost bigger than they are. As a general rule for traveling in Europe, pack light, and take a tube of travel wash instead of a different set of clothes for each week. Backpacks are pretty painless on trains or Underground, and for just walking down the street. Wheeled cases, of course, regularly have to be hauled up and down steps. And to avoid utter misery, don't bring big luggage on the Underground during rush hour, which covers a broader swaths of time than you may expect.

4. Pre-booking absolutely every activity and train ride. Stay flexible. When you're there, you may not feel like that fifteenth side trip in a row, after all! For all but long distances, affordable U.K. train tickets don’t need to be booked in advance, you can buy them on the day, and go where you feel like going that day. (See my earlier blog entry.)

—Mark Smith, blogging for our Affordable Europe series.

Editor's Note: We originally mistitled this post "6 travel mistakes to avoid." Our apologies; there are clearly only four.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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