How does a 20-something journalist of modest means travel in the second-most expensive city in the world without breaking the bank?
Here are some tips I picked up along the way:
Finding a Flight
To find the cheapest flight, you really do have to work at it. There are endless Web sites dedicated to discount travel, and after looking at three or four of them, they all begin to look the same.
One newer site that offers at least a sleek look, if not a bigger variety of airlines, is Mobissimo.com. It searches other discount sites and offers discounts if you buy two tickets at once.
The best way to get a cheap flight is to be flexible in your travel dates, and avoid flying on Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
However, since I booked my ticket at the very last minute (less than seven days before departure) and had very specific travel days, I was happy with my $500 United Airlines direct flight found on Orbitz.com that took off from JFK Airport in New York City to London's Heathrow Airport.
Depending on which airport you arrive at, you will have several options to get into the city. From Heathrow you can simply take the Underground, or Tube, and spend $7.20 for the single trip into Central London. Or, if you know you'll be taking the Tube for the majority of your trip, consider getting an unlimited ticket. Three days unlimited travel costs about $34.
If you fly into Gatwick, the cheapest (but slowest) option is to take a local commuter train, which will cost about $16 for the single trip. You can also take the Gatwick Express, which is faster and said to be more comfortable, for about $23.
"Rick Steves' London 2006" travel guide recommends not taking traveler's checks or even exchanging money beforehand, saying ATMs and debit cards offer acceptable exchange rates.
Also, I bank with HSBC, which has locations all over the globe, including London. So not only did I get a good exchange rate, I didn't get any charges for using a different ATM.
Before I left, I called my bank and my credit card company to tell them I'd be traveling, so when I started to use the cards overseas, the activity didn't look suspicious. Several friends had warned me of their trips being overly complicated because their banks thought their ATM or credit cards had been stolen.
More Tips: Packing
Finally, I checked the weather report to make sure I packed appropriately, and sure enough, it was supposed to rain the entire weekend.
I picked up a cheap pair of rubber rain boots and packed my raincoat, an umbrella and lots of socks. I also took a sweater for warmth, a skirt for going out and otherwise stuck to jeans, comfortable shirts and sneakers.
Never having been to London, I took care in picking a guidebook to take along. I'd been to Paris a few years earlier and found that Rick Steves' travel books offered very good tips at getting to see a city as a local sees it, rather than as a tourist. He also offers a variety of trip ideas that cater to every wallet size. The book itself runs $17.
I also picked up a street map of the city that included the Tube map, as I knew the Underground would be my only means of transportation.