You can plan and plan and plan like we did for an entire year before we headed off on our world travel adventure. We started our travels in England and in only 18 days of being here we’ve learned so much.
England is awesome. We have loved every interesting, exciting, new and even boring and chillaxed thing we’ve done here. From hanging out working or even watching a movie on the couch with the kids to almost getting hit by cars while crossing the street because we are still looking the wrong way for oncoming cars – it’s been a blast.
Planning a trip to England and actually being here are much different though. Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t have planned so much nor would I have stressed about everything as much either.
We will say that EVERYONE has been super friendly, curious about us and helpful. We have been a bit of a novelty everywhere we’ve been. Not just in the towns we’ve visited but even in the post office/co-op grocery store, the thrift shop, Weatherspoon’s pub, the taxi drivers, drivers and passengers on the bus or just out walking.
People in England are so willing to help us so make sure you ask someone on the street for help or directions if you need it. We couldn’t feel more welcomed by everyone we’ve met and spent even just a moment with to shared a long bus ride with.
For us, being in England really isn’t that much different than being in the States. Or at least in the areas we’ve been to this far – Manchester, Liverpool. Heywood, Bury and Cannock. Sure, there are some big as well as little differences but you have everything you really need. Most foods you are use to, transportation, beds and toilets, and air to breathe.
Be willing to try and do new things and chat with locals whenever possible. This will ensure you have the best experience possible in my opinion.
I’ve put together a list of things that I know you and your family will definitely want to know about.
10 Things your Family MUST learn if you Travel to England
Get a Family & Friends Railcard pass for £30 (Year pass)
You can buy this online or in person at any train station in England (not to be confused with a metrolink or tram station) that has on site ticket sellers. You can buy other passes but if you have 1 child that is 15 or under then you can travel with up to 5 people as long as one child is on the train with you. You can save up to 1/3 off of tickets and also by purchasing them in advance. I’ve been purchasing tickets in person at the Virgin train counter in Manchester Picadilly station and online via the Trainline App on my iphone. The one rub with this ticket is that if, lets say, Shawn and I want to take a train by ourselves then we would need to pay full or advance prices or find another railcard pass to purchase that would give us a bigger discount. After a trip or two you’ve made your money back on the price of the Rail pass. Oh, and you have to have this pass on you anytime you used it to get a discount on the train you are traveling on or you could get fined.
Learn what to say when you board a local bus
Getting a fare on a metro/bus isn’t just like hopping on a bus and putting money in the machine and getting off at the stop you want. So favetrawe’ve veled in the greater Manchester ara This m. ay not apply to other areas of the UK though. It’s much more complicated if you and your family have never used buses in the UK before. Our favorite way to travel is to ask for a Group Day Saver for £9. I found that this site is the easiest to understand for asking for fares around England. https://www.firstgroup.com/greater-manchester/tickets/ticket-prices We always wanted to ask for a Day Saver though because that means that you can basically get on any bus for that entire day, and return, for that one price. Sam is considered a child until he’s 15 so he was able to get a day saver pass for £2.10 for the entire day where mine was £4.60. The bus drivers here take your money, give you a ticket and help you determine what pass you need though so if you are like us then you will have help along the way but you may feel like you are holding everyone else up. One time I asked for a Family day saver instead of a Group day saver (mixed up the words) and he asked how old our kids were and told me I couldn’t get one. I think he gave up trying to explain why I couldn’t get a family day saver (Alex isn’t a kid) so he just gave us a group day saver for £9
Grocery store shopping
We are so surprised by this one – The food at the Grocery stores here are a bargain. The ones that are the cheapest and also have enough variety are Morrison’s and Asda. There is Iceland foods but it’s kind of a weird little store of some frozen meals and light snacks but not great. Still cheap by American standards though. There is also Sainsbury’s which our daughter loves because they have Pecan Pies and no one else has them that we’ve seen. they are a bit more expensive than the others I’ve mentioned but still a huge bargain. So, make sure to get some groceries. Also, they don’t have zip lock baggies like we do in America. They are the press and seal kind and I am not a fan personally but I have found one pack of Freezer size zip baggies so that was good. I have been told that Sainsbury’s has zip log bags sonow iI will have to go search them out. You must go grocery shopping as it will save you on snacks for sure. OH, and you need to bring your own bags to the grocery as you pay at least 5 Pence per bag, sometimes more. And you bag your own groceries everywhere you go. Some stores require you put in £1 into the cart to rent it while shopping and then you get it back when you put it back where it belongs. When asking for sliced deli meats make sure that if you are used to ordering by the pound, you know that 200 kg is about a 1/2 pound. You can find a lot of things you already love such as Frosted Flakes – they are called Frosties in England. Tony the Tiger is on the box and it tastes almost the same. So, really take your time in the aisles to see if your favorite foods are there in disguise.
Ask someone where the Rest Room is
In England they are called Toilets or Loo’s, not restrooms or bathrooms. Shawn was in the grocery store and had to go pee badly. He asked a clerk where the restroom was and he looked at us quizzically and asked if he needed a place to sit down (to rest). Then we realized our mistake and said Bathroom and Loo and then we were directed to the sign that said “Toilets”. So, try calling things what they are.
Learn how to Order in Pubs
I actually looked up Pub etiquette before we traveled but I still wasn’t prepared. When you order food at a pub you don’t wait at your table for service. Instead, you find a table you want, look for the number on it, figure out what you want to drink and eat from the menu and then head to the bar to place your order. The waiter/waitress will bring your food to you but you get your drinks at the bar and there is usually a condiment table nearby to get whatever you need. AND, if you are asked if you want ‘garden or mushed/mushy” this means “How do you want your peas!” We were super confused by this one. I like them both ways and i think Shawn prefers mushed. Peas seem to come with almost every meal or baked beans. Oh, and don’t Tip in pubs!
Get used to crunchy clothes
No one here seems to have a clothes dryer. We are spoiled little princesses in America. Unless you live in a country that is warm with a light breeze for 90% of the year – GET A DRYER! I’ve washed clothes on the line before but not like we are doing here. Towels are crunchy and the locals say they exfoliate your skin while smiling at us with delight. The problem really isn’t line drying things or not having enough fabric softener, it’s about the weather. The weather is just like Seattle. How do people wake up, see the sun out, wash their clothes, get them all nicely hung and then have to take them down 5 minutes later when a fast storm approaches? It’s like this daily here. Then you can take things inside and put them on the radiators but there is only so much room on each radiator right? So, read up on the best practices to dry clothes in England!
Ask for ‘Take Away’
A take out box is apparently much different than a ‘take away box’. They have Take away coffee but not Coffee to go. Learn the lingo so you don’t get as many confused looks or misunderstandings.
Only order food from specialty Restaurants
One of the weirdest things we’ve noticed in England, so far, is how many restaurants specialize in nothing. Most serve whatever seems to be popular therefore the food isn’t very good. Many restaurants serve Chinese and Fish & Chips, Pizza and Indian food, Burgers and Meat pies. Our advice is to avoid any restaurant that can’t make up it’s mind on what it serves. We have learned that basic pepperoni pizza can have a curry flavor when cooked in a restaurant that serves Indian fare. Fish and chips should not have curry sauce instead of tartar or vinegar. Just sayin. Stick to specialty shops for the best dining experience possible. Oh, and McDonalds has kiosks you can electronically order your food on touch screens while the humans prepare you order. You can still go to the counter if you only have cash though. The kids enjoyed ordering this way.
All Handles and Flushers are different here so don’t burn yourself
The struggle to figure out which side is hot, cold or why there are two faucets in one sink is real. Every loo, shower, sink, and even toilets here have different handles than in the US. Here is one video I took of our daughter Alex trying to understand why our hotel room sink had two handles. WHY? How is this even practical at all? It is funny though. And there doesn’t seem to be rhyme or reason as to which side or direction is hot or cold. It’s all a guessing game. The toilets all have button flushers – small button for pee and bigger button for bigger flushes.
Try New Foods and Record your family’s reactions
One of my favorite moments was captured on video. It was Sam trying Black Pudding (Blood Sausage) at a pub in Manchester on our 1st morning in England. I knew what was in it so I was mentally prepared for a bad experience but wanted to taste it none the less. Sam had NO idea what it was so he was totally blindsided by it. It made my day. Here’s the video. Trying new things is something fun and even surprising. I loved blood sausage and I really thought it’d be nasty. I also love many of the other things I’ve tried that are English staples but there are some like Mint Sauce I dislike very very much. Try new meals and items and record them. I promise that you won’t regret it.