Sitting in my cramped, un-airconditioned apartment in San Jose, CA and daydreaming about my upcoming flights, I could not stop my mind from wandering or my forehead from sweating. All I could think about were cobblestoned streets, sunrises over the Thames, and enjoying that first, sweet breath of...fish & chips-scented air (or really, a long line at customs as I'd come to find out).
I have always been a fan of simply being aboard an airplane, but being on one for 10 hours is another thing altogether. Thus, one of the first websites I checked before departing on my trip was SeatGuru.com to ensure I had not been assigned a dreaded "poor seat" in economy. Sure enough, that's exactly what I was assigned and I wouldn't be having that for my first trip. A quick call to United and that was sorted out, and I set to checking what kind of power outlets my particular plane provided.
Seeing as how it is 2010 and the flight is a west coast-to-London long one, I expected to be disappointed with the three outlets per nine seat ratio. What I did not expect was the zero outlets per nine seat ratio! Fine, I guess I will read.
After speaking with some friends (OK, my mom), I was encouraged to make a few phone calls to my utilities to gauge how much they'd gouge me abroad. The list goes something like this: cell phone, health insurance, and bank. It is a good thing I made these calls as I came to find out some very interesting facts:
1. Without an international data plan, opening an email on my phone that has a photo attachment could end up costing upwards of $40.
2. When it comes to health insurance, you're not always covered internationally and even then you may have to find special clinics.
3. My bank informed me that had I not called them, they would have most definitely put a hold on my funds and assumed my card had been stolen. Apparently, you cannot expect to go from buying a coffee at the shop around the corner in California to the next day buying crumpets from Sainsbury's without raising a little suspicion.
I can handle a lot of pain and I know what it means to sacrifice, but take away the data and geo-location on my phone? Come on! That is just inhumane! How will I know where I am? After discussing my data options with my cell phone provider (we will call them Eighty and Tea, for anonymity's sake), I decided that the best course of action was to simply voyage into the unknown with just my wits, dashing good looks, and several apps that basically provide the same services without using data. Life is hard, I know.
For any iPhone users out there that are planning a trip to London, I would definitely suggest these four apps:
· London Tube ($.99)
· NFT London City Guide ($1.99)
· Currency Converter (free)
· London2Go ($.99)
Now, for the important but stressful final step of figuring out the route from Heathrow Airport to my hotel in St. Giles. I will be honest and say that I did not spend a great deal of time planning for this portion of the trip. My brain could not move past the very fact that by this point I would be on British soil. As far as I was concerned, this part of the trip was unimportant. But oh how wrong was I. The act of arriving to a foreign airport is perhaps one of the most trying times of a traveler's voyage, and I quickly got stuck in the muck of airport security and customs.
Tomorrow: The Newbie Traveler goes head-to-head with the TSA and finally finds that fish & chips-scented fresh air.
[All photos: Andy Miles]