destinations, England, saving money, Things to Do, travel tips

The London Pass: Is the Upfront Expense Really Worth It?

I had a great time in Ireland and England! I took a break from writing here so that it could truly be a vacation, but now that I’m back, you can expect a lot of posts with advice for the British Isles in the coming weeks. To start out, I’d like to go back to the very first item I purchased for this trip. I bought it before I bought plane tickets, or even knew what time of year I’d go to Europe: it’s The London Pass.

What I Did With My London Pass

Tower Bridge London
On Tower Bridge. Note the blue London Pass lanyard around my neck. Free souvenir with purchase!

I bought a three-day pass, and those three days were packed! Here’s a quick breakdown, along with the approximate normal price in pounds:

Day One: 

  • Tower of London (normally 28, but the pass also includes a skip-the-line at the entrance)
  • Tower Bridge (normally 10)
  • HMS Belfast (normally 16)
  • The View from the Shard (normally 32)

Day Two:

  • Churchill War Rooms (normally 22)
  • Westminster Abbey (normally 23)
  • Big Bus Hop-On Hop-Off (normally 34)
  • St. Peter’s Cathedral (normally 20)
  • Royal Mews (normally 12)
  • Kensington Palace (normally 20)

Day Three:

  • City Cruises (normally 19)
  • The Fan Museum (normally 5)
  • Cutty Sark (normally 15)
  • Royal Observatory (normally 16)
  • National Maritime Museum (admission is free to everyone, but passholders get a free book worth 5)

Feel free to use my itinerary on your own trip or tailor it to fit your personal preferences.

Although I met my goal of doing an average of five activities per day, I did feel rushed in some areas. A lot of the attractions have fairly short hours (10am-6pm seemed common), so I was never really sure what to do early in the morning or late in the evening. If opening times were longer, I would have been able to see more, plus spend more time in places like Tower of London.

What About Other Cities?

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One advantage that The Leisure Pass Group has over other types of passes is that it often includes transportation, such as this City Cruise on the London Thames.

The London Pass is just one item sold by The Leisure Pass Group. They offer passes similar to The London Pass in different cities around the world. The only time I ever considered another one of these passes was when I was heading to Paris. It offered admission to a lot of the museums that I wanted to see. However, so did the Paris Museum Pass, which was just a fraction of the price. The Paris Pass did offer a few extras, but none that I was willing to pay the extra price for.

To sum it up, out of all the city passes sold by this company, The London Pass seems to offer the best value.

How to Save Money When Buying the Pass

Stonehenge Tour England
Visiting Stonehenge from London can be pricey! But it’s a little less pricey if you use The London Concierge.

The London Pass is a huge expense. The per-day cost was more than my hostel bed and meals combined. Currently, a three-day pass is 125 pounds, which exchanges into more than the $50-a-day that many modern urban backpackers try to budget by. Even the cheapest-per-day pass for 10 days is more than $25 a day, which doesn’t leave much room for housing and food in one of the world’s most expensive cities. So many of us budget-conscious travelers will have to accept the fact that if you really want to experience all that London has to offer, you’ll have to spend more than your usual per diem. You can always balance it out later with some less expensive trips. (I’ve got nearly-free camping trips planned out this summer.)

However, spending money in an expensive city doesn’t mean I’m not going to try to save where I can! The London Pass often offers some money-saving options.

For starters, decide how many days you want your pass to last. Obviously, the more days your pass is valid, the more expensive it is, but the less it costs per day. As a first-timer to London, I found that a three-day pass was perfect for my one-week trip. I fit in everything I came to see (plus a couple pleasant surprises). That left me with a few days without a pass, which were still chocked full as I spent those visiting free attractions (like parks, free museums, and iconic places like Abbey Road), and well as some attractions that weren’t part of The London Pass, such as London Eye and Up at the O2.

If you plan in advance, you can keep an eye on The London Pass’ website to look out for sales. I bought my pass during a sale, and ever since then, I’ve noticed that they often offer online sale prices.

You can also find discount codes online. I won’t share any here since they’re always changing, but a quick search on Google should give you the most up-to-date promo codes. You can combine a promo code with a sale for maximum savings.

One more way I saved with The London Pass was by using The London Concierge. The London Concierge is a discount ticket purchasing website exclusively for people who have purchased The London Pass. You can buy tickets from The London Concierge even before you activate The London Pass. This is where I bought my bus trip to Bath and Stonehenge, making it a good deal.

But Is It Really Worth It?

Kensington Palace London
Feeling like royalty as I wait for my prince on the Kensington Palace staircase? Priceless.

If you total up the amount I could have spent at the attractions I went to during my three-day pass: 86+131+60= 277. Even at the normal retail price of 125 pounds for a 3-day adult pass, I got more than double my money’s worth. Or did I?

As I mentioned before, there were a couple of attractions I would have liked to spend more time in (namely Tower of London and St. Paul’s Cathedral). However, I felt pressured to rush through these a bit so I could fit more attractions into the day and get my money’s worth. If I had been paying directly for these attractions, I would have spent more time at them. There were also a couple attractions I went into just because I had the pass. Although I ended up enjoying the HMS Belfast, I never would have entered without The London Pass.

There were some attractions that I didn’t feel were worth it. The View from the Shard was little more than a rooftop bar with a big cover charge (and it wasn’t even on the roof). Touring Westminster Abbey was okay, but I had a much better time at the free Evensong service I attended there a few days before I started using The London Pass. Of course, every person’s opinion is different, so I didn’t know how I’d personally feel about these attractions until I went there myself. Now that I know, I know not to go back to those places if and when I return to London.

In fact, while The London Pass was good for a first-time visitor to London like me, I don’t think it would be a very good value for a returning traveler. Some of the attractions were one-and-done deals. For those that I would be interested in seeing again, I would plan out my visit ahead of time and try to find discount tickets specifically for those attractions. Or I would just enjoy the abundance of free museums, church services, and parks available to everyone in London. Although you might miss out on a few must-dos, it is possible to spend nothing on attractions and still have an enjoyable time in London.

Conclusion: For London first-timers who are spending several days or more in the city, go ahead and buy The London Pass. Buy a short-length pass (three days seemed almost perfect), and supplement your non-London-Pass days with an abundance of free attractions and sites not included in the London Pass. If you’ve been to London before or are only going for a very short trip (say, a weekend getaway or a business conference where you won’t be available during the daytime), try to find other ways to save on the attractions you want to visit.

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Accommodations, culture, destinations, Foodie, Hawaii, hike, resources, saving money, souvenir, Things to Do, tour, travel tips, Walk

How to Vacation in Maui on the Cheap

Hawaii is known as an expensive vacation destination, and the island of Maui is no exception. However, my sister and I recently returned from eight nights on this tropical paradise, and we did it on a budget! If you’d like to see Maui, Hawaii without the typical price tag, take a few of our tips.

(Note: Although we did get good deals on our flights, airline tickets involve too many factors, such as season, origin, and personal resources. I’ve decided that, because all the variables that went into our flights probably can’t transfer to yours, to leave this expense out. If you want to save money on flights, there are plenty of articles out there dedicated to just that!)

Some links are affiliates. All links are personally recommended by me!

Gear

For the most part, I just used what I already owned to pack my bag. In Hawaii, you can wear shorts and swimsuits year-round, but I also packed a rain jacket for the unpredictable weather changes as well as leggings and a long-sleeve because I wanted to hike Haleakala with its cold summit. Since most of the clothes were compact, it was easy to fit everything into carry-on luggage and not have to pay for a checked bag.

One thing I did need to buy was razors. I ordered a starter pack from Dollar Shave Club, which included a handle, four blades, and some travel-sized toiletries, all for $5. Better yet, I took advantage of a Dollar Shave Club deal on Swagbucks, so I was paid back in rebates.

One item I knew I’d need, but didn’t have was a snorkel. I decided to just rent one in Hawaii. However, before going to the snorkel rental shop, we stopped at a grocery store. There I found snorkels for the same price as a one-day rental. Since my sister and I both knew we’d be snorkeling multiple days, we bought these and made our money back with our first swim. I snorkeled a total of three days and saw some incredible sea life, making it a worthwhile purchase.

Accommodation

We rented dorm beds at Maui’s Banana Bungalow Hostel. This was by far our biggest expense on the island, and one of the most expensive hostels I’ve ever stayed at. But the $51.40 per night was much more reasonable than any Maui resort or vacation home. I suppose the only cheaper option would be camping, but that is only available in remote areas, and I wanted to be close to the action. Plus, the hostel offered more than just a bed to sleep on. Banana Bungalow provided other money-saving measures that I’ll explain through the rest of this post.

Transportation

While most Maui vacationers rent a car, here’s our big money-saving secret: we didn’t drive at all! The main reason I chose to stay at Banana Bungalow was because they offer different tours to different parts of the island each day of the week. I ended up going with them to several famous beaches, Haleakala National Park, and even the Road to Hana. Of course, the drivers/guides work for tips, but these tours were worth more than pricey commercial tours.

Since Banana Bungalow is near downtown Wailuku, we simply walked to town to eat good food and see some incredible sites. Iao Valley is in the rainforest about three miles outside of the city, so we hiked there one day. For other excursions that we took on our own, we utilized Uber and Lyft. As it was our first time using these rideshare apps, we got registration bonuses, and I also used my Swagbucks to get a free $25 Uber gift card. We would just compare prices between Uber and Lyft and go with whatever was cheapest for our situation. (Use Uber promo code jessical42262ue to get a $15 Uber ride for free! For Lyft, use promo code LIPPE15551 for a special discount.)

Activities

Thankfully, most of Maui’s attractions don’t cost a dime. All beaches are open to the public. Swimming is free. Hammocking is free. Hiking is free. Most parks are free. With the Banana Bungalow tours, we didn’t even have to pay for gas or parking. The only activity expense I had with these tours besides tip money was the national park entry fee into Haleakala.

Since my sister’s birthday was in the middle of our trip, we decided to celebrate at Maui Tropical Plantation. We originally weren’t going to take the tour and instead enjoy the free botanical walking paths and my gift to her would be a meal at the restaurant. But then we changed our minds on the restaurant and decided to eat from the less costly coffee and ice cream shops, so then my birthday gift to her was paying for the tram tour. It was $20 per person and included lots of sights, information, and fruit!

Food

Admittedly, this was the most difficult category to keep on a budget, and I definitely made a few splurges. Most food in Hawaii is expensive, so I didn’t want to be paying exorbitant prices for the same food I eat at home. I also wanted opportunities to taste local cuisine. However, I did pack a variety of snacks so that I didn’t have to buy food in airports, and I used these snacks to supplement a couple of meals in Hawaii as well.

The hostel offered make-your-own pancakes every morning, so breakfast was covered. Often while cooking in the communal kitchen, others would make food and offer leftovers to everyone. There were even free shelves in the fridge and pantry, so that provided a few ingredients.

The tours stopped at grocery stores such as Safeway and Foodland so we could load up on reasonably-priced food. These stores have local, grown-in-Hawaii produce sections, so I focused my shopping there. We also bought fresh fruit at Maui Tropical Plantation’s market and packaged goods at an Asian market down the street from our hostel. We even got food at Costco. The restaurant menu had some different choices from our local Costco, but still had $1.99 pizza and $1.50 hot dogs!

We did go out to eat several times, but not to fancy sit-down restaurants. We happened to be in Wailuku during their First Friday street fair, so we loaded up on all kinds of local cuisine from the various food stands and trucks. We ate at food trucks and stands a couple other times, like on the Road to Hana where we split a roadside meal served on a banana leaf. (We passed on the banana bread when we realized it was from a bakery a block away from our hostel. We walked there the next morning and got the banana bread for a fraction of the price!) We also ate at a few walk-up restaurants. We even ate at McDonald’s, but I only ordered off their unique local menu. Spam and eggs, anyone?

Shopping

I got a few mementos from this trip, mostly free. I wrote in my journal every day. I pressed a flower in its pages. I brought my National Parks passport so I could add a Haleakala stamp. And of course I took lots of pictures!

Toward the end of our trip we went to Lahaina, which was a good place for shopping. There were fairly good prices at ABC Stores, where I got chocolate covered macadamia nuts and a bracelet. Out of respect for preserving the natural beauty on Maui, I did not smuggle out any coral, sand, or rocks.

Maui did end up costing more than my typical frugal trips, but we were able to have a good time without breaking the bank. I hope you’ll be able to enjoy Maui on a budget, too!

How to Vacation in Maui on the Cheap

How do you lower the price of an expensive destination? Let me know in the comments!

saving money, Things to Do, travel tips

No-Spend September Staycation

After my August Adventures, I decides to take a month off of traveling. Why?

-I may have overspent on travel.
-My car needed a break. It seemed to be racking up mileage very quickly this summer.
-With a slight change in work, I knew it would be best to tighten my budget during the transition time.
-There were a few projects near home that I needed to eventually get to.
-I needed to reemphasize that there are so many adventures to be had in your own backyard!

So how did I spend a month with zero dollars in my travel budget?

I thrift shopped.

Ebelskiver
In September I bought two ebelskivers, polished them up, and sold them for a nice little profit.

Thrift shopping is my favorite kind of shopping! It’s kind of like a treasure hunt. Even though there were a couple times I walked out of the store empty-handed, it was still worth it to see new stores and the kind of things that were on sale. Since the first weekend of September is the official yard sale weekend in a couple cities near me, I spent half a day checking out yard sales in a rich town and ended up getting some great deals!

Although my initial secondhand purchases were funded by my shopping budget, the things I ended up buying saving or making me more money than I had spent on them. At the yard sales, I bought a pasta cooker and a popcorn air popper. I’ve already used the popper tons to make batches of delicious, healthy popcorn for just pennies. I haven’t used the pasta cooker yet. However, since it doesn’t require electricity, I know it will come in handy while camping and even saving energy at home.

My goal with going to actual thrift stores was a little different. I decided to start flipping cast iron cookware. So even if the pieces were caked-on or rusty, I took them home, restored them, and then posted them on local Facebook sales groups. I sold two cast iron ebelskivers!

I loved the library.

Reading
One of the library books I read in September.

I usually visit the library at least once a week anyway, but this month the library allowed me to fully enjoy my time at home. I explored the DVD selection for some new interesting movies to watch. I also wanted to watch a couple TV series, despite the fact that I don’t have cable, Netflix, or Hulu. (I do have PureFlix, which I watched a few movies with.) Although these shows weren’t in stock at my library, I was able to request several seasons from other libraries in the county. I had them shipped to the library closest to me, so I didn’t have to burn gas going to out-of-the-way places.

Of course, libraries have more books than DVDs, and I enjoyed reading a lot of those too. I call reading an adventurous book a “bookation“, since I can deeply explore a new destination from my own home. (This often backfires, since I usually end up wanting to visit the destination described in the book!)

I went geocaching.

Bench Geocaching
Can you find the geocache in this picture? (Hint: look for a piece that sticks out.)

Another adventure was to be had right outside the library! I used to be really into geocaching, but I haven’t done it in over a year now. Since September was about exploring new things closer to home, I realized geocaching was a wonderful way to do this. All this time, I’ve been walking by a bench outside the library, and never realized there was a micro geocache attached to it! Although I only ended up geocaching once, I have a list of other caches to eventually get to that I found on geocaching.com.

I took two-hour vacations.

Hammocking
Hanging in my hammock on Roxy Ann Peak

Have you ever gotten off of work, only to have another job, appointment, or commitment to get to just two hours later? You don’t want to get there ridiculously early, but since you live a half hour away, it’s not worth going home during that time, either. What do you do? I’ve started filling that time with something I call “Two-Hour Vacations”. (Exact time may vary.)

Ever since I got a hammock, I learned that I can relax and vacation just about anywhere. I took my hammock to several different parks in the area. I even did a hike and hammock on a mountain up the street from where I work. When I babysat this month, we’d often go to playground. If they were conveniently located, I would sometimes choose a playground I hadn’t been to for a long time.

Not all my two-hour vacations were outdoorsy. Last week I had to go to Grants Pass, and was there for about an hour with nothing to do. Since this city is the home of the famous Dutch Bros, of course there was a coffee stand on the same block as me. (Thankfully I had an old Dutch Bros gift card with me, making this an essentially free experience!) As mentioned above, sometimes these two hours were spent enjoying the thrift store or library. Even church is a free experience that is beneficial, relaxing, and can fill one or two hours. And as I’ll mention below, this isn’t limited to regularly-scheduled church services.

I attended a retreat.

Stephanie Strom
Stephanie Strom was the speaker at this September retreat

My mom’s church offered a free one-day women’s retreat mid-September. I signed up to go. Although you could buy a boxed lunch and purchase books from the speaker, that was completely optional. It was fun to spend time with hundreds of other people and be inspired by the presentations.

I entered travel contests.

Anita Renfroe
I entered a text-to-win contest that appeared on this screen. (I didn’t end up winning that one.)

Having a zero-dollar travel budget doesn’t mean not traveling the world! A couple months ago, I decided to start entering more travel contests. Giveaways pop in my social media every now and then (and if you click on them a lot, the online algorithms will show you more similar contests!), so I decided to take advantage of any that had a remotely interesting prize. This month I entered contests for several all-inclusive vacation packages. I haven’t heard back from any of those yet, but here’s hoping!

To balance those out, I entered some smaller contests as well. These weren’t necessarily travel prizes, but could ultimately save me travel money since I could pack them or spend less money at home by using them. I got a couple small free prizes this month. My second favorite prize was Thieves essential oil. (I’ll probably use all the oil at home, but the small bottle is perfect for travel toiletries!) And my favorite prize was…

I went to a comedy show.

Anita Renfroe Selfie
Part of Anita Renfroe’s show included a bit of poking fun at millennials. So during intermission, this millennial asked her for a selfie.

The furthest I traveled this month was to Klamath Falls. It’s nearly two hours away, but I could still make the journey and stay under my gas budget for the month. I decided that this trip would still fit into my staycation goal since I won tickets to see comedienne Anita Renfroe. (The only thing I knew about her was that she performed the YouTube hit “In the Muthahood”.) It was definitely worth it. I even got to meet her during intermission! Like the retreat I went to earlier in the month, I made this cost-free by ignoring the sales table and bringing my own food and water bottle.

 

What do YOU do to make your time in and around home feel more like a vacation? Let me know in the comments!