As we begin our daily carpool again of driving our kids to school here in Raleigh, North Carolina, a dull thud of reality hits me. We’re not in London anymore!
We’ve been back home only a few days trying to recover from jet lag. I’ve been racing through a tight work deadline for my presentation at a travel blogging conference, so I haven’t had much time to process that our magical two-week trip to London is over and I’m no longer walking around gorgeous city parks, through cobblestoned streets, and across bridges over the River Thames.
I wanted to start our series of London blog posts with a wrap up of why we loved it and why it was one of our best family trips ever. Let us know in the comments what other posts you’d like to see us create on travel to London?
During our first few days in London we had a miracle run of blue skies and warm(ish) weather – even stripping down to a T-Shirt for an hour or so which we didn’t expect for late March.
Those are the moments where London comes fully alive – probably more alive than any other place I’ve been to. I was swept up by London Summer Euphoria and exclaimed several times “I want to move back to London.” And, ”I don’t know how, but London will be a large part of my future.”
Once the typical gray gloom came back that quickly switched to “No, I really couldn’t live here again!” London, however, CAN be a regular part of my future.
We’re so happy now that London is much closer to us than our Australian home. The direct flights from Raleigh will be returning next month, which means, London is only a short 8-hour flight away.
All up we spent ten days in London, and two days each in Bath and Oxford.
The Illusion of Time
Many of you know I previously lived in London for two years. Craig and I visited several times when we lived in Dublin. But, crazily, it’s been 20 years though since we’ve last been there. To say we were excited is an understatement.
Returning to London was magical. I slipped right back into getting around on the Tube (London Undergound train system) and finding my way around the streets that it felt like I had never been away.
For two weeks, I existed in this weird portal of time, where it felt like I was just there yesterday and London was so fresh and alive within me, yet at other moments I’d get stressed because I couldn’t remember the names of pubs I worked in, the addresses of the homes I lived in, or how to get myself back to the most delicious jam donuts I’d have every morning on my way to teaching at a school.
How could it feel on one hand like I had never left, and on the other like it was so long ago that my memory was failing?
I guess experiences and the feelings that go with them never leave, which is why you can tap back into them in an instant the minute you return to those impactful places. But the tiny details of them that aren’t worth remembering, like phone numbers and street addresses, just can’t resurface in a brain that has to keep updated and relevant.
And then there was the whole concept of time that continued to blow my Australian DNA mind as we crouched down walking into a historic 600-year-old pub with low ceilings, or explored the 2,000-year-old ancient Roman Baths in Bath.
Every street and cobblestone alley has a historical story to tell that goes way beyond my concept of white Australian time. That just sets my curious mind off with endless questions and ponderings. I guess we better have an ice cold beer and cider in a 200 year old pub to discuss these!
Boredom doesn’t live in London
As we saw on a wall in the Grind Cafe near the London Bridge in neon lights this famous quote which sums up are feelings on London,
How could anyone be bored in London? Our 14 year old teenager did not complain of boredom once in two weeks.That’s a sure sign that there are so many interesting things to do in London to capture your curiosity and imagination, at any age. It truly is one of the best cities in the world.
This was my first time really experiencing London as a tourist. I kept saying to Craig, “What was I doing for those 2 years living here? Why did I never experience this? “
“Ah, because you were always partying in the pubs”.
Yes. That is correct. I was more focused on Living in London, rather than exploring London. And I was 22 so, fair play.
Now I can say as a traveler to London, it is a fantastic destination for all ages. You’ll never stop learning, you’ll never stop being amazed, surprised, or entertained. Whatever your interests or style you’ll find an experience and a neighborhood to match!
The friendliness of the people also surprised us. I can’t tell you how many times people stopped to ask us if we needed help. It’s pretty easy to spot a confused or lost tourist, especially at a time when international tourist numbers are low.
We also had many people stop to help carry our suitcases up and down the stairs in the tube stations when we could not find a lift (elevator).
I loved the opportunity each time to say to my girls, “Isn’t that lovely. See how there are so many good people in the world who want to help you. Don’t be afraid to accept their help and thank them profusely.”
The Magic of Possibilities
During our time in London, I was living again the life of a young 22-year-old, so excited about her first independent adult experience in a foreign land where the doors of possibilities were first open to me, while at the same time experiencing it now with my own two young daughters and seeing those doors open for them.
It was a magic that lies beyond even the greatest wands lying in Ollivanders.
I loved seeing London, Bath, and Oxford through my girl’s eyes. I was thrilled each time I saw them engage in an experience and say how much they liked it – even museums, which I thought they’d be bored by.
Of course, with much of our trip following the Harry Potter trail, they couldn’t help but be mesmerized, especially when our walks around the city would takes us down alleyways that were the inspiration for Diagon Alley, or past Piccadilly Circus or Kings Cross Station that features so much in the world of Harry Potter.
Can you imagine how they felt seeing that come alive while they stood in the middle of it all in London and at the fantastic Harry Potter Warner Bros. Studio Tour?
I loved how this trip opened up their eyes to the magic of possibilities. It’s why I travel so much with my girls. You only know what you know, and in expanding what they know, they can see greater possibilities and potential for their futures.
All I want for my girls is to experience their lives to the fullest, in whatever way that means for them, and to know they can truly do anything.
Last year someone told Craig and I that we were terrible parents and completely selfish for living the life we have chosen with our girls, especially since we have not given them pets (sigh!!)
What we have given them is so much more. I see it in who they are, I see it in their creativity, intelligence, passion, expressed love and indepencence. I see it in how they engage with life. Even during their challenging times, I see the strength of their character coming through (yet they are too young to recognize themselves).
I know they will thrive as independent adults. I am grateful that we have been in the position to give this to them. So, I’m sorry, no pet could ever give them that gift. Nor will living your life to the beat of other people’s drums just to make THEM happy (who is being selfish?)
I feel that the sacrifices Craig and I have made over the years have been in large part to give our girls these gifts and opportunities. We never remained on our comfy couch afraid to go out and live large, so we won’t’ be listening to people who try to drag us down from that position.
Another thing that thrilled Craig and I in particular, was being back in connection with a culture that is so similar to our own. It was the closest taste of Australia we could get without flying for 24 hours to get it.
We found several Aussie coffee shops with excellent coffee and lamington treats. We sometimes heard our accent in those passing by, which is a glaring sign of how much things have changed because, usually when I walked around London, the most prevalent accents I’d hear were Australians, Kiwis and South Africans – all of it now a rare treat.
We saw memorials dedicated to our ANZAC soldiers and everyone having a conversation with us knew a lot about our country. Our tour guide with Monograms effortlessly wove in Australian stories within the tour. I didn’t even realize I missed that global connection where other cultures really know and understand you.
I don’t mean that to be offensive to Americans, it’s just a very different kind of knowing.
We loved being able to use words like toilet, bin, bill, and lift and not be looked at funny. And I love the loose personality and sense of humor of the English, which is so very similar to our own. Where appearances don’t matter much. You can be loud in your conversations, laughter, singing and dancing, drop a few extra cuss words, rib each other a little, and it’s all just normal. It felt a lot more freeing and relaxed.
We laughed at how Americanized we had become. We’d walk into a pub looking around for the host to be seated, only to realize in the UK, like back home, you find your own seat and order at the bar.
It took us several days to train ourselves to ask for water, as we’ve become so used to having excellent and attentive service in the US and a pint full of iced water as soon as we sit down (by our table server) and then have it constantly refilled without asking.
I was massively dehydrated for days as a result. This was possibly our biggest culture shock! And when there was a water jug sitting on the bar for you to fill your own glass, the glasses were tiny, so I’d have to stand there, chug 4 glasses before taking the tiny one back to my table.
And, warning, the size of the coffees in England are also TINY. You won’t find any 16oz massive cups here. 8oz is the norm!
But the beers are great and Craig loved tasting plenty local cask ales – they’re a little on the warm side, which suits the weather. And the ciders were fantastic. My tip for you is Old Mount Berries Cider. In a cup with ice – delicious.
What we loved so much about the alcohol in the UK is that it’s a low percentage. My ciders were only 4% so I could have 1-2 a day and feel totally fine and wake up feeling great. Craig and I agreed the ABV% in the US is just too high, especially the strong IPA beers which on average here are 6.2% going up to as strong as 10%.
What goes great with a pint of beer in the UK? Well, classic fish and chips or pie and chips which we also love in Australia and can’t get similar in the US. Unfortunately I avoid gluten so Craig took his fair share for the team!
And, we absolutely loved not having to worry about tipping. What a treat it was to walk up, tap and pay, and then walk away knowing the servers are getting paid a decent hourly wage. Sure, the service isn’t as good as the US, I don’t think anywhere is, but it still wasn’t that bad.
While I knew we were having such a magical experience together while we were there, we often don’t process just what an indelible touch something leaves upon us until after it. So now, as I’m writing and processing it all, it’s hit me just how incredible our London trip was!
We had two weeks of discovery and joy and wondrous moments. We didn’t argue with each other, no one complained, and we had many, many laughs. While we did do some social media updates – mostly Instagram Stories and Reels – it was the first time in 12 years where we switched off from everything else and didn’t work while we traveled.
Our evenings were for meals and pub drinks and lying in bed laughing our heads off at British TV and the Australian ones on it. Our mornings were for getting up, having a hearty English breakfast in our hotel, then stepping out the door and exploring. No trying to squash in work before it.
We jam packed our itinerary with all the top attractions and local experiences you’d want in London, Oxford, and Bath. This was a once in a lifetime trip, there will be time for sleeping and rest when it’s finished.
Whilst we utilized the amazing London tube system a lot, we still walked 8-10 miles every day, without any complaints. There was so much to see and do along the way they didn’t even really care, nor protest much, when I told them at our 7-mile point in the afternoon that we’d been slacking and needed to fit in at least another mile. They’d just roll their eyes and giggle and start walking with me.
Savannah would protest each time I’d start walking up or down the very long Tube escalators but would then acquiesce and join me. She and I found a fun way to pass the time together on the Tube – Wordle. I swear I’d never play that trending game, but she pulled me into it. Now I miss our Wordle time together on the train.
I miss our long walks through beautiful English parks and along the Thames River. And we miss our nightly chats over dinner about our day with a lot of giggles at funny things that happened.
Celebrating Surviving 12 years of Travel Blogging
This trip was really about celebrating for us. Over the past 12 years we’ve overcome many obstacles, setbacks, criticisms, crises, and failures to keep fighting for what we believed in and create our dream life for our family. Not just for us now, but for our girl’s future. And to help thousands of people along the way do the same with their own lives.
I’ve only just realized that this trip was taken during our 12th anniversary of our blog. What a way to acknowledge how far we’ve come.
We almost felt like the pandemic would be the thing that finally took us out. But we held on tight. We pivoted, we dug deep, and we worked hard again to survive.
Somehow, we made it through the darkest days that any of us have faced, particularly in the travel industry.
We didn’t lose everything like we thought we would. We may have slid back several years, but because of how much we have grown and learned over the past 12 years, we were able to come back a little faster.
In a world of hustle, it’s hard, and often rare, to actually stop, put your head up and acknowledge your achievements, the battles won, and the scars that tell the strongest stories.
This trip to London was that acknowledgement for us. It was a gift as it has inspired us to do even better and has brought us back to our initial mission and passion of this blog – to share the stories of the people and the countries we visit to help people discover and explore their own paths of joy.
I already have a list of 30 post ideas to write from this trip – really helpful ones.
In three days since our return, I have written our post on Bath, Oxford and completed a 40-minute TBEX presentation – that’s some kind of writing inspiration I have not seen in years.
This is why I travel and have made it the core focus of my life since I moved to London in 1997. Craig and I have contemplated giving it up a lot the past two years and as we said to each other on this trip, as we snuck away to the local Camden pub while the girls played Wordle on the hotel room bed “I don’t know how I can ever give up traveling. I’ve tried and it just doesn’t work. I live for it. There is nothing else that brings me as much joy or makes me feel so alive.”
Sorry girls. Your parents can’t help but sweep you into that vibrating pulse of life.
And to you, our faithful readers and followers, we hope we can help sweep you up into it as well.
Thank you for your loyalty and support. You, as always, were a part of our trip, with the tips you gave us, and the comments you shared with us on social media and via email as we traveled.
We’re so happy we could show you a small part of the UK, and one of our favorite cities in the world. We can’t wait to take you on our next journey, wherever it may be.