We came from Denver May 1st. Here's my list of
Top Ten Things to Bring (followed by Top Ten to Leave at Home):
* a warm coat -- they wear winter clothes if it’s cold (and it is, so far this May). Wool is popular (lots of fitted knee-length ones, like Duchess Kate wears) but so are puffy jackets. We’re loving our windproof Patagonia jackets.
* a collapsible umbrella -- manual-open ones are much lighter than automatic-open ones, so more apt to be in your bag when needed.
* black slacks (and a skirt for women) -- we have seen virtually no khaki-colored ones here. We brought light, stretchy, black travel pants (mine convert to capris) and they’re great, especially since they drip dry fast.
* skinny jeans for women, straight ones for men -- and not your faded blue ones. Women are wearing all colors, men mostly black or dark blue ones. We left ours at home to save weight but kind of miss having them.
* boots (for women) -- they suit the weather this spring, and are everywhere. The most common look is brown boots (ankle, mid-calf, or knee-high) with black tights or leggings. I wish I’d brought mine but at home the season for boots was over. Maybe by June you won’t need them!
* flat, comfortable shoes -- men wear black or brown oxfords or slip-ons, women wear ballet flats in all colors, but I need more support and good black leather flats are almost all I’m wearing (with black tights, see above). Only kids and American tourists wear sneakers in the city. I’ve seen flip-flops about twice in two weeks, and have not yet put on my sandals.
* plain tops -- T shirts (men) and camis or tank tops (women) -- the weather hasn’t been warm enough to wear short sleeves but we’re layering like crazy to keep warm. We each brought a turtleneck and are very glad we did. A man here can wear one with a sport jacket instead of a shirt and tie. Speaking of which, my husband is very glad he brought a wool sports jacket, though he rarely wears one in Denver.
* one or two scarves -- soft, warm, and long (cashmere muffler) or big (pashmina shawl). They wear scarves all the time here. On a warm day in Chelsea a typical young mum pushed a pram by me wearing a T shirt and capris, with a big scarf wrapped around her neck. A scarf makes it easy to adjust your temperature as the sun comes out or hides, or the breeze picks up or drops off.
* an iPad or very light laptop -- free wifi is widely accessible, with no roaming charges like your phone (see Top Ten to Leave at Home). You can quickly access bus / tube / walking routes from here to there, post your photos to facebook, and skype or email your kids. I brought a laptop briefcase as my carry-on and I’ve used it for shopping (cross-body, bike messenger style) and for that umbrella, jacket, and scarf as well as wallet, sunglasses, and such.
Top Ten to Leave at Home
* cell phone -- I’m as addicted as anyone, but we’ve been very glad we left our phones at home. People traveled without them for centuries! No enormous roaming charges will greet us on our return, and we’re paying more attention to where we are. The locals are all on their iPhones, but they’re not on vacation!
* casual clothes like hoodies and T shirts with logos on them -- some kids and teenagers wear these but grown-ups don’t. They wear a lot more formal, conservative clothes and dark colors, especially black. Even if it warms up I don’t think we’ll get out the shorts we packed, at least until we leave London.
* ball caps, in fact hats in general -- unless you need one for comfort (like my bald husband). Almost everyone in London is bare-headed at this season.
* high heels -- I know they’re sophisticated, but when you’re walking on old bricks or uneven sidewalks or even cobblestones, even in flats it’s easy to trip. I don't see nearly as many women on the street wearing heels. Maybe they're all in the cars.
* hair color -- not that you’re going to undo yours, but highlighted hair is much less common and most women look like their hair is probably what nature gave them. A lot more women seem to allow themselves to go gray (think Christine Lagarde, the French finance minister). Make-up is much less noticeable, too, except for the current London schoolgirl fad of using eyeliner to sprinkle fake freckles over their cheeks!
* big handbag -- instead bring a good cross-body bag, like a messenger bag, to hold the laptop or iPad, umbrella, scarf, and your shopping when you’re out and about, and to use as a carry-on. You’ll be walking a lot, if you’re smart. A messenger bag is much easier to access than a daypack.
* big suitcase -- unless you like to pay a lot for taxis. Even with our little roll-aboard suitcases, traveling by tube has been challenging since some stations have only stairs (no elevator or even escalator) and “mind the gap between the train and the platform” means there may be a foot or more to lift your bag up or down, in a hurry. Also be aware that European size limits for airline carry-on cases are smaller than ours.
* driver’s license -- well, bring it as a back-up ID, but don’t plan on driving. Parking seems to be hard to find (at least, we see few parking lots and public garages, empty spaces on streets are rare, and we see a lot of “resident parking permit required” signs). Also, roads in London change their names every time you blink, so it’s hard to keep track of where you are if you're going very fast. Buses are extremely frequent, clean, and comfortable. I also wouldn’t plan on biking in London as there are almost no bike lanes and the huge red buses and other traffic roars up on the bike riders (who nearly all wear neon green safety gear and helmets, unlike in Amsterdam where bikes have the right-of-way).
* your potty mouth -- in the US now, little kids can learn all the four-letter words just by walking through their neighborhood’s public places. We are not hearing that language in public here. People seem to be very polite, in general.
* your Starbucks card -- there are Starbucks all over London, but also lots of new and unfamiliar places to get a good espresso drink. Why cross the ocean if you want everything to be the same as what you’re used to?