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England

Money & costs

Contents

Costs

There’s no getting around it – England isn’t cheap. Public transport, admission fees, restaurants and hotel rooms all tend towards the expensive end. A recent survey concluded that Britain’s hotels were on average more expensive than any other European country. But that doesn’t mean an English trip has to break the bank. Staying in B&Bs, prebooking your travel arrangements, and looking out for cheap (or free) attractions will bring your trip budget down to a reasonable level. And don’t forget that you won’t have to stump up a penny to enjoy England’s best asset: its wonderful countryside and coastline. For those on less measly budgets, it’s worth noting that restaurant and hotel standards have gone up a lot recently, and there’s better value for money than even a few years ago.

In terms of costs, London occupies its own price bracket. Backpackers could scrape by for about £50 a day: £20 on a dorm bed, £10 on self-catering supplies, £8 to £10 on admissions and £7 for a one-day travelcard. Anything under £80 for a double room could be considered budget accommodation. Upwards of £150 nudges into the top end bracket. A decent cafe or bistro lunch can be had for between £10 and £15 per person, while dinner is more likely to approach £30 not including wine. Spend upwards of £50 and you should expect something special; shell out £100 and nothing less than celebrity chef standard will do.

Prices outside the capital city vary depending on where you’re heading. Top hotels and restaurants in provincial cities such as Manchester, Newcastle, Bath and Bristol can be every bit as expensive as their London counterparts, but there’s usually more latitude in the price ranges. The further you travel from the big cities, the more affordable things become. In general, budget travellers should manage on £30 a day including hostels and food; midrangers will travel comfortably on £100 per person, allowing £40 to £50 for B&Bs, £20 to £30 for food, and £20 on travel and admissions.

Travel costs can make a hefty hole in your budget if you don’t book ahead – train fares can double or even triple if you buy on the day of travel. Long-distance buses (coaches) are substantially cheaper, often costing half as much as a comparable train fare. Car drivers should remember that petrol in England is heavily taxed; count on 15p to 20p a mile, plus £5 to £10 for parking, and £25 to £50 for a day’s car hire.

Many national and municipal museums are free. Parents travelling with kids should keep a lookout for family tickets to sights and attractions, and family rooms in B&Bs. If you’re staying in one area for a while, renting self-catering accommodation is by far the most cost-effective option.

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Money

The currency of England (and Britain) is the pound sterling. Paper money comes in £5, £10, £20 and £50 denominations, although £50s can be difficult to change because fakes circulate. Other currencies are very rarely accepted if you’re buying goods and services, except for some places in the ferry ports of southern England, which take Euros, and the smarter souvenir and gift shops in London, which may take euros, US dollars, yen and other major currencies.

ATMs

Debit or credit cards are perfect companions – the best invention for travellers since the backpack. You can use them in most shops, and withdraw cash from ATMs (often called ‘cash machines’) which are easy to find in cities and even small towns. But ATMs aren’t fail-safe, and it’s a major headache if your only card gets swallowed, so take a backup. And watch out for ATMs which might have been tampered with; a common ruse is to attach a card-reader to the slot; your card is scanned and the number used for fraud.

Credit & debit cards

Visa and MasterCard credit and debit cards are widely accepted in England, and are good for larger hotels, restaurants, shopping, flights, long-distance travel, car hire etc. Smaller businesses, such as pubs or B&Bs, prefer debit cards (or charge a fee for credit cards), and some take cash or cheque only.

Since early 2006, nearly all credit and debit cards use the ‘Chip and PIN’ system; instead of signing, you enter a PIN (personal identification number). If you’re from overseas, and your card isn’t Chip and PIN enabled, you should be able to sign in the usual way, but some places will not accept your card.

Moneychangers

Finding a place to change your money (cash or travellers cheques) into pounds is never a problem in cities, where banks and bureaus compete for business. Be careful using bureaus, however; some offer poor rates or levy outrageous commissions. You can also change money at some post offices – very handy in country areas, and exchange rates are fair (and usually commission free).

Tipping & bargaining

In restaurants you’re expected to leave a tip of around 10%, but at smarter restaurants in larger cities waiters can get a bit sniffy if the tip isn’t nearer 12% or even 15%. Either way, it’s important to remember that you’re not obliged to tip if the service or food was unsatisfactory (even if it’s been added to your bill as a ‘service charge’). At smarter cafes and teashops with table service, around 10% is fine. If you’re paying with a credit or debit card and you want to add the tip to the bill, it’s worth asking the waiting staff if they’ll actually receive it. Some prefer to receive tips in cash.

Taxi drivers also expect tips (about 10%, or rounded up to the nearest pound), especially in London. It’s less usual to tip minicab drivers. Toilet attendants (if you see them loitering) may get tipped around 50p.

In pubs, when you order drinks at the bar, or order and pay for food at the bar, tips are not expected. If you order food at the table and your meal is brought to you, then a tip may be appropriate – if the food and service have been good, of course.

Bargaining is rare, although it’s occasionally encountered at markets. It’s fine to ask if there are student discounts on items such as theatre tickets, books or outdoor equipment.

Travellers cheques

Travellers cheques offer protection from theft, so are safer than wads of cash, but are rarely used in England, as credit/debit cards and ATMs have become the method of choice. If you prefer travellers cheques, note that they are rarely accepted for purchases (except at large hotels), so for cash you’ll still need to go to a bank or bureau.

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ATMs

Debit or credit cards are perfect companions – the best invention for travellers since the backpack. You can use them in most shops, and withdraw cash from ATMs (often called ‘cash machines’) – which are easy to find in cities and even small towns. But ATMs aren’t fail-safe, and it’s a major headache if your only card gets swallowed, so take a back-up.

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Credit cards

Visa, MasterCard and AmEx credit cards are widely accepted in England, and are good for larger hotels, flights, long-distance travel, car hire etc. Smaller businesses, such as pubs or B&Bs, often only take cash or cheque.

Since early 2006, nearly all credit and debit cards use the ‘chip & pin’ system; instead of signing, you enter a PIN (personal identification number). If you’re from overseas, and your card isn’t ‘chip & pin’ enabled, you can sign in the usual way.

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Moneychangers

Finding a place to change your money (cash or travellers cheques) into pounds is never a problem in cities, where banks and bureaus compete for business. Be careful using bureaus, however; some offer poor rates or levy outrageous commissions. You can also change money at some post offices – very handy in country areas, and rates are fair.

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Travellers cheques

Travellers cheques (TCs) offer protection from theft, so are safer than wads of cash, but are rarely used in England, as credit/debit cards and ATMs have become the method of choice for most people. If you do prefer TCs, note that they are rarely accepted for purchases (except at large hotels), so for cash you’ll still need to go to a bank or bureau.

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