Layovers are common during air travel from one country to another. If possible, I select a flight that has a layover that enables me to explore a new city. If you want to venture out during a layover, which I highly recommend, you need at least eight hours. A five hour layover, may sound nice, but remember wait times in security and customs or border patrol lines can be lengthy depending on the country. Additionally, travel to and from the airport can also take a while, depending on the time of day. To give yourself peace of mind, I recommend selecting a layover of at least eight hours if you are planning to make the most of your trip by exploring another city in route to your final destination.
In the airport, we have a tendency to stay seated and immobile, by either eating at restaurants or sitting at our departure gate. I encourage you to take advantage of the opportunity to experience something new and get out of the airport. In addition to the excitement you experience while exploring a new city during a layover, your body benefits as well when we are not immobile. According to a 2007 epidemiological study by the World Health Organization, the risk of developing venous thromboembolism (blood clots) almost doubles after traveling for four hours or more via bus, train or plane. People who remain seated and immobile during travel for more than four hours are at a highest risk for developing venous thromboembolism. Additionally, people taking multiple flights over a short period of time are also at a higher risk. Basically, if you are on a flight for more than four hours and have a layover before your next flight, it is healthier to get up and move around than to stay seated. However, it is important to note, that the study also showed that the risk for developing venous thromboembolism if seated and immobile for more than four hours is relatively small, 1 in 6000.
To maximize my vacation to South Africa, I selected a twelve hour layover in London, England, because I wanted to experience London for the first time, even if it was only for half a day. The layover did not inflate the flight cost, which made it easier to seize the presented opportunity. I was excited just thinking about seeing the historic Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. To maximize my adventure, I researched other historic locations nearby Westminster during the flight. I know that sounds like a risk, to forgo route planning before I left the country, but the layover was less than a day and I knew that I could make it work.
After making it through customs and security at Heathrow airport, I walked to the metro, the London Underground, or “tube,” in order to purchase a metro ticket to Westminster. I inserted my visa card at the kiosk to make the purchase, and received a notice that my card was not working. I laughed at first, and tried again. Still, the card was not accepted by the machine. I watched others attempt to buy a ticket, and it seemed to be working for them. I knew that my bank should not be declining my card for making a foreign transaction, because I notified my bank where I was traveling to prior to leaving the country. So, I decided I should ask for help. As I got in line for customer service, I said softly to myself, “God, please help me.” I shared my visa card issue with the gentleman at the counter, and he smiled and informed me that my card will never work in the machines, because I am not a United Kingdom citizen. In order to purchase a ticket for the tube, foreign citizens must show their passport, in addition to signing for the payment. The gentleman provided me with a map and asked me where I wanted to go. I told him my wish list that I created on the flight, and he provided me with the names of the metro stops to travel to each location. I took the opportunity to ask him about a restaurant near Westminster for breakfast, and he told me his favorite restaurant to have a traditional London breakfast at a reasonable price.
I happily got on the tube to Leicester Square and found my way to The Moon Under Water, where I enjoyed MOMA! Porridge with fresh blueberries and brown sugar, and a traditional breakfast (fried egg, baked beans, hash browns, tomato, and a slice of toast — sausage and ham are also included, but I follow a pescetarian diet). After breakfast, I walked from Leicester Square to Westminster. On the way, I stopped briefly at Trafalgar Square, to take a few photos.
Once in Westminster, I had my much anticipated date with Big Ben, and it was majestic. I had a difficult time trying to get a full photo of Ben, he really is Big! The energy of the people visiting there was also very welcoming, which I think made the experience more memorable. Surprisingly, it was not very loud considering the crowd. I was off to a great start. After a few photo-ops, I walked to South Bank and looked at Ben and the London Eye from a different vantage point. If I had more time, I would have taken a ride on the London Eye, I’m sure the view would be amazing — hopefully next time!
On my way to Buckingham Palace, I was delighted to discover a park, because I love spending time with nature. I took my time and walked slowly through St. James’s Park admiring the flowers, trees, and geese before reaching Buckingham Palace. St. James’s Park is perfect for reading under a tree, watching the ducks or people watching, but I was on a mission to see royalty. When I turned around the bend and saw Buckingham Palace, I was ecstatic. Buckingham Palace was absolutely breathtaking. I kept thinking about how I watched the Royal wedding of Prince William, and Catherine Middleton on television with my mom, and now I standing outside where the Queen lives. I highly recommend going to Buckingham Palace, you will not regret it.
St. James’s Park
In order to see Tower Bridge, I traveled on the tube to the Tower Hill metro stop. I walked past the London Wall and Tower of London briefly before making it to Tower Bridge. The glass floor at the top of Tower Bridge is one of the main attractions. I recommend booking ahead of time to save yourself a few pounds, and to prevent it from being sold out, which is what happened to me. However, I did not feel that I missed out, because I enjoyed walking across the bridge and looking out to see the Shard and the London Bridge in the distance. London has a lot of bridges, and I think Tower Bridge is definitely worth seeing, because it was built between 1886-1894, and you can see other historic attractions, such as the London Wall and the Tower of London.
London Wall and the Tower of London
I probably could have squeezed in a few more destinations, but I wanted to eat in South Kensington, because it is known for the plethora of phenomenal restaurants. It was difficult to decide where to eat, there are so many good places, but due to time, I ate a late lunch at Tombo Japanese Cafe and Matcha Bar. Their kaiser poke was amazing and very healthy, I would definitely eat there again! In addition to needing to eat, I also needed and wanted to freshen-up in Heathrow airport before my next connecting flight. One of my travel tips that I do not think I will ever change, is packing a small toothbrush, travel size toothpaste, cleansing face wipes, and cleansing body wipes in my carry-on luggage, to freshen-up in between flights. I also like to pack a pair of socks and undergarments because sometimes travel to and from another country can take a few days. I always like to look and feel my best, no matter how jet lagged I am! Finally, it is good practice to give yourself time to travel back to Heathrow, because the tube gets congested in the afternoon. I had to figure out an alternative route back to the airport. I asked an employee before I used my alternative route, just to make sure. I made it back to Heathrow with plenty of time to spare, because I gave myself about an hour of breathing room.
With a little bit of planning, a lot of guidance from God, and practicing mindfulness to keep my cool when my visa card did not work, I was able to see everything that I wanted to see while in London and had a great day! I plan on visiting London again in the future, because I want to see the Millennium Bridge (as seen in Love Actually), eat more amazing food, explore the night life, and take my time at the London Eye and Tower Bridge. Overall, I think I maximized my time in London, and started my trip to South Africa on the right foot!
Please let me know your favorite destinations in London, or if you visit any of the places I’ve mentioned above. I always love hearing from you all!
Travel well and often,