How to Day Trip to Stonehenge from London

How to Visit Stonehenge by Natalie Parker

On our way into London from Bath, Mr. P and I detoured at the last minute to Stonehenge.  It’s pretty close to London but we’d never gotten around to visiting before.  Since it wasn’t raining, we went for it!

We figured this all out on the fly from our hotel in Bath.  You can get yourself there pretty easily without a tour!

This posts assumes you don’t have a car.  If you have a car, you can drive yourself to the visitor’s center and even see Stonehenge itself from the freeway.

The Basics

Stonehenge is just outside Salisbury, which is about 1.5 hours by train from London.

You have to get yourself to Salisbury, then to the visitor’s center, which is outside the town.  From there, there is a free shuttle from the visitor’s center to the stones.

Despite what we read online, mud wasn’t an issue.  The paths around the stones were covered and even though it was damp outside (is it ever not?), we had no trouble walking around.

How to Visit Stonehenge by Natalie Parker

Train to Salisbury

Trains leave London’s Waterloo station fairly regularly and serve Salisbury directly.  You can buy tickets online ahead of time or simply wait until you get to the station.  Waterloo station is also on the tube line and easily accessible from other parts of London.

Play around with the train website to understand times and costs.  Costs vary depending on whether you are traveling during a peak commute time.  It’s not cheap.  A one-way ticket from Salisbury back to London on a weekend (off-peak) cost Mr. P and I £40 each.

To the Visitor’s Center

The visitor’s center is outside of Salisbury.  Annoyingly, there is no public transportation from the train station to the center.  Here are your options:

Take a cab.  This can be more cost effective if you have a group of 4.  We considered this so we could make our visit quick, but we were worried about finding a cab for the way back.  We have heard of groups of 4 negotiating a flat rate with the taxi to drop them off and take them back after the visit.

Uber or Lyft?  We also considered this but did not see any cars available when we arrived in Salisbury.  We were there in January, so this may be an option if you are visiting at a peak time.

Take the Stonehenge Tour Bus.  We ended up going this route and were honestly a bit annoyed that the tour bus has a bit of a monopoly on getting to the visitor’s center.  It leaves from the train station and makes several stops on the way.  If you are interested in seeing other sites including the Salisbury Cathedral, this is a great option.

How to Visit Stonehenge by Natalie Parker

More on the Stonehenge Tour Bus and Buying Your Stonehenge Tickets

Buy bus tickets online or the day of.  We were able to buy our tickets with a credit card from the driver upon boarding.

The Tour Bus sells Stonehenge tickets as well as tickets to other sites.  See their website here for a complete listing of what’s offered.

Should you buy your Stonehenge tickets on the bus or through the official site?  If you’re traveling in the low season like we were, it’s easy and cost effective to just buy your bus ticket and Stonehenge ticket from the bus driver.  If you’re going during a busy time, you should consider buying your ticket early from the official site to make sure they don’t run out.

The bus comes with an audio guide for the ride and great views of the town.  Even though we were trying to keep our visit short and were a bit annoyed about having to stop at sites we weren’t visiting (I was pregnant and tired), the views from the top of the bus were great and I’m glad we got to see the town.

How to Visit Stonehenge by Natalie Parker

When You Get to the Visitor’s Center

Collect your tickets if you didn’t buy from the bus.  We bought our tickets ahead of time along with a guidebook and pickup was really easy.

The visitor’s center is really nice.  Bathrooms are new and plentiful and there’s a cafe serving locally sourced food.  We had lunch there and really enjoyed it.

A free shuttle takes you from the center to the stones.  It leaves every few minutes from right outside the cafe.

Free Wifi.  The visitor’s center has free wifi!

Free downloadable audio guide.  Instead of checking out an audio guide, we used the wifi to download the official Stonehenge free audio app.  Find it here on the Play Store for Android and here on the App Store for iPhones.  Download before you get on the shuttle bus and listen using your own device.

What if you have luggage?

There are no left luggage facilities at the Salisbury train station or at the Stonehenge visitor’s center.  There are no luggage restrictions at Stonehenge as of this writing so theoretically you could take your suitcase.  However, dragging a suitcase around sucks.

We left our luggage at the Cat Tavern near the train station.  We read about this online and decided to go for it.

The Cat Tavern is a pub that will store luggage for £4 per piece (cash only) per day.  They will not store luggage overnight.  It’s a bit unconventional but it worked.  Keep the handwritten receipt to claim your luggage!  We stored two suitcases and carried a backpack with our electronics to Stonehenge.

Here’s a map.  Exit the station and turn left.  The tavern is just down the road on the right side of the street.

Other Sites in Salisbury

There are other noteworthy sites in the area that are worth a wander if you have a day.  I don’t necessarily think an overnight is necessary, but if we had more time, we probably would have poked around town and visited the cathedral.  Salisbury wasn’t bombed during World War II (the Luftwaffe used the cathedral as a way point), so a lot of the buildings in the town are really old and interesting to look at!

Pregnant and Traveling: London at 7 months (How’d it go?)

Pregnancy Travel by Natalie Parker (1)

I wrote earlier about booking a business trip to London for when I was 7 months pregnant.  Check out that post for everything I considered when booking.

How’d it go?

It was fabulous.  My pregnancy was not an issue during the trip and I’m so glad we went.  I cannot stress how happy I am that I made plans that I could cancel because it opened the door for me to go if I felt fine.  I felt great!

No comfort issues at all during the flights.  At that point in the pregnancy, sleeping sitting up was honestly more comfortable than lying down (I was still getting used to having to sleep on my side at night at that point).  I had no issues sleeping beyond what I’d normally feel on a flight.

Glad I didn’t upgrade to business class.  We could have done this with points.  Instead, we kept seats in premium economy.  Lie-flat business class seats would have been a waste: I cannot comfortably sleep on my side in business class even while not pregnant.  Business class lie-flat seats don’t have enough padding.

I took several copies of my doctor’s note and medical record.  I carried a note in my carry-on.  Mr. P carried a copy in his backpack and I put one in the suitcase just in case.   My doctor also printed a complete copy of my medical record for me to carry in case I had an emergency.

I didn’t get asked to prove I was fit to travel.  But I’m glad I had medical clearance with me just in case.  The flight attendants kept offering me alcohol on the flight, so maybe it wasn’t that noticeable?

Glad we went with hotels instead of AirBNB for comfort reasons.  We use both AirBNB and hotels when we travel.  I find that hotel beds are more reliable comfort-wise than beds in European apartments, so I’m glad we went with hotels here.  I was also able to have several extra pillows sent up since I didn’t pack my pregnancy pillow with me.  It helped me sleep better and made sitting up in bed more comfortable.

We didn’t do many evening activities outside of dinner.  I think this was a combination of the fact that I would get tired more easily plus that we both have west coast jobs.  We were often in our hotel room answering emails or taking calls after dinner.

We stuck close to London for weekend activities.  Honestly, I was feeling so great that if we’d found a cheapo fare to Paris or Marrakesh for the weekend, we would have done it.  But, the weather was so cold in the rest of Europe during our trip that it didn’t make sense to travel someplace cooler when we didn’t pack for it.  It even snowed on us in London!  We went to Bath and Stonehenge the first weekend and stayed in London the second weekend.

Pregnancy Travel by Natalie Parker

We did some fun kid shopping.  We visited the toy department at Selfridges and picked up a stuffed bear for the baby.  We both had bears growing up so it was a big deal picking him out!

Again, travel insurance is great and made this entire trip possible.  Read more about travel insurance for pregnancy here.

A pregnancy disclaimer:  I’m writing to share my experiences.  Your experiences, resources, and situation may be different.  My choices might not be the best choices for you.  I thank you in advance for trusting that all health decisions were discussed with my doctor and husband. 

How to Use Travel Insurance to Plan Pregnancy Travel

Travel Insurance for Pregnancy

You want to take a trip.  You’re pregnant.  Or you might be pregnant by then.  Does that mean you can’t plan any travel?

No!  Plan away!  But it’s time to learn about travel insurance.

This post is meant to cover the following situation:  I will be pregnant or may be pregnant during the trip.  I want to take the trip, but what if something happens healthwise before or I just don’t feel like taking the trip?  On the other hand, I may be fine so I want to plan on going unless something happens.

This post is not meant to cover insurance to help if something happens to you while you are on the trip pregnancy-wise.  There are policies out there that cover this, but I do not have personal experience with them.  Keep in mind that for many insurance policies it matters whether or not you were pregnant at the time you bought the policy.

Travel Insurance

Travel insurance sounds scary, but it can be a really useful tool.  It can be a bit tricky buying the right policy but it can be done!

Cancel for Any Reason Coverage

“Cancel for Any Reason” coverage means you can cancel the trip for any reason.  It’s more expensive than other travel insurance policies since it covers more, but it can protect you if you can’t or don’t want to travel when the time comes.

Most other policies may not cover you if you knew you were pregnant when you bought the policy or want to cancel the trip because you became pregnant.  Make sure the policy you are looking at is “Cancel for Any Reason” not just generic “Trip Cancellation.”  Pregnancy and childbirth are very often exceptions to general trip cancellation policies.

There is a Tight Deadline

Here’s the kicker: you have to act fast.  Once you make a purchase toward the trip, the clock starts.  This means a deposit, that first hotel reservation, plane tickets, whatever it is where you are spending actual money on the trip.

Each travel insurance company has different deadlines.  The most common I’ve seen is 14-21 days from the “date of first deposit” or the date you first buy something.  The longest I’ve seen is 30 days.  Do not miss this deadline.  I missed the 21-day deadline by hours for my trip to London because I did the math wrong.  I had to go with a company that had a 30-day window and it was more expensive.

How Much Will It Cost?

Lots of factors go into this including the age of the traveler and cost of the trip.  The good news is that most sites will give you a free quote once you punch in the details.

Here’s an example using RoamRight, which who I tend to use.  RoamRight is not paying me to post this and I’m not suggesting you go with them.  This is just an example!

On the homepage, enter in the details for your trip.  Below is an example for a trip for 2 with $5000 in nonrefundable costs.

Travel Insurance for Pregnancy

Three quotes are returned.  I usually go with Preferred because I have credit card and other insurance that covers other items I need.  I never buy Essential because it does not have an option for the Cancel for Any Reason upgrade.

Travel Insurance for Pregnancy

Note the prices quoted do not include the Cancel for Any Reason upgrade.  You have to click down and see the additional cost to add it.

Travel Insurance for Pregnancy

The total cost to insure my fictional trip is $368 ($230 plus the $138 Cancel for Any Reason upgrade).  Simply click through, enter your personal and payment information and you’re done!

Travel Insurance for Pregnancy

I get it, $368 isn’t a small amount of money.  To me the cost is worth it so I can plan trips without worrying that my pregnancy will put me out thousands in nonrefundable plane fares.  I’d also rather spend the money instead of not traveling at all during pregnancy.

Other Tips

I insure only the non-refundable portions of the trip.  It brings the cost of the insurance down.  There’s no reason to go through making an insurance claim on a refundable hotel reservation if I can simply call the hotel to cancel.

If the trip cost goes up, I call and adjust the policy.  I estimate how much coverage we need and buy the policy.  If the non-refundable part of the trip costs more than anticipated, I call the insurance company and adjust.

Please note I’m not an insurance agent and this is just my experience, not insurance advice.  You should do your own research into insurance policies before buying.

Travel Insurance for Pregnancy

Pregnant and Traveling: London Booked at 7 Months

Baby on Board London

I am traveling to London for business soon!  I wanted to go early in the pregnancy but it didn’t work out.  I’ll be taking off on a 10-hour flight just shy of 28 weeks (or 7 months along).  Given the choice between flying while really pregnant or having to go later and leave a baby behind, I’m choosing the former.

What can possibly be going through my head having scheduled this?  This:

Assuming I can until I can’t.  Just like with my trip to Australia, I’m assuming I can travel as normal unless my body or this baby tell me I can’t.  I easily could have not scheduled the trip not knowing how I would feel.  But what if the 28th week rolled around and I felt fine?

Carefully reviewing the rules.  Different airlines have different rules about how far into the pregnancy you can travel.  Some require a doctor’s note after a certain point.  My airline requires a note at 28 weeks.  While I don’t technically need one on the way there, I will carry one.  I recommend carrying one if you’re showing even if your entire trip will occur before the deadline — you never know what a gate agent will say.

Insuring the trip and making cancellable reservations.  All of my hotel reservations can be cancelled and refunded.  I’ve insured the parts that are coming out of my pocket and not the company’s.  Pregnancy is a tricky thing and not covered by all travel insurance policies, especially if you are pregnant at the time you make the reservations.  I’ve purchased a “cancel for any reason” policy which will allow me to stop the trip if I just don’t feel up to going.

Mr. P is coming along.  He’s not coming just because I’m pregnant, though I’m much happier to have him with me.  We try and travel together always, even if one of us is on business if we can swing it.  I’m glad he’ll be looking out for me!

Being aware of my health coverage options if something goes wrong.  Without getting into too much minutiae, I will be fine if I need medical care or emergency evacuation abroad.  I’ll make sure and know what to do and where to go if I need help.

Adjusting our leisure time.  We’ll have two weekends to ourselves.  In non-pregnant circumstances, we’d probably take two weekend trips as far as we could get.  We’re still taking a trip one of the weekends, but it’s a bit less ambitious.  Even if I’m a spry pregnant lady at that point, I’m sure I’ll be tired so it’s a good compromise.

How will it turn out?  I have no idea but I’m hopeful.  I’ll keep you in the loop!

Update: Read all about how the trip went here!

A pregnancy disclaimer:  I’m writing to share my experiences.  Your experiences, resources, and situation may be different.  My choices might not be the best choices for you.  I thank you in advance for trusting that all health decisions were discussed with my doctor and husband. 

Image courtesy Leon Brocard via Creative Commons license.

Gondola Rides in Venice: 9 Essential Tips

How to Ride a Gondola in Venice by Natalie Parker

Well over ten years ago in Vegas, I wanted a gondola ride at the Venetian Hotel.  Mr. P balked at the price and said that he’d pay for a real gondola ride when we made it to Italy.  I was hopping and skipping when we finally arrived in Venice last year, ready for him to make good on his promise.

Just like anything that’s mildly famous in a city, it’s worth knowing a bit before you buy.  Here are my essential tips for having a great gondola experience!

Rates are fixed.  At the time we went, it was 80€ for 30 minutes.  The price was the same for two to six people.  If you want to save, split it among a group.  If you have a group, note there are only two traditional seats in the gondola.  The others will be sitting on small footstools.  Rides at dusk cost more.

Yes, they speak English.  Gondoliers speak well-enough English to quote you the price, sell you the ride, and understand the below.  Don’t worry!

Watch the clock.  Even though rates are fixed, look at your watch to make sure you are getting the entire time you paid for.  To avoid an argument, make a big show of looking at your watch as you climb in.

Singing costs extra.  If you want a serenade by your gondolier, you will pay extra.

How to Ride a Gondola in Venice by Natalie Parker

Gondola vs. Sandalo.  Make sure you are riding a gondola and not a sandalo if you want a gondola ride.  A sandalo is a smaller boat that can fit into tighter canals, which can be a good thing if that’s what you’re after.  But if you’re after a ride in a gondola, make sure you know the difference in looks.  A gondola looks like this (note tall ends) and a sandalo looks like this.

Gondola traffic jams eat into your time.  Your time is fixed even if your gondola has to wait for 3 or 4 other gondolas to clear out of your path.  Do not get a gondola near San Marco or from the touristy side of the Rialto Bridge.  We got ours from Rialto Mercato on the other side of the bridge.  We told the guy we wanted quiet after seeing groups of cruise passengers stuffed up in other canals.  He listened and we had a wonderful time.

How to Ride a Gondola in Venice by Natalie Parker

Gondoliers will point out sites.  It’s sort of like a mini tour.  Since we asked for a quiet trip, we saw some cute cafes out of the way that we were able to find our way back to after the ride.

They will take your picture.  I think they’re pretty used to it!

How to Ride a Gondola in Venice by Natalie Parker

Don’t save your gondola ride for the last day.  Or save it really at all.  You never know how the weather can change.  If the weather is great, go for it!  If you really want to put off the ride, make sure to check the weather online.  If the weather is bad, no gondola rides.  We were there for 2 days: the first day was sunny and the second day was drizzly and windy.  If we waited til the second day, we would not have gotten a ride.

How to Ride a Gondola in Venice by Natalie Parker

Anyone else have tips to share?  We loved our experience!

Want more travel advice?  Check out an index of all my travel posts here!

Pregnant and Traveling: Going to Australia at 7 Weeks

Traveling While Pregnant by Natalie Parker
We travel a lot.  I’m pregnant.  How is that going to shake out?  I have no idea.

We’re making the choices that we can with the information we have.  We were in Australia during Weeks 7-9 of the pregnancy.  That’s not exactly a hop on Southwest from SF to LA so let’s talk about it.

Planning the Trip

I wasn’t pregnant when we planned the trip, but we knew it would be a possibility.  We decided to make the plans anyway.  We used a bunch of American Airlines miles to get business class seats to Sydney.  I figured that if I was pregnant, I’d at least be comfortable in those seats.

What if I felt sick?  What if it just wouldn’t work?  It was all possible.  I decided to not to assume I couldn’t do things.  Instead of not making the plans in the absence of information, we made the plans and decided we’d adjust if we needed to.  I’m assuming I can do things (maybe with some adjustments) unless my doctor and/or body tell me I can’t.

Preparing Now that I Was Pregnant

Doctor’s advice.  We got to a doctor right quick and got her advice.  I was worried about a ton of stuff including the possibility of nausea (morning sickness).  Handily, if it hadn’t started yet, it would start at the latest in the middle of our 14-hour flight.  Awesome.

Nausea remedies.  I brought a pack of every nausea remedy known to man in my carry-on just in case.

How Did the Flight Go?

In the end, everything was fine!  When we landed in Melbourne (SFO-LAX-SYD-MEL), I practically skipped out of the airport because I was so proud of myself.

Staying hydrated and circulating.  The fear of God was put into me about staying hydrated on the plane and keeping up my circulation.  I HATE moving around on planes because flying scares me.  Drinking a ton of water fixed all of that because I was up and down to the bathroom all. the. time.

Sleeping and eating.  Having the business class seat helped because I was able to lie down and sleep for several hours.  I had no issues running out of food because we were fed constantly.

Being the weirdo turning down the free booze.  I didn’t feel the need to disclose my pregnancy to the flight attendants, but I’m pretty sure they thought I was a weirdo.  No thank you, I don’t need an endless supply of wine.  No thank you, I don’t drink coffee (I don’t).  Please bring me water with this fancy dinner.

How Did the Trip Go?

I ended up with zero nausea but got really tired.  I got tired really early in the evening during the trip, which is normal.  Mr. P loves going to bed early and my fatigue forced us to take it easy.  I’m a big fan of that!  Pregnancy is a good excuse for me to rest.  On earlier trips, I’d feel guilty about lazing in the hotel room thinking I wasn’t getting enough out of my time.

I packed my workout gear.  I almost never have room for workout clothes in my suitcase but the baby has priorities.  I packed it and made sure to stay active whether it was walks or some time in the hotel gym.

What I’m allowed to eat.  Being newly pregnant, I was hyper-paranoid about what I was eating.  Australia’s not a bad place to be because the food is relatively safe.  I only had one hormone-induced-cry at the Melbourne airport when our flight was cancelled and there were almost zero healthy food choices I could eat.

So far, so good.  Am I letting my blissful ignorance guide me?  Perhaps.  Am I glad I had an excuse to purchase an adorable koala rattle?  You bet.

A pregnancy disclaimer:  I’m writing to share my experiences.  Your experiences, resources, and situation may be different.  My choices might not be the best choices for you.  I thank you in advance for trusting that all health decisions were discussed with my doctor and husband. 

5 Important Travel Things You Need to Keep in the Cloud

Passports by Natalie Parker

Going somewhere?  Planning on going somewhere?  Save yourself a ton of time and aggravation by keeping important travel things saved in the cloud.

By cloud, I mean stored with an online service that you can access from any computer or mobile device.  I use Google Drive but you can also use Evernote, Dropbox, or Microsoft OneDrive.

Storing these things online means you can access them from any device no matter where you are as long as you have an internet connection:

Important ID numbers.  Mr. P and I have a shared Google spreadsheet that contains all important travel ID numbers.  This includes: passport numbers and expiration dates, Known Traveler Numbers (for Global Entry / TSA PreCheck), and every single airline or hotel loyalty number.  The amount of times we have to copy/paste these numbers into online reservations is absurd.  Keeping them shared in the cloud means we can make, check, or edit reservations from anywhere.

Scan of passport photo page.  This will become so freaking useful you’ll wonder why you didn’t have it saved before.  While most of the time you’ll just need your passport number and expiration date, sometimes you will need an actual copy of the photo page.  Sometimes you’ll need info that you won’t have saved with your ID numbers, like when a visa application asks you for the “issuing agency” for your passport.

Event or attraction tickets.  Save copies of any event or attraction tickets just in case you lose or forget to pack your copies.  For my current trip, we are going to two sporting events and I have printed copies as well as PDFs on Google Drive.

Recent passport photo.  These are frequently needed for online visa applications and the like.  If you aren’t a kid who’s growing like a weed, a good digital passport photo can last a while.  Mr. P was getting his international driving permit the other day and assumed I could just print a photo for it.  I didn’t remember to save the last one.  Grrr.  I had to whip out the camera and take, size, and print two copies in under 10 minutes.  Lesson learned.

Here are the State Department’s rules for taking a passport photo, which generally should work for other visa photo needs.

Visas or visa information.  True story:  I didn’t realize until we landed in Istanbul that I forgot to print our Turkish visas.  I got them months before the trip and freaking forgot to print them.  While we were taxiing, I pulled up PDFs of the visas on my phone.  After deplaning, I was able to punch the visa numbers into a machine and print copies before immigration.  Boo-yah!

Start this before your next trip and you will thank yourself!