In a strange and bewildering year, the recent referendum on European Union membership held in the United Kingdom has to be high up there on a list of eyebrow-raising events. While it's anyone's guess as to what exactly comes next, one thing became perfectly clear, before the votes were even tallied – even a whiff of a win for Leave and the pound began to plummet.
For better or worse, being in a position to swoop in and take advantage of a cratering currency is nothing new for those calling relatively stable Western countries home – but when it's another Western country, that's where things get, well, tricky. Suddenly, a country notorious for high costs (particularly when you showed up with one of the relatively weak North American currencies) is almost – could it be? – affordable.
Of course, if you knew how to do it – starting with not spending too much time, or any time, basking in London's alluring, very expensive glow – travel around the United Kingdom has always been more affordable than many assume. Glamorous hotels? No. Fancy restaurants? Absolutely not. But if you're really just keen to see the country, it's never been necessary to break the bank. Now, in many cases, in many parts of the country, travel can range from almost-to-downright cheap. Cheaper, in some cases, than traveling in much of the United States.
Obviously, now's the time to go, but even if you need to wait a few weeks – say, until airfares fall a bit from their lofty summer highs – that's fine, too. Those who take a few key steps will be amazed how easy it can be to keep costs low. Let's talk specifics, shall we?
You can go via Iceland if you want to, but thanks to Norwegian, it can be cheaper to go nonstop. A last-minute economy fare from Boston to Gatwick? Barely $250 on the outbound, not much more to get back home. Not bad, to not have to cool your jetlag-weary heels on the tarmac somewhere outside of Reykjavik. New York wasn't much more on the same dates. August gets pricey, but expect the deals to come back – including for Norwegian's convenient western departure cities – starting in September.
Hotels don't have to be expensive – in fact, in many cities, expensive is the exception. Popular and reputable (well, in this country, anyway) chains like Travelodge are famous for advertising their screamingly low rates – in the case of Travelodge, they start at what works out to be roughly $38 right now, working their way up from there. Rooms can be small and there are fewer frills than American travelers might expect, but these hotels do the job and then some, at a fraction of the cost you'd pay in most cities back home. On a recent week in Liverpool, a shiny, modern Travelodge was asking a little more than $300 including tax for a 6-night stay – advance payment wasn't required, either. Looking for something slightly less basic? Other brands – Premier Inn is a standby – offer a similar setup, but in warmer surroundings and for slightly more money. Trendy chains like German import Motel One, Tune Hotel, Z Hotel and others offer stylish surroundings (and often tight quarters, do your homework) for less than you'd think. Of course, there's traveling the way your parents and grandparents did – most cities have at least a few dependable, ye olde B&B's and guest houses – even popular Edinburgh, for example, where summer rates can be notorious.
If you can handle the risk, pay for everything up front. Most hotels now offer saver rates for those willing to pay in advance, but the values can be astonishing in the UK – sometimes up to 50 percent off, if you time it right. (Which means, of course, you can stay twice as long.) Just be warned – as always in these cases, be sure of your travel dates and be sure to show up. You're paying either way.
Skip London. For about $14 round-trip and often in well under two hours' time, you can zip back and forth from the capital as much as you want on the serviceable London Midland trains that serve Birmingham, an unpretentious and rather likeable city at the heart of the country's second largest metropolitan area. Yes, you need to book that fare in advance, but unlike many train trips in the UK, the lowest fares on this particular routing are good for any off-peak trains on the day you selected, giving you plenty of flexibility. Within walking distance of the renovated New Street Station (there's a shiny John Lewis department store upstairs now!), pick from a wide selection of reasonably priced hotels, all just as good as their counterparts in more expensive London or Manchester. You don't have to be the least bit interested in Birmingham to make it your base of operations – there are so many worthy places within easy day-tripping distance, it's a bit overwhelming – but don't be too surprised if you end up feeling rather at home.
Trainline is your friend (when it works). Much like trains in the UK, this handy smartphone app makes your life super easy until – inevitably – it stops working, without explanation. In the old days, you'd get a rail pass to save money. Now, you're sitting on your phone – if your provider back home isn't offering you included or low-cost roaming service by now, you need to switch providers, stat – using Apple Pay to buy, say, a $7 sale fare on Virgin Trains from Glasgow to London. In many cases now, a barcode delivered to your phone becomes your ticket. All you have to do is board. (Careful, though: Some lines still require you to pick up tickets from machines at the train station, which can mean a lengthy wait in line – leave plenty of time if that's the case.) Thanks to the app, despite its faults, I managed to book travel from Gatwick to Glasgow and back with multiple (too many?) stops over a three-week period for a little over $150.
No matter what you think about Uber, you'll stop being mad at it when you realize that in nearly all UK cities, you can cross the city centre and then some at any time of your choosing for a couple of quid. No, really – it's silly. If you're too lazy to hoof it – most UK city centres outside of London can be crossed on foot in, what, thirty minutes, maybe less – Uber can do the job for you, often for less than $5 per ride. Not that you even need Uber – sleek new tram service in Birmingham and Manchester's expanding city light rail network can also do the job for even less. Still, that angst you may be familiar with from years of travel to London – how are we getting back and how much is it going to cost – isn't even a thing in most other cities. It's barely even a thing in London, come to think of it, since Uber showed up.
Ready to make the trip? See our current finds to London, Edinburgh, Manchester, Glasgow, and Birmingham.