LONDON — When in Britain, do as the Brits do. That's my motto for stretching my travel dollar as far as it will go in the British Isles.
After all, the British are experts in squeezing the last pence from their own travel pound, and nowhere do they do it better than when they're vacationing on their own turf.
So I tour with the Brits, stay in accommodations they favor, eat where they eat and look for shopping bargains where they find them.
Other than general prudence, there are two good reasons why I need to budget more carefully in Britain this year than last. One is the less favorable exchange rate between dollars and pounds, which has worked to diminish our buying power here by around 30%.
The other is an economic fact of life in Britain, as elsewhere: Prices tend to go up. If the cost of travel seems high now, just wait a few months and it will climb higher.
Sure enough, air fares have increased in the U.K. by about 6% since the first of the year and British Rail has added an average of just about 8% to the price of a ticket.
Less of a Gas Drop
Gasoline prices, which in some European countries have declined 30% or more because of falling oil prices, have decreased only about 15% here, hovering around $2.55 per gallon.
Now for the good news. You can still travel around Britain without having to take a second mortgage on the house, but you have to work at it a bit. Here are my suggestions, garnered from six months of observing how the British operate.
Wait until you arrive to book your tour of Great Britain. British touring companies that do not have North American connections offer tours comparable to the U.S.-affiliated ones for at least 25% less. Besides, the competition among most travel outfits here is particularly keen just now, which pushes prices ever lower.
One such touring firm is England's third-largest coach (bus to us) outfit, Wallace Arnold Tours Ltd. To reassure Americans worried about late bookings, managing director John King maintains that there are always seats available. Arnold, like many other British tour operators, books to 85% occupancy to allow for last-minute arrivals.
You can send for information by writing to Wallace Arnold, Gelderd Road, Leeds, LS12 6DH, England. Otherwise when you arrive, head for the nearest travel agent bearing the sign of the Assn. of British Travel Agents and ask about this or other British coach holiday tours.
Saving by Bus
For those who prefer independent travel, and 70% of us Americans do, long-distance motor-coach transportation in Britain is an incredible value. Compare, for example, the cost of a one-way ticket on National Express, the nation's biggest bus line, between London and Edinburgh with the price of the British Rail fare. To make the 393-mile journey by train is about $58; by bus, figure $17.
British motor coaches are no antiquated bone-shakers. They're modern and luxurious in the extreme, meaning large tinted picture windows, videos of feature films, stewards or stewardesses moving up and down the aisles serving snacks and soft drinks, tables for writing post cards, individually controlled reading lights and ventilation--the works.
"The coaches are playing at being planes," commented a London journalist.
Additional savings on all National Express coaches can be realized with the purchase of the BritBus pass, now in its second year. For $10 for 30 days it entitles incoming travelers to a one-third discount on all routes. These passes can be obtained through U.S. travel agents.
For Americans the BritRail pass, only available in the United States, is still a good buy if you plan to travel extensively and exclusively by train. It allows unlimited travel for up to a month. The cost for an adult for two weeks in economy class is $175.
Reducing Housing Costs
Next to transportation, living accommodations away from home siphon off most of our vacation funds, and bedding down in the United Kingdom is no exception. The average hotel rate in London for two, including breakfast, ranges from $70 to $120 a night; outside the capital, it dips to $60 to $75.
By staying at guest houses or bed-and-breakfast residences you reduce your living costs dramatically. The average guest house outside London will be about $18 per person, including breakfast. In bed-and-breakfast farmhouses and town houses you can usually find lodgings for $9 to $16 a night.
Even in London, bed-and-breakfast establishments flourish. An organization called London Homes offers accommodations in private dwellings in and around the central city for $15 to $25 per person. For information, write to Thea Druce, London Homes, 8 St. Dunstans Road, Barons Court, London W6, England.