My husband and I will stay for free in a stranger’s beautiful flat in upscale Chelsea, have a splurge each day, and totally immerse ourselves in London without missing out. Only 3.5% of Americans have been to Europe and I’m doing this to prove that limited funds are no reason for you to stay home. To see how we did it, follow us around London beginning tomorrow!
DAY ONE: We survived our Ryanair flight! 3 ½ hours of cramped space and little service, but our two RT tickets Malta/London cost $47.00! Yes, Americans, the EU has dirt-cheap airlines. Maybe you prefer a more luxurious airline but our goal is staying on budget while having the best overall trip experience so it’s worth giving up comfort and service. British Airways would have cost almost $200 more but we’ve saved an amount equal to the cost of our entire trip.
Here’s my boredom-driven, aching back poem about Ryanair:
If at Ryanair, you want to holler,
Remember, we’re here for sixteen dollar.
Politeness was missed,
And no comfort exists,
But I’m in London for sixteen dollar!
The Chelsea homeowners had a great spread set out for us when we arrived at their home later that night. We knew we would become friends.
DAY TWO: Free apartment in upscale Chelsea. How? We registered with three house-sitting sites, built The Pet Affair webpage with a decent video touting our abilities. We are caring for two dogs while the owners take a ski vacation. This is real immersion travel. We are in a beautiful home where we can cook, hang out and feel like we are locals.
Without a set destination, we wandered about 6 miles today and began absorbing the real, organic London. Tonight, it’s big-screen Netflix and wine.
DAY THREE: It’s cold and for the first time for many months, I have chosen not to wear sandals. Walking the dogs over the Albert bridge, I felt like a Chelsea resident. The 14 -week -old puppy is a great way to meet and talk with Londoners.
After warming up in our Chelsea “home”, we walked to the Victoria & Albert Museum (free admission) to get lost in the labyrinth of galleries and hopefully find a new treasure.
We finished our day reflecting on how our lifestyle not only connects us with ourselves but with those around us, and ultimately the world. What a blessing. The puppy chewed my flip flop and I laughed.
DAY 4: Perfect London views. We imagined thousands of tourists at the London Eye (443’ Ferris wheel) and avoided paying $80 by choosing a free view with no lines.
The One New Change Shopping Mall Terrace has a fantastic view and it feels like you can reach out and touch St. Paul’s dome. Photos are all over Instagram but nothing does it justice like standing there in awe with only a few people around. We may go on the London Eye sometime but this terrace is a special treat. I hope you are beginning to understand how choices that take your long-term goals into consideration can lead to a better overall experience.
We finally figured out how to tire the puppy by throwing a ball up the hill next to the Battersea Park Peace Pavilion. With an exhausted puppy sleeping away, we decided to take a step back in time and visit the Sir John Sloane House.
His will stipulates that the house and furnishings remain as they did upon his death in 1837. It’s not only a fantastic experience but also free. Visiting places like this exemplifies our reflective approach to understanding different cultures. It was easy to feel we were early 19th century visitors to Sir John and we left feeling more a part of London’ roots.
After walking the dogs again, it was time for an evening visit to Aux Merveilleux de Fred. The bakers make various brioche pastries and keep them coming out hot and fresh all day. The raisin brioches are astounding. The stars of his shops are the “merveilleux”. These are very light delicacies crafted from meringue and cream. We’ve never seen them anywhere else and they melted in our mouths.
Yes, we love pastry shops but it’s for more than just dolce. Our day was enriched as we absorbed London life watching the people and engaging with café customers amidst heavenly bakery scents. We have definitely deaccelerated!
DAY FIVE: We began the day talking about how we can best inspire others to deepen travel experiences. I think one of the misconceptions about immersive travel is that it is simply another kind of vacation.
Certainly, it is a vacation but I believe ultimately more meaningful. I should add that it doesn’t matter if it is an afternoon outing or a fully immersed trip. Cultural immersion is an intentional, mindful, exploration that has become part of me that results in a purposeful and fulfilling expedition that celebrates the profound connectedness of all people and places.
Modern people are said to be “connected”. But are they? Truly being connected surpasses ordinary communication and results in a mutually supported community which ensures a balanced, fulfilling way of life for all generations to come.
By late morning we were sharing one of Dominique Ansel’s cronuts (a cross of a croissant and donut that Time magazine called “one of the best inventions of the year.”) Chef Ansel has been voted best pastry chef in the world. Cafés are cultural immersion at its best and a place where we savor minutes instead of counting them.
Our Café people/culture watching inspired us to take the bus to Soho then walk to the British Museum. We wandered through the Great Court, with its stunning glass-and-steel roof wondering why only 3.5% of Americans have traveled overseas and how we could help them expand their lives and global view.
DAY SIX: Tonight, we will go back in time to 1954 when Earl’s court was the western frontier of Bohemian Chelsea and the Troubador was born. Free jazz enhanced by Aperol spritz in the place where Bob Dylan first performed in London. Paul Simon, Hendrix, Charlies Watts, and Elvis Costello won’t be there but we care that they once played here. Led Zeplin used to come and jam here after their Earl’s Court gigs. I often ask my husband to sit in with the band but he prefers to just listen.
This morning we will amble about ten miles around London. We’re beginning with a walk to the Michelin House. This 1911 building was built near the end of the Art-Nouveau period but is very much like an Art-Deco building. The fact that Art-Deco style did not become popular until 1930 makes this building twenty years before its time.
The building offered everything the motorist of the time required. Fitting bays at the front of the building allowed motorist to have their tires speedily changed from the stock of over 30,000 stored in the basement. Tires were brought up on a lift and rolled to the front of the building along the purposely sloped floor. To the left of the front entrance, a ‘Touring Office’ provided maps and writing implements for the keen motorist to plan his or her journey.
In an age of declining elegance, this former, working tire center reminds us that elegance is a cultural necessity and not to let it completely go.
DAY SEVEN: A picnic and pelicans at St. James Park. Having lived in and sailed the Florida Keys for years, I adore pelicans There’s little that I miss from my life in the US, but I enjoy reminders of pleasant experiences. Great people/culture watching enhanced our simple picnic. Half-asleep and loving where we were, we almost missed the pelican’s feeding time. Days like this are slow living at its best and we keep getting better at it.
Our homeowners were due back in the late afternoon so we hit the grocery and went “home” to prepare a supper for our new Chelsea friends. The apartment was cozy and we had a great evening made better with good company.
DAY 8: One more raisin brioche this morning and we’re off. The projected 30- minute walk from the café to Victoria Station turned into an hour plus of “Oh, look down there,” and “Let’s go in here” but we still had time to hang out in a pub before taking the express to Gatwick. We had truly experienced London for $197! P
HOME SWEET, CAPRI HOME Capri is home but I also love feeling at home in foreign places. There’s no better way than to connect with the local culture and fully participate in it.
All week, we embedded our lives in London rather than viewing it removed from it’s good and bad. My travel style is counter-cultural and certainly goes against the norm of, “I want to see as much as I can” which implies faster is better. Immersive travel and living have shaped my life so I naturally emphasize slower approaches to most aspects of my everyday being in a life-affirming way. This, I believe, is true wisdom. P
Food prepared in our Chelsea “home” was $179.20 ($22.50 each day) but not part of the challenge budget because we would have spent that same amount at home. Museums visited are free.