In London, I had located over forty promising possibilities, most of them hotels, and most more expensive than we were wanting to pay (most were between £130 and £250 per night — $198 to $380). Aside from sleeping, we weren’t planning to spend much time in our room. A few hotels that were cheaper (£50 to £80 per night, $76 to $122) were mostly farther outside the city (in exotic sounding places like Luton, Watford, and Brentford (40 miles north, 20 miles northwest, and 10 miles west of the city respectively). Paying for parking wouldn’t be an issue since we would have already returned the car, and we would be able to travel anywhere within Zones 1-6 using the bus and the Tube (Zone 1 is the center of London, and the others radiate outward from Zone 1 in bands). Aside from cost, the biggest issue would be how to get to and from Heathrow Airport and our room once we dropped our car off at Hertz. If we had a lot of luggage, we couldn’t take a Tube train easily (especially during busy times of the day when space is at a premium). When I was initially looking for a way to get to Bath, I came across the National Express Coach website. They had a coach (a big bus, like a Greyhound bus, meaning it could carry our luggage underneath) that ran from Heathrow Airport to Victoria Coach Station.
I remembered Victoria Station (from my only other visit to London — in 2001) was fairly close to Buckingham Palace. Several of my colleagues were presenting at a conference in Cork, Ireland. Morena Hockley and I had the same flight back to Houston (after an overnight stopover at London’s Gatwick Airport). We arrived at Gatwick in the late afternoon, and took a train from Crawley to Victoria Station. We walked around, and took Tubes and buses for about five hours or so (until they closed the Tubes at midnight). We barely had time to look at the exterior of Buckingham Palace, walk past St. James Park, eat fish and chips in Piccadilly Circus, and see Big Ben and Trafalgar Square from a double-decker bus before we caught the train back to Crawley.
Since the National Express coach would get us from the airport to Victoria Station, Minay and I decided if we could find a hotel that was near there, we could use Victoria Station as the starting point for each day’s sightseeing in London. Why not just take a taxi from the airport, you say? A taxi from Heathrow to that area could cost as much as £60 ($91). Our tickets on the National Express Coach cost £13.50 ($21) for both of us, a £46.50 ($71) savings. Yes, we would have to walk from Victoria Coach Station to our hotel, while a taxi would have dropped us at our address, so I needed to find a hotel within walking distance of Victoria Station.
I Googled terms like “london hotels near victoria station” and got a little over 100,000 results. Some were paid ads, and other links that looked promising (with titles like “Cheap & Budget Hotels near Victoria Station, Buckingham Palace”) turned out to be links for a hotel chain only a couple of blocks away from the station, but I checked availability and prices for our dates (using their online system), and the rooms averaged £159 ($242) per night. Most of the other hotels in the area were that expensive or more, some in the £250 ($380) range. Too much. At that rate, we would end up paying more for just five nights in London than we did for our plane tickets.
On tripadvisor.com I was able to do a similar search, but limited the cost range I was searching for, so I searched for rooms under £100 ($152). One of the hotels was offering twin ensuite rooms for £75 ($114) per night, so that seemed like a good place to start. On TripAdvisor, 145 people had posted reviews for the hotel, largely unfavorable ones. Rickety beds, paper-thin walls, had to climb over the bed to get to the bathroom, bed bugs. You get the picture. The less expensive hotels all seemed to have poor reviews. It looked like London was going to be expensive.
Then I remembered a website I had run across while I was looking for Bath hotels. It was called At Home in London. It was essentially a booking service that would connect you with individuals who were renting out rooms in their homes. The website claimed that the homes had “been independently assessed by Visit Britain and over 90% achieved 4 stars.” A few of the listings were in the Victoria area. One in particular sounded especially nice. It was in a penthouse flat in Warwick Square, and was described as having “stunning views.” The owner of the At Home in London website had a link to her Skype number, so I dialed her up, and we talked for about ten minutes about our situation and what we were looking for. She agreed that the Warwick Square location would be ideal for us. It did have a double bed, which meant giving up six inches of width, but we figured we could manage it this one time (for five nights, a little less than a quarter of the whole trip). On February 19th, we let her charge the £100 ($152) booking fee on our credit card, the remaining £350 ($532) would be due to the owners of the flat when we arrived on May 22nd. The room averaged out to £90 ($127) per night. That was more than we had been paying for rooms elsewhere, but it was London, after all. With a sigh of relief, we had locked down the beginning and end of our trip, and could now begin thinking about the middle of it and the other things we would need to prepare for.