How to Book Flights Around the Holiday Season

It’s that time of year again – many people are booking trips around the world to fly home for Christmas. For me, that’s a trip from London to San Francisco – 11 hours in the air if it’s direct. This year, it also includes Conor booking flights from London to San Francisco to spend the holidays with me and my family. Booking flights can be daunting because of the price, but there are a few tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years.

Incognito Window is your best friend, because airlines are scammers and shady-ass corporations. The prices you see are different from prices I would see because they have your cookies – tracking what sites you’ve been on, how many times you’ve looked at flights before, etc. This means they can manipulate prices to get you to pay the highest price possible. Incognito doesn’t track your cookies or sites you’ve been to, for the most part, so I always book flights on Incognito. This is the Google Chrome word for it, but it’s basically a private browsing window. Super easy to access through the “File” tab when you have your internet browser open.

I usually book about 8 weeks out, unless I find a really good deal in the mean time. For some reason, six to eight weeks out from your desired departure date is the sweet spot for deals. The prices should be lowest around then, and will start increasing soon afterwards. I’ve booked flights anywhere from months out to one week out, and consistently six to eight weeks has the best deals. I haven’t booked my flights home yet, but right now the prices are really good and better than they have been for the past few weeks, even though I’m on the end of that six to eight weeks sweet spot. Usually, once I know I want to book flights, I will start keeping an eye on prices through Incognito Google Flights – though there are apps for this like Skyscanner.

Google Flights is a great way to plan your trip through their Date Grid. If you’re flexible on when you fly out and fly back this is a great tool to find the best roundtrip price around your dates. For me, flying back on the 29th of December is way cheaper than the early days of January. Just as flying out on Tues-Thu is usually cheaper than Fri-Sun. I use Google Flights in Incognito to find the best deals usually. There are some caveats.

Some things to consider when booking would be loyalty programs. My parents have flown with United for decades and now reap the benefits of being Gold members, so they always fly United. I, on the other hand, have no loyalties to any airline at this moment so I can be more flexible in looking at different deals, days, airlines, airports, etc. However, loyalty programs can be very beneficial, but they require, you guessed it, loyalty which doesn’t always translate to the best price for the trip. So for me, as a working professional on a minimal salary, the prices now outweigh any potential benefits I’ll have from loyalty programs in five years. With that said, I still have a member number (they’re free from any airline website) for every airline I fly with, which means I am still tracking any miles I fly with the airlines. Potentially this could lead to benefits, but without flying one airline consistently, the points are that helpful right now. If you are a loyal flyer, I would say keep flying that airline and look for their best deals around the dates you want to fly – they might even have holiday specials for frequent flyers. Additionally, if you consistently book holidays through sites like Expedia or Kayak and have been gaining points from doing that, I would say keep doing it! These sites help find the best deals and allow you to accrue points for benefits.

I recently signed up for Jack’s Flight Club, a weekly newsletter about the best flight deals. I booked my weekend trip to Rome through these deals. The newsletter is free to sign up for (though there is a Premium service if you want to pay to find out about more deals sooner – I don’t). It gives me a heads-up which is always nice to have. Some of the deals don’t apply to me at all, but some do, so I keep it in my inbox.

Dana’s Do’s:

  1. Use a private browser!
  2. If you can, be flexible on your fly dates to get the best deals.
  3. Best to book about eight weeks out, but keep an eye on prices leading up to that.

How to Survive Living With Roommates in a Tiny Apartment

In September, I moved into a London flat with three people – two I knew from Cambridge, one I didn’t know (he’s friends with Lucy and graduated from Cambridge a year before I arrived). I have lived in flats with roommates before when I was at Ohio State, so I didn’t think this would be any different. And honestly, it really isn’t that different, except that my roommates are my favorite people I’ve lived with so far.

Finding a flat in London was itself a challenge, test of wills, and a strain on our relationships. Well, okay not that dramatic, but it was very different from any other flat hunting I have experienced. So much so it deserves its own blog post. But now that we have found an apartment, what is it like to live with three other people? In a relatively small apartment? Well, it takes some adjusting, communication, and understanding that not everyone thinks or lives the way you do (which is totally okay btw!). When we first moved, we all sat down together on the couch after a pub night and talked about things we wanted for the flat, ‘rules’, things we like and don’t like, work schedules, etc. We got everything out in the open up front which was super helpful for conversations down the road. Our takeaway from the whole conversation was just don’t take the piss and we’ll all be alright.

I think the biggest issue we ran into first was the room that the kitchen and living space is in is quite small. Not terribly cramped, but enough that it can become a problem if left alone for a few days. As in any home, people drop bags, jackets, and shoes in the living room when they get home. No biggie, until there’s four pairs of shoes scattered across the four square meters of space. Basically, cleaning was the first thing we addressed – and are still addressing as we settle into our routines and habits. We have a sort of cleaning rotation for the kitchen, bathroom (there’s only one), and living space. Sometimes it gets done once a week, sometimes more, sometimes less. I think this is the one area that we all can’t totally agree on and it takes reminding for people to wash up all their dishes before bed, or checking if food has gone off. In the end, all it takes is one message for it to get done – we all work fulltime and can get lazy or tired or forgetful, it’s not the end of the world. Like I said, it’s all about adjusting and being flexible with the people you live with. But, we all also agree that it’s better to say something than be passive aggressive or bottle up annoyance at others’ habits. That never helps anyone and only leads to problems down the road.

The next thing we had to think about was bills, how we would sign up for utilities and wifi, and how we would pay for them. For rent, it was important to communicate budgets before we agreed on a place and stick to it. The same applies for wifi, gas, and electricity. We did some shopping around for the best deals and talked it over before we signed up for anything. Communication and openness is important among roommates, especially when it comes to money. In this area as well, we are always reminding each other to pay bills on time or transfer to the person paying the bill. Team work makes the dream work.

One thing I was hoping for was two bathrooms for the four of us, but we don’t always get what we want. Seriously, that should be the poster slogan for London flat hunting. Because there is only one bathroom, we have all had to make adjustments. Luckily, Lucy and Dan are the only two that have to leave the flat early in the morning for work, which makes it easier on the shower schedule. Though I do sometimes wake up and have to wait ten minutes before I can go to the toilet. For the most part, we haven’t run into too many problems with four of us sharing one bathroom because our work schedules work well together. Though, none of us are concerned with knocking on the door if someone is taking too long in the shower.

With four people working full-time, the kitchen can feel a bit cramped around dinner time. Lucy and Dan don’t eat breakfast at home (work perks), so it’s only Owen and I in the morning. Usually, I’m the only one home for lunch. But, we all eat dinner at home, usually. Luckily, our different routines and habits also compliment each other at dinner time. I like to eat early, around 5:30/6pm whereas Owen and Dan tend to eat a bit later. Lucy falls in between depending on the day. This makes it a bit easier to handle everyone cooking their own meals and using the same three pots and pans that we have. There are nights when Owen and I make dinner together – we love fajita night! Those nights are really fun because we break out all the condiments and sides and make a feast of it. While the kitchen can feel cramped during the evening, it tends to feel more ‘cozy’, meaning it feels like a home when we’re all together. Dinner time is usually the most social time in the flat as well and it’s nice to catch up with everyone and joke around. That is until someone eats my last onion I was saving for my stir fry. We have a liberal approach with the fridge for certain items, particularly onions, peppers, mushrooms, and milk. Things that go off quickly and that you usually only use half of at any given time. As long as we all pitch in to stock up on them, we’ve found a good balance. This room is also where all the fun happens – the jokes, the accidental spills, and the movie nights. We elected one of the walls for tacky home decor after Dan insisted that we keep the paella pan (that none of us were going to use) and hung it on a left over nail in the wall to prove his point. It became endearing and we’ve since added to it – most recently the hanging wall decor pictured above.

For all the other things that can become annoying when living in a small apartment with three people, it’s all worth it when I think about the three best friends I’ve made living here. Living in a small space has forced us all to become close and aware of each other’s habits, likes, dislikes, and lives. Having thin walls can be a pro – I hear when Lucy is baking or when Dan gets home from a date that I want recap with him. Without sounding too cheesy (sorry Lucy), living with three people allowed me to have a second family here in England. Being far from home can be tough and there is a certain lonliness that comes along with living in a big city, but having Lucy, Dan, and Owen around means there’s always someone who knows where I am, always someone to go to the market with, drink tea with, and sometimes cry with. Next year, we are all going to be pulled in different directions, so we’re making the most of this year we have together in this tiny, but pretty great, apartment.

Dana’s Do’s:

  1. Communication is key, being passive aggressive is a no.
  2. Be ready to adapt your habits – everything is a compromise.
  3. Enjoy it while it lasts!

20 Things That Are the Same Between England and America (from a U.S. Ex-pat)

I read an article the other day about 50 things that are different in the UK compared to the US, and honestly, most of it was stupid things, like people in the UK don’t use umbrellas. Spoiler alert, they do. Some of the list was legit, but most of it seemed to be a way to make the UK exotic and mysterious. As an American ex-pat, it annoyed me because one of the best things about moving to the UK was the lack of culture shock. Sure they drive on the left and they call it ‘maths’ instead of math, but things really aren’t that different from the states. So, I am making a list of all the things (at least the ones I can think of right now) that are similar or the same between the UK and the US to celebrate shared parts of our cultures.

1. Chain restaurants and coffee shops – Pret is to the UK what Starbucks is to the US.

2. Everyone still passes on the left on escalators and sidewalks. God forbid you should be standing on the left, you might as well have kicked a puppy.

3. The money is just as intuitive, or not, depending on how you view US currency. There are bills with numbers to tell you exactly how much the bill is worth and the coins come in different sizes, just like the US.

4. Kids keep coming up with slang words I have to learn and I blame social media. As soon as I have learned what “rock up” means suddenly Twitter has invented “bomboclaat”. Am I getting old?

5. Everyone loves Nike, Adidas, and Lululemon – big brands are still all the rage in UK fashion. Yes, VSCO girls exist here too.

6. People are divided over the leader of their government (Boris is a second hand Trump).

7. There are massive protests for climate change because people care about that no matter where they are from.

8. Hamilton. The Brits love Hamilton. Color me shocked, but apparently there’s no bad vibes from Brits about the Revolutionary War and they love making fun of the monarchy as much as the next country.

9. Similar to above but the general shopping is the same – H&M, Topshop, Gap, etc. You can shop in British brand stores as well, but if you’re homesick H&M is always here for you.

10. Domino’s is still the best delivery pizza. And they do the same deals as the States. College kids need not fear.

11. Speaking of takeout – Uber eats is a thing here along with Deliveroo (Postmates equivalent). And there’s a filter for “American” cuisine.

12. Like New York or DC or really any city with public transport, don’t talk to anyone on said public transport. This is a no socializing zone.

13. Some of the houses in London are painted all sorts of colors, reminding me of big cities like San Francisco where the residents often do the same.

14. You have to pay for plastic shopping bags in grocery stores, just like in America. (P.S. please have reusable bags on hand, the environment appreciates your effort)

15. Different parts of the country have different accents.

16. There are multiple grocery stores, but as in the US, there is Aldi and Whole Foods.

17. Chipotle has made its way to London.

18. Flights get delayed or canceled just as often in London as they do at any major airport in the US (thanks British Airways, American Airlines, United, etc.).

19. Everyone talks about the weather when they have nothing else to say to you.

20. Brits are as obsessed with their sports as Americans. Rugby/Soccer is to Brits what Football/Basketball is to Americans.

I’m sure the list could go on, and feel free to send me your favorite things that are the same between the UK and the US. I also know there are quite a lot of differences – ‘jumper’ means sweater and ‘trainers’ are sneakers, two things that would have made a couple parts of Harry Potter make more sense to me. But, I like focusing on the aspects that are similar because it keeps away the homesickness and reminds me that while I may be an immigrant, I can fit in pretty well in my new home.