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Random dumb questions

This may be a little embarrassing, but here goes:

1) As I understand it one shouldn't use the ATMs (Travelex) at LHR; instead, wait until you get to a bank ATM, like Paddington Station or downtown, etc. Which "bank" ATM is recommended? Any of them?

2) Which side of the street for the bus? If memory serves me correctly there is a sign indicating which way the bus is going. If you recall I'm the guy who not once, but three times, took the Metro in the wrong direction before figuring out where the hell I was.

3) Do contactless credit cards work equally well on the tube, bus and local trains, like Victoria to Gipsy Hill?

4) When using the TFL planner, or city mapper, Emma and others have mentioned the travel time as optimistic. How much time should one add to what TFL indicates? 15 minutes? 30?

If anyone wants to piggyback with random questions that's fine with me.

Posted by
175 posts

Hi Big Mike! I definitely would like to piggyback - thank you. I wondered about ATMs at Glasgow Airport, because from my research it appears that only Travelex ATMs are located inside that airport. Are there any banks with ATMs (or bank-affilated ATMs) that are easy to find in that area?

1) As I understand it one shouldn't use the ATMs (Travelex) at LHR;

instead, wait until you get to a bank ATM, like Paddington Station or
downtown, etc. Which "bank" ATM is recommended? Any of them?

Any bank ATM is fine or you’ll see them at branches of Sainsbury’s etc. Any ATM that charges a fee will be clearly marked - avoid these.

2) Which side of the street for the bus? If memory serves me correctly
there is a sign indicating which way the bus is going. If you recall
I'm the guy who not once, but three times, took the Metro in the wrong
direction before figuring out where the hell I was.

Look carefully at the map on the bus stop, and the signage telling you when buses are due. It will usually say “name of final destination” and might add “via significant stop”. So you look at the map, and decide if the place you’re heading is en route to the final destination. If not, cross the road to the other side!

It helps to have a general sense of direction - and maybe a map/smartphone. But feel free to ask any people at the bus stop - or indeed the driver - if you’re unsure. Once on a bus, the stops are announced ahead of time. Just before you get to your stop, ring the bell and proceed to the doors.

Incidentally I find my iPhone maps app is good for buses.

Posted by
3789 posts

2) Left side for the bus
3)No they don't all work equally well. This was discussed on this board in the past 5 weeks(?) as to which card is better on the tube than others. I always had to use my pin for my contactless card. Thankfully I had sufficient cash to buy my Stonehenge bus tour as it was contactless or cash only.

Posted by
21080 posts

As far as I'm concerned, the ATM to use is the one that:

  • I see.

  • Is attached to or inside a bank (ideally one that's currently open, but that part doesn't always work out).

  • Doesn't charge me a fee. Fees should always be announced; just cancel and look for another machine.

  • Records the withdrawal in terms of the local currency rather than converting my withdrawal to US dollars at its own arbitrary--and dreadful--rate of exchange. This should never happen without a warning.

The third and fourth conditions are determined by trial and error. On my good days I note the names of banks whose ATMs I've tried to use and whether they indicated there would be a fee.

In Madrid the ING machine inside Atocha Station charged fees as of April 2, but I found another on the street a few blocks away that did not, so that's a variation we have to be aware of.

Last May I used a commercial machine (I think Euronet) at the Budapest Airport, and there was no fee. It did try to get me to accept a withdrawal recorded in dollars, but I didn't allow that. So I cannot say that every commercial machine in every location is bad.

Posted by
1308 posts

I don't worry too much about getting a small amount of cash from any ATM on arrival.

For ATMs in general, it usually doesn't matter which bank, although some are starting to charge a use fee, which will be noted early in the transaction and you can opt to cancel and find another.
The main thing to watch for is DCC if/when you see a screen asking if you would like to be charged in your home currency, DECLINE! I've seen this screen appear very late in the transaction, so pay attention to everything.

Posted by
1256 posts

"As I understand it one shouldn't use the ATMs (Travelex) at LHR"

Why not? I've used the Travelex cash machines/ATM at Heathrow without incurring any "machine fee". If there is such a fee (at any hole-in-the-wall machine, not just Heathrow), it will be clear before you start and there will be a reminder so you can cancel before accepting. Anyway a £2 fee, for example, to take out £200 is hardly worth worrying about in the great scheme of things. Such a penny-pinching attitude to life is bound to set one up for a grumpy holiday.

Just avoid the DCC option or the foreign exchange machines.

Posted by
3491 posts
  1. Yes, use a bank ATM whenever possible. Avoid letting it charge you in US$ as they will use an inflated rate not in your favor of up to 15% over what you should pay for money. The Travelex ATMs at Heathrow and other airports across Europe have been proven to NOT overcharge when they are the only option available, you will pay the same rate as a bank ATM when you withdraw Pounds. Just make sure you do not allow the machine to charge you in US$ which is how they get you. The network will do the conversion, at the best possible rate, and you will see dollars on your bank statement. All banks are equivalent, none is better than any other I have found.

  2. Always left, the side the bus has the doors on. The bus is going the direction it is pointing on the road. I don't think any have ever gone backward or sideways. ;-)

  3. SOME contactless cards work fine for rides on the Tube and buses. If you have one, you can try it in place of the London Oyster card. You do need a separate contactless or Oyster card for each and every person. You will not pay more using the contactless than the Oyster.

  4. Barring any construction delays, I have always found the Tube to run on time at the times I used it. My major issue is getting through the crowds when changing trains or entering and exiting the stations. I don't move like a ninja anymore so it takes me a bit longer to walk than the planner thinks it should. Anyway, it is always good to allow a bit of slack time when using any public transit.

I thought “the left side” was too dumb an answer as it seemed self-evident to me. I thought Mike was asking a more specific question about how to find which direction bus you want.

But yeah. Buses drive on the left so that’s also the side you get in. If they drove on the right there’d be chaos.

Posted by
1242 posts

No experience with Travelex ATMs, if you feel more comfortable having cash on hand as soon as you get there, then decline the DCC and get £100 or so. In the scope of a trip, a few points on the exchange rate is nothing to sweat over. London is becoming almost cashless, so there really is no need. Obviously, avoid exchanging physical dollars for pounds, that will be a ridiculous exchange rate. No bank is better or worse, in fact, I often use post office ATMs, but I try to keep my cash to a minimum and use my contactless card or Apple Pay everywhere.

Bus routes are the same all over. The final destination is how the bus is signed. So, look at the bus map and determine where your stop is and then see where the final destination is.

Contactless cards work, in my experience, on the tube and buses. Hopefully someone will come along with more experience with other types of trains.

As an experienced public transit user, I try to add 15 minutes or so to the travel time., more if it’s a longer distance. This gives you a buffer zone in case you get lost inside the massive stations or the train gets delayed because the police have to kick a drunk off the train.

Posted by
1842 posts

Everyone's a comedian, but yes I left myself vulnerable with the bus question. I meant to ask, well, you know what I meant to ask. I'll just look at the bus stop map to determine if it's going in the right direction, which it won't be, because that's the way it goes for me. I might even get on and notice after 20 minutes or so I'm heading in the wrong direction.

Posted by
21080 posts

Yes, but I bet you've never gotten on a train that was headed to a rail yard, now have you? (There ought to be a law against having a plarform 1 and a platform 1A in the same train station.)

Posted by
1242 posts

The bus going in the right direction question is fine, and that’s something that other people on the bus will help with. Rick has an idealistic vision of the UK and other people on the bus won’t probably want to engage in idle chitchat, but if you ask them, ‘Do you know if this bus stops here?’ They will probably give you the correct answer.

Posted by
3491 posts

Yes, sorry for the "on the left" answer to the bus question. Might have had a couple pints before writing that. :-)

I use the TfL routing tool on their web site. It tells you which bus to get on at what stop and where to get off the bus. Using this, I have not had to worry about the direction or the final destination of the bus.

Posted by
11257 posts

Such a penny-pinching attitude to life is bound to set one up for a grumpy holiday.

They're here.......just wait.

Posted by
875 posts

1) Check to see if your bank has a reciprocal relationship with any UK banks. I bank with Bank of America, so if I use a Barclays ATM in the UK, I won't be charged the $5 fee for not using a BofA ATM. It's not an enormous fee, but if I'm standing next to a NatWest and there's a Barclays on the other side, I'm crossing over.

Posted by
1350 posts

Maybe its a Canadian bank thing, but to avoid extra charges we need to use bank machines with the "PLUS" logo. It hasn't been a problem, I'd estimate 80% have it.

My random question. Why can't I find it in the US? Bank machines there are far harder to find and not compatible with my card. We have to prepurchase $USD or risk being stuck. BTW we are with Royal, a big bank.

Posted by
27749 posts

what snarky? you do need to know which side of the bus opens and how to tell which way it goes by the sign on the front and the notice on the bus stop sign and the map on the bus-stop.

It also helps to know that most bus-stops have little lists of common destinations below the map showing which routes go to the destination, and from which stop if there are several in the vicinity. That can be very handy. At the top of the bus-stop there may be a small red round sign with one or more alphabetic letters on it. If so, there will the little red circles on all nearby ones, in alphabetic order, which will match the stops on the map at the stop (and match the TfL info on the app or webpage) so you can easily both find your correct stop (they all look alike from a distance except for the route numbers and red circle sign, and the destinations on the sign which you can only read up close).

Posted by
3304 posts

This may be a little embarrassing, but here goes:

1) As I understand it one shouldn't use the ATMs (Travelex) at LHR;
instead, wait until you get to a bank ATM, like Paddington Station or
downtown, etc. Which "bank" ATM is recommended? Any of them?

Don't be embarrassed. Travel questions are certainly valid!

Some may like Travelex, I don't. Check if your local bank has a relationship with a British bank. For example, Bank of America does with Barclays so I use Barclays cash machines to avoid fees/charges.

2) Which side of the street for the bus? If memory serves me correctly
there is a sign indicating which way the bus is going. If you recall
I'm the guy who not once, but three times, took the Metro in the wrong
direction before figuring out where the hell I was.

You are certainly not alone in taking public transport in the wrong direction. Anyway, you enter the bus on the sidewalk side in the direction the bus is going which is the left side.

3) Do contactless credit cards work equally well on the tube, bus and
local trains, like Victoria to Gipsy Hill?

I've only used a contactless card on the tube and it works.

4) When using the TFL planner, or city mapper, Emma and others have
mentioned the travel time as optimistic. How much time should one add
to what TFL indicates? 15 minutes? 30?

There can ALWAYS be service diversions, delays, you name it. When you have access to wifi (or however you go online), citymapper will tell you real-time info about delays or diversions. The TFL planner too. If you can look up this info in advance, you'll be ahead of the game. When you arrive at a tube station, there might be info about delays/diversions. When I'm not in a rush (meaning not catching a train/plane), I don't worry about it. Buses can typically be slowed down by traffic so the tube could be your best bet again assuming no diversions/delays.

Posted by
3491 posts

PLUS is part of the Visa network. To find a PLUS ATM, use the Visa ATM locator: visa.com/atmlocator Just type in the address where you are or will be and it will locate ATMs in the Visa network and also list those that accept PLUS cards. There are 1,000 shown when I enter Denver, CO. Entering a friends address in Houston, TX gives 10 within walking distance. Most bank ATMs (Wells Fargo, Chase, Bank of America) appear on this list along with many located in retail shops. This does not guarantee you will not pay a local fee to the ATM owner.

Posted by
11288 posts

If you have directional issues, there's not way to guarantee that you won't get on a bus, train, etc going in the wrong direction (I speak from experience). However, if you have Google Maps and active data, you can at least mitigate the problem.

While at the bus stop, I put my start and end points into Google Maps (be sure to choose the bus option, rather than walking or driving). As the bus goes along the route, I follow the blue dot, and make sure it's moving along my route rather than somewhere else on the map (which would mean I'm not on the right bus - so I can get off right away). I can also see the stops, and so anticipate my stop (makes it much easier to know when I have to get off, and to ring the bell in time).

As for ATM's at the airport, you should be fine if you avoid letting them pick a rate. If they ask, "would you like to lock in a rate of $XXX.xx," that's Dynamic Currency Conversion in a clever disguise. Simply say NO, and your bank will set the fair rate. Also, there's no need to get cash at the airport at all if you don't want to. Everything at the airport (vendors, restaurants, ticket machines for the tube or the train) takes credit cards.

In Europe in general (not sure about the UK), Travelex and Euronet are the big operators of non-bank ATM's. But anywhere, you may encounter an ATM that tries to get you to "lock in a rate" (simply refuse), or wants to charge you a fee (you can decide if the fee is worth it to you, or if you want to find another ATM).