Overall, this was a wonderful trip. I don't think anything went seriously awry; we had no real meltdowns (except due to the heat!) and enjoyed all that we did. Still, here are some things I learned or don't want to forget or need to work on for future trips.
a) avoid doing it right off the plane if possible.
b) if not possible to avoid driving jet lagged, make sure you only have a short distance to cover
c) get the Sat Nav (GPS). It was a lifesaver (and luckily free this time!)
d) but don't forget the paper maps. These help if the Sat Nav fizzles or sends you wrong
e) picking up a car with Hertz at LHR was easy. It was a very good rental experience
f) if you get a little lost, stop and ask a local for directions. We met the lovely gentleman at Coultershaw Heritage Site because we were lost
g) if a local gives you a shortcut to avoid traffic delays, ignore the Sat Nav and listen to the local!
a) if the reviews say the rooms are noisy, they probably are noisy. Do ask for the quiet room when you book.
b) Full English breakfast is the best breakfast! Better yet if it's included in the room rate!
c) if you book a room above a pub, expect noise and have earplugs handy.
e) take an eye mask because no room was not dark enough for me.
a) the 2-4-1 deals with the 7 Day paper Travel Card from a Railway Station in London are a great money saver. We used them at several places and saved enough to pay for almost the entire cost of 2 Travel Cards.
b) make a safety plan if you're separated on the tube. Ours was not specific enough before nephew was lost but we made sure to reiterate it daily afterwards.
c) make sure everyone knows where the hotel or apartment is located
d) the Oyster card was not the best option for us. We found the paper Travel Card easier to use and wished we'd gotten one for nephew too. It would've been one less thing to worry about on a busy vacation.
e) buses are great except when it's hot. Or when traffic is stuck.
4. Prebook Westminster Abbey and Windsor Castle if possible. Unless they have the 2-4-1 deal. We didn't see Westminster Abbey this time because the lines were too long and waited at least 45 minutes to get into Windsor.
5. If you go to St. Paul's take the free tour. It enhanced our experience there greatly.
6. If you go to Bath, take the free Mayor's Voluntary Guides tour. It was wonderful.
7. See the Museum of the City you're in.
8. If travelling in the summer, bring shorts, short sleeves and appropriate footwear in case there's a heat wave!
9. Make sure your wifi is working before the apartment greeter leaves. No problem this time, thankfully!
10. Have a plan but be flexible and willing to adapt to the situation and moods at hand.
11. I have got to figure out how to get a phone to work abroad!
Next trip: Lyon, the Dordogne, the Loire Valley, and Paris in October 2015 so I can get my Paris and castles fix!