AKA: Things I Wish I had Known Before Feeling Stupid in a Rental House

Before our trip to England and Scotland, I briefly refreshed myself on the obvious differences between United States and UK life. The important stuff: biscuit means cookie, chips means French fries, and crisps means chips. Lastly, I bought a plug converter. I thought that was all I needed to know.

However, the whole time we were in the UK, I was frustrated at myself for basic stuff that I should have learned about. Nevermind the fact that I was annoyed that there wasn’t a big glaring website somewhere telling me these basic things. These little things became big things because I didn’t know the simple differences.

Why are these not listed and talked about more frequently?! Rental owners should assemble binders for their homes and assume Americans know nothing. This one sure didn’t.

#1: Not All Dryers are Created Equally

The face of a kid not thrilled with hand drying clothes for two hours!

Number one and my biggest travel tip!! Even though you might have picked out the VRBO specifically for this reason, that doesn’t mean you will actually be able to dry your clothes.
To save space when we travel, we bring enough clothing for four days with a plan of washing some for the next leg of the trip. However, that only works if you can reliably wash and dry the clothes. It seems that there is no such thing in England and Scotland.

If you are not prepared for some frantic hours before your next train, don’t attempt to quickly wash a load of clothes in the UK. The rental house description says that it has a washer and dryer, and in the kitchen, there will be a small combo washer-dryer that is about the size of a cabinet mounted dishwasher. 

The night before our family of six repacked to leave Glasgow to travel north toward Fort William, we had tossed several days of clothes into the washer to have clean clothes for the next stage of our trip. The washer did wash clothes as expected once a magic combination of buttons was discovered. However, this is where the normal American experience halted and panic set in. 

The dryer started, ran, and stopped. Then, I couldn’t figure out how to get the clothes out. We finally figured out the combination to even get them out only to discover the clothes were still wet. Half the clothes were removed to try to decrease the load. Dryer noise resumed. Still wet. One hour to leaving for the train. Attempts were made to contact the VRBO owner and see what secret code was needed, but there was no help to be found. So there we were attempting to use towels and hair dryers to dry the three days of clothing strewn all over the floor of the two bedroom apartment. Eventually, we had to pack it up wet and dash over to Queen Street Station.

Looking back on that frantic text to the Glaswegian VRBO owner, I can only groan picturing as I realize she knew that the dryer in her rental apartment was working exactly as intended. The problem was completely in the operator and her expectations.

Look for the drying rack and get used to it being in the middle of the kitchen. Use the washer to wash, yell at the dryer, and plan to use the drying rack for at least a day. I still don’t know how you are supposed to dry socks other than on the window ledge… And don’t plan to wash clothes during a one-night stay.

#2: Flip the Switch

The refrigerator would not turn on. The microwave wouldn’t heat. The tea kettle wouldn’t boil. However, I refused to be beaten by electronic appliances.

Then, we noticed that there were many wall switches all throughout the kitchen conveniently located next to wall sockets. All it would have taken was a sign that said “Must flip up for fridge to work” instead of assuming that the rest of us are smart enough to figure this out.

Many buildings across the pond have electric plugs that only work when you flip the switch. Why is this? From what I have read, the sockets are a different construction than here in the US, so it isn’t safe to unplug every time you want to turn something off. It also conserves electricity. Maybe due the age of the wiring in congested downtown buildings? Maybe dense populations in small downtown areas? Combination of both? Whatever the reason, UK travel is smoother by knowing this basic fact. 

Flip the switches if you might want them. Make sure the fridge is turned on, or you might come home with groceries to not have cold storage.

Walking through our London Neighborhood to the Rental Apartment

#3: Research Radiators

Central heating is an American and not a UK thing. Radiators are not something that American Southerners know. We probably don’t even say it as the rest of the US. Rah-diator. RAY-di-ator. Either way, for me, it’s a confusing, potentially dangerous, strange folded metal thing in the bathroom. 

Is it there to help? Will I burn clothes if they are placed near it? How do we even turn it on? Will it turn itself off? After three weeks of coexisting with radiators, I never figured it out.

Do yourself a favor. Watch a you tube video and be prepared. Don’t be afraid of the radiator.

#4: Firedoors Make Moms Nervous

Most places we stayed had heavy doors leading to all the rooms even the living room and kitchen. There are even signs labelling these as fire doors and instructing you to keep them closed. These heavy doors slam and are an injury waiting to happen with kids trying to open them on their own. How are we supposed to hear the kids at night, see what they are doing, and leave with all ten digits intact?

It seems fire doors are required for a building to be up to code if it is more than several stories tall. My online questioning didn’t find the rationale for this other than suggestions that Brits are maybe irrationally afraid of fire. There are also fire blankets in the kitchen instead of extinguishers – genius!

Prepare to keep your littlest kids in the bedroom with you, or bring a door stop to prop the doors open. Sometimes Mom sensibility trumps law breaking.

#5: Your Bed Isn’t Missing the Sheet

The beds in our rental houses had only a fitted sheet and a duvet. I thought it was strange the first couple of times and wondered if these get washed. Changing a duvet cover is a real pain. Eventually, I gave in to this just being the norm.

I guess it makes sense. I gave up on top sheets years ago for my kids because they don’t want them and makes it harder to make the bed. Why not?

If you are germ concerned, pack your own top blanket. Or just don’t think about it.

The Boys Loving their Sunroom Bedroom on Skye – Despite the Hanging Up Drying Clothes (and My Stupid Thumb!)

Bonus: Embrace the Kettle

I grew up watching Jamie Oliver’s cute British accent tell me how to cook, and he uses an electric tea kettle to speed up his cooking process. He also assumes that everyone has one. Now I know it’s true – everyone in the UK already did have one. 

It isn’t just an accessory in the kitchen of the Jamie Olivers of the world. Every. House. Has. One. And now my own house has one, and we are now the coolest kids in this area because most of the US has not caught onto this kitchen requirement.

No need for a solution here. Buy one for Christmas for everyone you know, and they will thank you.


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