Welcome to London Town
Five Tips for an Easy Transition
By Sarah Bennett, Muhlenberg College
After a summer spent poring through European tour books, listening to The Kinks and Belle & Sebastian albums on repeat, and rereading every piece of British literature I could get my hands on, I’ve finally arrived in the incredible city of London!
London is and has everything I could ask for in a new home: a strikingly modern city with a rich history dating all the way back to the Romans; a vibrant multicultural presence, earning it the title of “a world in one city;” and an amazing culture that thrives around art, music, literature, and theater.
It’s already been a week since I’ve arrived. Over the past few days, I’ve picked up a couple of tips on how to make the transition to London a bit easier. Hopefully, they’ll be helpful for those of you thinking about visiting – or studying abroad! – in London:
1. Get an oyster card. This card gives you access to London’s subway system, known as the Underground or the Tube. While the best way to get to know a city is to walk around, there are plenty of places in London you simply can’t get to without using public transportation. Plus, the Underground is the nicest subway system I’ve ever used; it’s clean, has cushioned seats, and a friendly electronic voice reminds you to “mind the gap” as you make your exit.
2. Know how to handle your money. It’s easy to be fooled into thinking something’s cheap if you forget to convert pounds into dollars. Right now, the dollar is only worth .62 British pounds – a depressing fact for those of us wistfully window-shopping along Oxford Street. To make things easier, go into the city with a general idea of how you want to budget your money (using some for groceries, travel, fun money, etc.). Then, take about a week to finalize your budget and see what seems reasonable. And, make sure to sign up for a credit card that doesn’t charge conversion fees. The Bank of America Travel Rewards card and the Chase Sapphire Preferred card are both popular among students traveling to Europe.
2b. Get a coin purse. The English use coins all the time, some of which amount to one or two pounds. A coin purse will keep everything organized and easily accessible. With coins that amount to one or two pounds each, you (literally) can’t afford to let them disappear into the hidden seams of your bag.
3. Embrace the local grub. London is one of the most multicultural cities in the world, meaning you can find anything and everything to eat. Still, there are a few basics that make up the national flavor. While London is known for pub food, it’s also known for amazing Indian food, traditional full breakfasts with bacon, sausages, eggs, fried potatoes, mushrooms, coffee, and tea – I can’t even write about it without getting hungry –, and Sunday roasts, traditional British dinners consisting of roasted meat, potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, stuffing, and gravy. My British roommate describes it as the equivalent to an American Thanksgiving feast – except it happens once a week!
4. Leave the rain boots at home. This statement will either be met with fervent agreement or total dispute. This time of year, London seems to rain almost every day. Still, the weather is unpredictable: It can pour torrentially and then clear up in a few minutes, or it can be simultaneously sunny and warm with a light spraying mist. The only constant is that it rains often and at unexpected times. Unless you plan on wearing rain boots with every outfit, the best option is to bring a couple of pairs of regular boots and spray them to make them water resistant.
5. Bring a SMALL umbrella. This was the first piece of advice I received, and it’s proved extremely useful. As I said above, the weather is capricious, and it can start raining right in the middle of a gorgeous, sunny day. Bring a light, compact umbrella that you can keep tucked into your bag for all of those unpredictable showers.
These little tips that have proved useful in my first week, and I hope they can help some of you!
…I’ll get back to you in a few weeks if I give in and buy a pair of Wellies.