Hi everyone, I’m Lexa! I’m studying in London this semester and can’t wait to share my journey with you!
Yes, I decided to make a list of the things I’ve learned since coming to London. Granted, it’s only been a week since I touched down in Heathrow Airport, but a person can learn a lot about a city in a week. In fact, I’m quite surprised at how quickly I learn just by wandering around the city, whether with friends or on my own. From estimating costs to keeping eggs out of the refrigerator (!!! yes, the eggs stay out!), here are ten things I’ve learned:
- Oyster cards need to be topped up more than you expect. An Oyster card is a commonly used method of payment in using London’s Tube system. It’s the same size as a credit card, usually blue and navy blue in color. Though I did take the Tube often enough this first week (London’s underground transit system-for those who do not know), 20 GBP go quickly. It costs roughly 2 pounds 40 pence one way, approximately $3.00. If I were to go to, say, Oxford Street and back, it could be roughly $6.50 just for the Tube ride alone. Therefore, Oyster cards need to be “topped up”, basically putting more money on the card. Depending on how often one plans to take the Tube, plan accordingly!
- Which leads me to point #2, you will need more money than you think. In my experience so far, it has been better to have a little more money in the event I need it. For example, in coming to London I needed to buy a curling iron and hairdryer–combined probably costing me around $35.00. It’s also important to factor in the price of food, laundry, clothes one may have forgotten at home, even toilet paper and hand soap! Just this week, I also bought forks, plates, bowls, and cups from an appliance store here in London. Granted, this will vary in however long one stays in London, but since I’ll be here for four and a half months, the start-up costs came as a bit of a shock to me.
- There is no “correct” way to walk on the sidewalk. Honestly, it’s been a bit of a maze, so far. People generally walk on whatever side of the sidewalk they want to; I’ve seen people in a hurry usually walk on the right side, while most people walk on the left but this is not a rule of thumb in London. People will zigzag around the slow-moving all the time, and it’s been a bit of an adjustment for me! I think the best part has been trying to pass people on the sidewalk, but in the process someone passes me and therefore having to pass me as well as the people in front of me. It’s been fun.
- They don’t believe in flat sheets. Many of my friends I’ve made here have brought sheets from home, and if there’s room in the suitcase to bring them, I would definitely do that. Upon arriving to London, I was given a duvet, a pillowcase, and a blanket. Personal preferences led me to buy a fuzzy throw blanket from Primark (the U.S. equivalent of Target) and I’ve been content, since. If sheets aren’t necessary for other people, then leave them at home because they do take up a bit of room in the suitcase.
- People here don’t refrigerate their eggs. In Tesco’s (a chain grocery store), I couldn’t believe the eggs were out on the shelf in a non-refrigerated environment! It probably has something to do with how the eggs are treated prior to sitting on the shelf in the supermarket, but this was probably something that shocked me the most while grocery shopping. If this comes as a shock, remember the eggs are perfectly safe to buy; it’s just a bit of a change.
- Download apps like Citymapper and Tube Map. They are both free on the Apple and Google Play stores. Both apps are great in navigating the city, just because it’s very likely that one will accidentally wander down the wrong street and be completely lost. Citymapper provides several routes for users depending on what mode of transportation they desire to use, as well as how much money it may cost if public transportation is involved. It also has a sort of Google Maps feature where it can tap in to a location and direct a user to where they need to go. Tube Map is just what it sounds like–a map of London’s Tube at the touch of your finger! Both have been quintessential for figuring out which line I need to take, or how to find my way when I get lost.
- Silverware is probably the most difficult thing to find upon initial shopping. Honestly, it took me until yesterday to find a store that sold cheap silverware (one week and two days). Usually, silverware can’t be found in department stores; I ended up Google searching “silverware near me” and it came up with a store I could walk to, but it was a good twenty minute walk there. This isn’t something most people think to pack when traveling abroad, so I would recommend packing it just because it’s not the easiest thing to find in this city.
- Plastic bags cost money. I realize there are some cities in the United States that charge money for plastic bags at major retail stores, but plastic bags cost money everywhere in London. From what I’ve seen, they cost around 40-50 pence, or $0.55. This may not seem like a lot, but it adds up after shopping at five stores in one day! It may be difficult, but it’s actually easier to combine items purchased so paying for plastic bags can be avoided. If it’s possible, please do so as you will be saving money big time!
- Get used to carrying everything. When I go out shopping, it’s generally a 15-20 minute walk to the stores I need to go to. After buying two things at this store, three things at that store, and one thing at the last store, there’s quite a bit of weight from all those bags, and it’s not always easy to take that twenty minute walk back to the residence hall. This also will probably apply to my book bag when I start class, this week.
- It’s okay if you’re lost, it’s pretty easy to find the way back. Part of the fun that comes with living in London is finding neat stores or shops that aren’t necessarily on the main roads, anyway. I found this nice coffee shop on my way to a meeting this past week, and I wouldn’t have found it if I hadn’t gotten lost on one of the surrounding side streets. If one is lost in the city, there is a very good chance a storeowner knows the general area and how to get onto the main road. Even if the storeowner doesn’t know, someone else will, and Londoners have been incredibly helpful for me in finding my way around. If any of the above methods fail, there are always signs around the area to guide people, and if one recognizes a street name or landmark, there’s a good chance they’ll find their way back.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back next week with comparisons between the British and American education systems. – Lexa Krug