Everyone stares as my black Samsonite suitcase clinks down the stairs at Paddington Station. I’m making a scene, but I don’t care. After five months of travel, three accommodation changes in the last week and the stress of seeing my bank account drop drastically with each day London, I just want to stop moving.
I want a home.
I want my own bed.
But more than anything, I want to walk around the city without a 20 kg suitcase.
I begin to wonder if this was the right decision. Sure, Ric found an incredible job, but the city is so cold, flats so expensive and renting here has turned out to be a lot trickier than I thought.
Should we have returned to New Zealand?
That was our original plan after five months of travel, but we had a change of heart. We wanted to be closer to home for a few years and well, London seemed like a good idea. Now I’m not so sure.
I put the thought out of mind. There’s no turning back now. We’re here. Let’s make this work. Ric and I had managed to do it three times before on an even smaller budget, show up in a new city and make a life. I know we can do it again.
After five days in two of the worst hostels I’ve ever stayed at in my life (squeaky bunk bends that move with you, grim facilities and dirty toilet paper-yuck!), we finally find a place. Using Flatland, a rental agency, we get in contact with a landlord in Shepherds Bush. This is actually the first studio apartment we look at through the agency. It seems perfect but we don’t say yes right away.
Instead we spend a day dealing with grumpy agents, going to see rooms that are actually off the market and returning to a noisy hostel to do it all again the following day. Not possible. Not only is my bank account down to exactly what we would need to pay for a bond and one month’s rent on a studio in our price range in the city, but we also just need to stop moving.
I call the first landlord and say we’ll take it.
I call again and ask if we can move in tonight.
He laughs and says, “Of course darling.”
In one night, everything comes together. Not only do we love our new place, but our landlord is a legend and it’s only a short walk to Ric’s work.
We manage to do it again. In eight days, Ric finds the perfect job and together we find the perfect flat in London.
It’s never easy moving to a new place, especially a city as expensive as London. But trust me, if we could do it on a budget as small as ours, so can you. Follow these tips if you’re trying to get set up in London on a tight budget.
- Apply for jobs online. Ric received loads of responses from places he applied to through websites like Gumtree, but nothing from just handing out CV’s in person. Since almost every job he’s found in the past has been by applying in person, I can honestly say your best bet it to apply to jobs in London online.
- Consider going with a rental agency. I thought places like Flatland were scams when I first started looking for rentals, but I found they were actually the only option. Every flat I looked at on Gumtree led me to one of four agencies. I’ve always just rented rooms from landlords in person, no agent, so this was new for me. We paid an £80 up-front fee to basically get a listing of apartments available through them. Due to a lot of scams in the city, this method has become very popular and it’s actually pretty cheap compared to major commercial companies.
- Don’t expect the flat you see online to be available at these agencies. None of the ones we saw online were, but they were constantly adding new flats to their listing.
- Act quick when renting. Real estate in a city as populous as London is so competitive. If you find a place you like, grab it, quick.
- Make sure you have enough money. This all depends on what sort of a place you are looking for and how fast you want to set up. In general, you should have two months rent (look at prices on Gumtree for an idea) to cover a bond one month’s rent. The rest really depends on what sort of job you are looking for and how hard your looking, but think about public transportation, food cost, etc.
- Consider your budget when choosing an area to live. As you might have noticed, London is expensive. Everything: groceries, beer, housing, is more in this city than the rest of England. Some areas of the city are especially expensive. As a rule of thumb, stay out of Zone 1 if you want to live affordably. Even zone 2 is heaps cheaper and it’s still central. Areas like Shoreditch, Shepherds Bush and Richmond are ideal.
- Walk when you can. The London underground system is extremely efficient, but very expensive. Plus, you’d be surprised how close some of the stations are to each other. It’s a very easy city to walk. Look into walking distances before hopping on the tube.
- Visit these spots for home goods. Primark and Argos seem to be the cheapest places to buy home goods. Check out pound shops, markets and charity shops as well. Also ask your landlord if previous tenants left anything behind. We got most of our kitchen appliance for free that way.