15 Things I Will and Won’t Miss About Living in London

Destinations, England, Moving Abroad, United Kingdom

15 Things I Will and Won’t Miss About Living in London

12 Comments 09 July 2013

London seems to be a city that just keeps coming back into my life. I lived here for six months studying abroad in college and returned five months ago for a sort of place to live in limbo as me and my Ric tried to figure out a more permanent living situation.

In a nutshell, I adore this city. I don’t know what exactly it is about London, but the city just has something. Maybe it’s the free  museums and world-renowned art scene. Maybe it’s the city’s lively mixture of cultures and activities. Maybe it’s the city’s intricate and exciting history.

Whatever it is, this city had me at “Ya, alright?”.

And now, probably as you read this post, I’m leaving the London once again with no idea when I’ll return for a vacation, let alone to live, so I think now is a good time to reflect on the ups and downs of living in London Town.

Things I’ll Miss

Getting lost – kind of

My absolute favorite thing to do in London is walk around with no plans or destinations. I could walk this city for hours and hours and not even realize it, because there is so much happening to take my mind off the fact that I’m exercising. Tiny side streets – blue plate homes – hole-in-the-wall cafes – so much has happened in the city and so much has been added that you never know where you’ll end up or what you’ll find on a wander. However, you’ll never actually get lost enough to the point that you can’t find your way back home. There’s always a tube station close by, no matter how lost you get, hop on that and you’ll know exactly where you are again.

Free magazines and newspapers

I’m very old-fashioned with my media. While I do read more things online these days, I’ll take a massive inky newspaper or glossy magazine over a website or kindle any day. It was really nice in London to have that for the same price as online media: Free 99!

Not only am I going to miss picking up my free copy of Time Out outside Shepherd’s Bush Market station on Monday mornings en route to the library or Evening Standard weekdays on my way home, but I’ll also miss the paper boys. The way the guy says “Evening Standard” is always a highlight on my walk home and I know I’m not alone. I hear kids repeating the phrase just as he does at the library, girls on Uxbridge Road throwing it into the conversation in his voice.

Random happenings

I think we can all agree, whether you love or hate London, one thing is certain, there is always something to do in this city and they’re so random and unique. Into art? Head to an auction at Sotheby’s. Love the cabaret? This city is a mecca for it. Want to live in the past? You can do that too – at themed parties. Are you a total foodie? Don’t get me started – the markets here are incredible.

This city literally has something going on every day to suit all types of people. You really never know what you’ll get into or where you’ll end up on any given day in London. They say nobody knows how to party quite like the Brits, they’re kidding.

Free museums and art

London is the city where I really fell in love with art, so I might put it on a pedestal a bit more than I should, but it is a really great city for art lovers. National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Tate Modern and Britain, Saatchi Gallery, V&A – there is no shortage of art galleries in this city displaying Picasso, Manet, Dali and more legendary artists. And what’s even more amazing, most of these galleries and museums are free. London can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be.

British TV

This is something I’ll miss, but I know I’ll keep up with long after leaving London. England has some of my absolute favorite TV shows. For chat, shows like Graham Norton, A League of Their Own and Top Gear presented an entirely new and sort of no-hold-back sort of watching experience. It took me a while to completely understand the humor here, but I do now. And on some British chat show people are given wine – so you see a completely different side of all your favorite celebrities.

For scripted dramas and comedies, I’ll start by saying a lot of your favorite American series were based on British ones and often, the originals and a million times better. Shameless was my sort of awakening to how good TV is over here. Then of course there’s Made in Chelsea, which, for better or worse, I am obsessed with.

Curry and Kebabs

I never understood Britain’s bad reputation for food and drink. Sure fish and chips and Bangers and Mash are quite simple dishes, but they should not be used at the entire spectrum of British food. To be honest, I love eating in this country and especially London. Not only is England home to some of the world’s most famous chefs (Marco Pierre White, Heston Blumenthal, Jamie Oliver), but it’s also a melting pot of about a million different foods from around the world.

Two of those melting pot items that my mouth will miss (but my hips will not) are curry and kebabs. Let me start by saying I lived off Uxbridge Road during my most recent stay, where kebab shops and curry houses are literally almost every store front for about 20 minutes of walking. You try dieting when a spinning hunk of lamb meat is staring at you throughout every walk to and from anywhere. It’s not going to happen. We do a lot of food right in America, but we don’t come close to how they do curry or kebabs in London.

Urban parks

I get giddy every time I see a park anywhere in the world, especially England. London does parks right. Whether it be a perfectly trimmed rose garden or a wild forest, this city knows how to help people escape the hustle of the city, if even for just a stroll. It was actually in a London park that Ric asked me to marry him, Chiswick, so obviously that’s my favorite, but some other good ones to check out include, Regent’s Park, Holland Park and St. James’s Park.

Coffee

This is something I never thought I would miss about London, especially coming from New Zealand and Australia. Something big has happened in the cafe and coffee culture since I last lived here in 2007. There is so much focus on coffee here and they’re really producing incredible things with that. My favorite cafe is Wild & Wood in Holborn. Have a flat white there and you’ll understand why I’m not looking forward to going home to suburban chains.

The Tube

I’ve never seen a public transportation system run as efficiently as the London Underground system. If you can pay £7 for a day pass, that’s your entire day set in London with all it’s free museums and parks. You can literally go anywhere in the city with the underground and it always feels like a train arrives as soon as I enter the station. I am not looking forward to going back to NJ and relying on my car to get around.

Things I won’t Miss

Dog pee and poop on the sidewalk

I know it’s a city and sometimes your pets just have to go – that’s not controllable – but I’m not going to miss wondering if every bit of liquid I see in the street is a puddle of pee or water. Pee I can understand. You can’t clean that up as a pet owner, but crap on the sidewalk is inexcusable and so gross. I’m not sure if this was something that only happened in my area, because I have to say I did not see it often in other parts of the city, but for the love of god people – clean up after your pets, especially when they’re messing on pedestrian walkways!

Overcrowded

As much as I love all the hustle and bustle of a city and activities that come with that, I am not going to miss walking down the streets on a weekend in London. I feel like I’m in a herd of cattle a lot of days in this city. Crowded bars, crowded streets, crowded tube carriages…these things will not be missed.

Walking on the sidewalks

To add to my overcrowding and poop winge – I think people need an education in sidewalk rules before they arrive in London. I always walk according to what side of the street a country drives on, but I don’t think everyone else does that. Since the UK is the only country in Europe that drives on the left side of the road and loads of Europeans as well as people from around the world (most of which drive on the right) visit London on a daily basis – no one knows which way to walk on sidewalks. People from the UK/Australia/NZ go left – the rest of the world goes right. It especially annoys me at tube stations when there are signs on the stairs that say stay left, yet for some bizarre reason people are taking up both sides. It wouldn’t be as big a deal if the city wasn’t so busy, but it is and no one know which way to go, which frustrates me like crazy.

Overpriced

As cheap as a person can make London with free activities and discount stores, it is one of the most expensive cities in the world if you don’t bother considering your budget. This is especially troublesome when you’re living here on the American dollar. I can’t help but exchange money in my head and every time I go to the store I feel like I’m paying double on top of something that already costs more than it would in the rest of England, the rest of the world. £16 cocktails ($US24) – £3 triangular sandwiches ($US4.50) – £2.50 coffees ($US3.75)- as much as I enjoyed eating and drinking you, you will not be missed.

Not having the right of way

Cars in London rule the road and they’re not going to stop for any idiot who wonders into the road. Don’t worry, I’m that idiot too. But what always bothered me is at cross walks when I would have the green man and suddenly he would start blinking. Now my understanding in a lot of places is that this meant, “Hurry up, you only have a few seconds to get across, but don’t worry you can still walk”. Not in London. As soon as the green man starts blinking for pedestrians, a yellow light goes on for the cars that are waiting and they immediately start to go or get angry at people for still walking in the road.

Rush Hour

I was fortunate enough to only have to ride the tube or be in central London a handful of times during rush hour and that was enough. This isn’t just London, but in a lot of big cities, people lose all respect for each other between the hours of 7-10 a.m. and 3-5 p.m. I’m not going to miss getting shouldered on the streets and nobody apologizing and I’m not going to miss getting shoved out of the way at a tube station so some jerk who just got there can get home two minutes earlier than me.

Every place has it’s good and bad, ups and downs, and London is no different. Though I had a few erks about living here, I think it’s clear to see that the positives more than outweigh the negatives. Take advantage of all London’s free activities – museums and parks – wander through the city’s side streets as much as possible and avoid the CBD completely at rush hour and you’ll walk away loving this city as much as me.

What are some of your favorite things about London?

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Moving to London

Destinations, England, Moving Abroad, United Kingdom

Moving to London

8 Comments 14 March 2013

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.

The first flat we look at. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

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.”

That’s Kiwi Kev, Gandalf and Rudiger making themselves at home. The guys have traveled around the world with us. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

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.

Settled. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

This tree is the first living thing Ric and I have owned together. Naturally, we named him Josh. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

We manage to do it again. In eight days, Ric finds the perfect job and together we find the perfect flat in London.

Breath out.

The “after” shot. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

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.

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Buying a car abroad

Australia, Moving Abroad, New Zealand, Other, Tips & Facts, United Kingdom

Buying a car abroad

5 Comments 04 January 2012

Buying a car in a foreign country can be a daunting task, especially if you’re like me and have always relied on the help of friends or family who know about cars to help with your purchases at home.

The first time I bought a car abroad was in Australia. I have to admit that not much research went into the purchase of it. All that mattered was that my mate and I were able to afford it, as we were on a very tight budget.

Luckily we ended up with a fantastic car that got us from Melbourne all the way to Port Douglas in far North Queensland, with a little detour through the Blue Mountains and a few other little unplanned journeys.

This is the car I had in Australia – Photo by Richard John Hackey

However, when Bobbi and I bought our car in New Zealand we were in a far better position than I was in Australia. This meant that I had time to research what the best car for us would be and how to go about getting the best price.

Here are some tips that may help you on your way to getting your ideal travel mobile.

Set a price limit

By doing this you’ll initially give yourself a goal to save for, but also help narrow down your choices when searching.

Set a mileage limit

Setting the maximum amount of mileage you want in a car means you won’t be spending money on a car that looks nice but has been on the road for too long.

Research the car

Try and check out customer feedback on the models you are interested in. There were quite a few cars I saw that seemed fine but after a little detective work I was able to find out the common faults with certain models. You can read car reviews on sites like iSeeCars.

Where to buy your car

Start off by looking at verified sites like Trade Me in New Zealand or Gumtree in Australia. These sites will enable you to search for the car with what rough specifications you have. Through Trade Me I actually discovered a couple of auction houses that were in my area. I would have visited these if I hadn’t found such a bargain on Trade Me, but they are another good option.

Also try looking at bulletin boards in hostels. A lot of backpackers will post cars for sale there and if they have to leave the country asap, you could find a great deal.

Our newly purchased car in NZ – Photo By Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Cambelt (Timing Belt)

Most cars run using a cambelt. These need to be replaced every 100,00kms or so. If the cambelt goes whilst you have the car it’s going to cost between $800-$1100 to replace it. So make sure that the car has papers to prove that this has been done.

Buy Japanese

I’ve always been told to buy Japanese (Toyota, Nissan, Mazda etc.) when buying a second-hand car, because these cars have a better reputation for being reliable over longer distances.

Size of Car

You obviously need to take into consideration the amount of passengers and the amount of baggage you will be taking with you to decide what size car you’ll need. I wouldn’t recommend forking out for a 4×4 unless you intend on doing some serious off-roading.

Size of Engine

Depending on what you are going to be using the car for will depend on how big you want your engine size to be. Simply put, for traveling around cities and towns you need a relatively small engine, but for longer distances you’ll want a bigger engine that’s been designed for cruising.

Manual or Automatic

This is pretty obvious but don’t buy a manual car if you only possess an automatic license.

Hope this will be of some help to you.

Good Luck

This post was brought to you by iSeeCars.

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How to celebrate your first holiday season abroad

Australia, Moving Abroad, New Zealand, Other, Tips & Facts, United Kingdom

How to celebrate your first holiday season abroad

5 Comments 13 December 2011

It’s getting to that time of the year. The holidays are upon us and if you’re spending this holiday season abroad you may not even notice it.

Even the most adventurous travelers long to be home for Christmas, because no matter how hard a traveler tries, nothing beats the holidays with family. But don’t get too upset over it. Celebrating the season abroad can be a memorable and happy experience if you look at it the right way.

Here are some guidelines to making your celebrations abroad special.

Don’t expect everything to be the same as at home

Holidays are celebrated very differently around the world. In fact, your holiday may not even be celebrated in the part of the world you are visiting or living in this year. Iinstead of thinking your missing out on something, consider yourself learning something new and embracing another culture.

It was next to impossible to find a turkey in New Zealand for Thanksgiving, so we settled on two chickens. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

This can mean not even celebrating the same holiday or it can just mean not having turkey for dinner. Either way, embrace the new. Don’t get caught up on everything being your idea of perfect. Learn about how this holiday can be, as all travel should be, a cultural experience. Ditch turkey for kangaroo. Try out Kwanza instead of Christmas.

Invite new friends or join their celebration

It always amazes me how kind people are around the world, even to strangers. There is no possible way a person could celebrate the holidays alone in a world as loving as this on days that actually celebrates that.

If you’ve been living in an area for awhile, ask new friends what their plans are for the holidays. Get to know other travelers in your hostel and plan a celebration with them. Look at online forums or local newsletters to see what is happening on Christmas day in the area. Churches usually have something or you could volunteer at a soup kitchen.

The point is, you really never have to worry about celebrating the holidays alone. There will always be something for you to do and a place for you to go.

Remeber to treat yourself

Go on, it’s the holidays. Eat that bag of cookies and buy yourself that dress you’ve been eyeing up for the last month.

All the trimmings. Photo by Richard Hackey

But watch how much you spend

I never fully realized how much the holidays cost until my first Thanksgiving and Christmas abroad. It really made me appreciate everything my parents put into all those holidays throughout my childhood and beyond.

Unfortunately travelers usually don’t have the luxury of splurging on a holiday. Don’t even try to match your holiday dinner or celebration at home. It took your family a lot of time and money to create that and you won’t match it even if you do buy the best of the best.

If you can get a group of friends together, split the meal amongst the group. It will save you a lot of time and money. Plus, it’s more fun to share these things with other people.

I got crafty. Stella bottles and flowers from the garden, nice decorations for little cost. Photo by Bobbi Lee HItchon

Take time to call home

Even if you can’t be at home this holiday season, the people there are thinking about you. With technology today, there’s no reason not to call home. Hell you can even sit at the dinner table via skype. Now if they could only figure out a way to send food in real time.

Whatever you do this holiday season, make it a good one. If you’re abroad, it won’t be like home, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be amazing. Seasons Greetings!

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Finding work in a new town

Australia, Australia, Destinations, Moving Abroad, New Zealand, New Zealand, United Kingdom, USA

Finding work in a new town

4 Comments 12 September 2011

Moving to a new town on your travels is always full of new and exciting prospects; what new sights you are going to see, new people that you’re going to meet, new cultures to unearth etc.

But you also need to be prepared financially to support this new adventure. So job hunting will probably be a high priority when you first arrive anywhere.

Hopefully these tips may help.

In my experience I have always found that you will need a cushion of cash to tide you over, for the first two weeks or so, whilst you look for work. Unfortunately I have found myself, more often than not, having to beg and borrow off friends to keep me afloat until that vital first pay check. So here are a few pointers that may help you avoid the situations I’ve found myself in.

You need to have an impressive CV on hand ready to hand out to any prospective employers. Try a website like www.comoto.com to help you with this.

You also need to figure out a plan of action before you leave for another town as you could end up wasting crucial days figuring out where you are and where the best places to look for work are.

Photo By Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Spend some time researching what’s happening in your chosen town, where the job agencies are, where the cheapest and most convenient places are to live. All this helps in reducing the stress when you arrive.

Deciding what type of employment you are going to go into is also extremely important, for example: if you decide you want office work but move to a resort town then the chances of being employed are dramatically decreased.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Some jobs pay more than others (obviously), so look into how much certain job sectors pay in your new home town.

Use the internet to find specific job websites for your new chosen area. For myself I mostly used www.gumtree.com.au in Australia, www.trademe.co.nz in New Zealand and www.craigslist.com in the USA. Although you may not always use them to find a job, they are usually a good barometer for what the job situation is like.

Hopefully this will be of some help to you if you are feeling a bit short on ideas.

Happy Traveling!!!

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