Trying to move to London is how I found myself at my lowest ebb, in floods of tears in the middle of a Tesco super store in Twickenham. I was pretending I wanted a terrible job, selling awful makeup to gullible people who just wanted to get to the frozen food section. I had had no sleep because of the foghorn style snorer in my hostel dorm room and had been job hunting for several weeks with no luck except for this poorly disguised pyramid scheme. Put simply – IT SUCKED.
Moving to London is HARD especially when you’re a naive hayseed who has blown in from small town New Zealand, I definitely wasn’t savvy about how to win London. Now having spent 3 years there I feel like I’m well versed in how to make it. Along the way I’ve learnt many wonderful skills like:
- How to feed myself for a week with the 5 pounds I got by cashing in my Oyster card (It includes a lot of instant noodles and not much else)
- How to get home on a night bus with no cash and no phone when you fell asleep on the last tube that ends up in Surrey. or:
- How to have a banging night out on zero pounds and zero pence, highlights include drinking wine that work gave you and getting to the club before the cover charge kicks in.
Funnily enough most of those involve being broke…which is another thing you get used to, it’s almost impossible to save here because living costs are high and the rest is spent on galavanting around Europe when you get the chance. So how do you start to get under the skin of this bonkers city?
Step 1: Why don’t you get a job?
If you have some kind of marketable skill then find several recruiters who specialise in your field, get in contact with everyone you know, get your CV out there and follow up, follow up, follow up. Recruiters are fundamentally in it for themselves because their fee is a percentage of your salary, paid by the company that hires you. Don’t be afraid to turn down job descriptions that don’t match your skills or salary expectations…if you have the skills to pay the bills there will be more offers. Also, don’t write a novel of a CV, give them just enough so that they are intrigued to meet you, the interview is where you do the sell.
When I arrived I had spent a year post graduation working as much as I could to save for my trip, mostly in hospitality, retail, office admin, and a short stint at a funeral home. I was a jack of all trades but there was no way I was going to break into the field I had studied (marketing) without any proper experience. Eventually I got desperate, walked into a pub and asked for a job, I ended up becoming part of a very special pub family which was wonderful.
From there some of my bar regulars offered me a job working for them (at a recruitment firm), and then from there I got myself introduced to the wife of a colleague who worked in advertising. After a year of working crappy hours for crappy money I finally ended up as a Project Manager in an Ad agency! (truthfully I had no idea what a Project Manager was and I was still making crappy money but I had made it). Where there is a will there is a way, don’t forget that.
Step 2: Put a roof over your head.
This is the hardest, fastest, most competitive rental market you’ve ever seen. If someone you know has a room in their flat then you’ve hit the jackpot and you get a quiet one finger salute from me. If not, you want to be on Spareroom.com 24/7 with your early bird access. Pretty much every available room is on this site. The other place to keep looking is on the Kiwi’s in London Facebook page where they have a dedicated flat post every week. The mistake I made initially was asking for a viewing straight off the bat. You are trying to sell yourself here so let them know what you’re all about and make them want to meet you.
Go for a viewing as soon as you possibly can, if you put it off, the room will go to someone else. Be prepared to dedicate your evenings to viewings where there are 4 other people looking at it that same night. I’ve been on both sides of this and believe me there is no point bringing bribes or offering to pay cash there and then. Eventually you will find some people who like you best and you’re in, you just have to persevere (and get used to the idea that the landlord has probably turned the lounge into another bedroom).
Side note: London postcodes give you a clue about where a place is. The first two letters are a compass direction and the two numbers tell you how far away from the centre you’re getting. I live in SW6 so South West and not too far out…I have also lived in SE11 and SW17 (that’s all the way in zone 3 – quelle horreur).
Step 3: A ticket to ride.
Public transport, it’s like chicken flavoured chips, you proclaim to hate them but you can’t stop going back for more. It’s a fiery hell-hole and the place you will spend an awful lot of your time. There are a multitude of ways to get about London – tube, bus, bike, cab, uber, walking…and they will all be suitable at different times depending on your circumstances. If you live far away from your work you will want to buy an Oyster card and then add a monthly (or yearly if you’re mega-rich) travelcard to that, then you can jump on buses and tubes with abandon as it’s all covered under the monthly cost.
If, like me, you live near work you can walk and get a bus when it’s raining. I just use my contactless debit card or Apple pay when I want to travel (same fare as an Oyster card) and that works out cheaper for me. Aside from walking your next cheapest option is Boris biking (Santander cycles really but no one calls them that). You can get an annual membership for £90 (BARGAIN) or it’s £2 for 24 hours of unlimited use, you just need to dock your bike every half hour and take another one. These are an awesome solution if you live in zone 2 as it saves you the hassle and maintenance of having your own bike, I use mine practically every day (download the app).
Uber is another popular way to travel, the app is convenient and it’s CHEAP compared with Black Cabs. I use the UberPool function a lot which is a fun way to make friends if you’ve had some beverages or sit in stoney silence if your sharing buddy is having none of your antics. Essentially it’s ride sharing that saves you money and the planet from more emissions. Uber can stitch you up sometimes by cancelling trips and a Black Cab will let you spew out the window after you drank too many martini’s so it depends on your needs. The other way home after a night out is the night bus…the less said about that the better.
Side note: Some tube stops are stupidly close together like Covent Garden and Leicester Square, it’s faster to just walk. Check out this map which shows you the walking times between stations so you don’t descend to the centre of the earth just to go 100 metres down the road.
Step 4: Get friendly
You might already know some people in the city but if they live at the end of the District line then your relationship can be consigned to the dustbin. You basically have to come to terms with the idea that, if you want to see your mates, it takes an hour. Going anywhere takes an hour. Perhaps you moved here with a group of your besties or maybe (like me) you only knew a few people from various parts of your previous adventures, none of whom knew each other. Which ever it is, don’t underestimate the value of stepping outside your circle and making local friends.
The workplace is a good place to start scouting, you spend a lot of time with these people so they might as well become your mates. You’re in the trenches together and that helps to breed camaraderie. Going to the pub is a big part of working life here so go on every night out that you can. Some of my closest friends now are people I met in the office kitchen and be-friended at the bar.
I also joined a gospel choir, joining some kind of club whether it’s sport or arts or basket weaving is good way to have something to broaden your social circle and get you out and about. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people you have a tenuous connection with and accept the fact that sometimes you will just have lonely days.
I’ve probably made this sound like a bit of an ordeal but I can assure you the good times more than make up for the tough ones. I’ve had some of the best experiences of my life here. The city is just full of everything you could ever imagine you would possibly want to do, not to mention the fact that you are on Europe’s doorstep.
I never questioned that I would move to London, I’ve always known this was where I wanted to be for as long as I can remember. Perhaps you are struggling to muster the conviction I had, don’t let that keep you from making the leap. At the end of the day, home will always be there and you can always go back. As trite and cliched as it sounds you just never know until you try.
There’s so much to say about moving to London, what have I missed out? Let me know in the comments and share your tips for taking London by storm or just trying to avoid puking on a night bus.
- You can drink in public here! and buy booze in any quantity at any time of the day or night. They sell spirits in the supermarkets!
- You don’t have to wear bike helmets, it’s kind of liberating and also terrifying.
- In the tube – stand on the right, don’t ask, just do it. And get your card ready to swipe out before you get to the barriers or you will be lynched.
- Don’t move to Acton, yes the rent is cheap…don’t be swayed by that, it’s a barren wasteland.
- Groceries are cheap, especially if you shop in the markets. It’s a known fact that cheese is the glue that holds our lives together and you can get a whole wedge of brie for 1 pound. Eat all you can before the Brexit fiasco ruins it.
Featured Image by: Edward Militaru