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A Recently Returned London Explorer's Advice to Future London Explorers

Hello!

If you’ve clicked onto this to read that means that you have some interest in/ have decided to do the study abroad program in London! YAY! Go you, you amazing person, because this is going to be one of the absolute best decisions of your life and you are going to love every single moment of it.

When I set out to begin my trip to London, I was a little bit nervous. How much did I need to pack? What sort of things was I going to need? Would my curling iron blow up or burn a huge chunk of my hair off once I’d plugged it into the converter? These questions haunted my very being. However, now that I’ve gone to London, I have some answers, so here you go friends, a list of stuff to keep in mind before you head off on the best trip ever!

BEFORE LONDON

1. Get your prescriptions figured out way ahead of time. I mean this. Insurance companies can be a huge pain in the butt, and you want to make sure you have whatever medications you need ahead of time.

2. Bring moleskin. Almost everyone on my trip got blisters at some point, because we all walked miles and miles every day. My roommate unfortunately developed them so bad on her feet that she had to sit out about three days worth of activities so that they could heal. The second I felt the blisters developing on the backs of my feet, I slapped some moleskin on them and presto, all better. Remember to bring some from home though, because Boots (the London equivalent of Walgreens) does not carry moleskin and the employees there will look at you like you’re crazy when you ask for some.

3. Remember to buy an Adaptor so that you can use your electronics while in London. I got mine from Walmart for thirty bucks. Mine was nice because it had a USB plug in it as well as the traditional plug in, so I could charge my phone while curling my hair, like a true lady of adventure.

4. Pack extra underwear. You may tell yourself, “awe, it’s no big deal, of course I’ll have time to do my laundry”. But you are lying to yourself, and when the day comes where you grasp frantically all over your suitcase for that one last clean pair of delicates, you will shake your fist at the sky and wish you had headed my words. Bring extra. Bring extra extra.

5. Buy anti-acid. London food is delicious, but it can also do weird stuff to you, and anti-acids are nice to have and come in a delicious minty candy flavor.

6. Invest in a good coat. While we were in London the weather was actually really pretty decent, but it’s still very cold, and you don’t want to be thinking about how freezing you are instead of how much fun you’re having. Mine was also great because it had pockets on the inside, one of which was big enough to fit my wallet, which meant I never had to worry about it getting stolen because the thief would have had to stick there hand up my shirt and I probably would have noticed.

7. Don’t pack scarves. Why? Because there are twenty billion scarves you will want to buy while you’re in London, and for that reason you need to leave room for them. They make great lightweight gifts and they are also super cute. One of the girls on my trip bought twenty two. TWENTY TWO.

8. Leave some room in your suitcase and your carry on. You are going to end up buying souvenirs for the fam and for yourself. Be proactive about leaving room for those future things. It’ll also help you keep from over-packing.

9. Don’t over-pack. Yeah yeah yeah, easier said than done, but here. Bring enough clothes for a week, make some of that stuff items you can switch up and create new outfits with, boom, you’re done. You only need one set of pajamas. You only really need one pair of great shoes that match everything in your bag. Pack only what you know you feel comfortable and confidant wearing, and leave the rest behind.

10. Bring moisturizer. Facial lotion, body lotion, lip balm, bring it all! My skin got so dry, I was grateful I had some stuff to put on it so that it didn’t become a flaky mess.

11. Figure out what your phone situation is going to be. Are you going to keep your own phone and only text sparingly? Get a vodaphone while you’re there? There are a few different options, and you should know what they are before you leave the states and your mama gets worried because she can’t get ahold of you. Here’s a tip, if you go somewhere with wifi you can message people over facebook for free, which can seriously save you money in the long run. Most pubs and coffee places will have free wifi.  

12. Have a conversation with your roommate about a game plan for room etiquette. Are you the sort of person who needs a lot of space? Do you like having other people in the room? Make it easy on the both of you so you know what to expect for your time together, it’ll save you potential stress in the future.

13. Get all the basic stuff figured out for your side trip! Have a game plan, know how much you’re going to need money wise so you can budget, what the route you’re going to take to get there is, all of that, so you aren’t stressed at the last minute trying to pull something together.

14. Don’t stress out if you don’t know the people you’re traveling with very well. Somehow, magically, the power of being in a new and strange place will bond you all together with the sap of friendship. I knew like two people in my class before we really made it out to London, and by the time we left I had developed some really great friends I count myself lucky to know. Traveling is cool like that.

15. Make a list of places you have to see. The Professors are going to give you a lot of time to wander and explore, and that’s the perfect opportunity to see some sights. Go to Platform 9 3/4s, or that gallery Garth was raving about, or even just a café you read about that looks really good. Give yourself some places to journey to that aren’t on the syllabus.

WHILE IN LONDON

16. Never, ever, ever lose track of your purse/wallet/bag. I will never forget the look of horror on my friends face when she realized her wallet, and therefore all of her money, had been stolen. We were just chilling at a pub when it happened; some jerk snatched it right out of the purse that was hanging off the back of her chair. She disconnected her credit card immediately, but the whole situation was super stressful, so just be very conscious of when you might be vulnerable to thieves.

17. Test your curling iron before applying it to an important part of your head. You can’t be sure what sort of crazy affect the electrical current could have on your once trusted appliance. So, better safe than sorry.

18. Leave your passport in the safe of your hotel room. Do not carry that thing around with you, it is an accident waiting to happen.

19. Take out a couple hundred pounds when you go to the bank, it’s a better deal in the long run so your bank wont charge you for the dollar to pound conversion too often. If you’re worried about carrying that much cash on you, or if you think you wont make smart spending decisions if you have it all with you at once, leave whatever you don’t think you’ll spend during the day in your hotel room safe along with your passport.

20. Treat any blisters the second you start getting them. Don’t let them get worse, because they will ruin your trip and make walking miserable.

21. Learn the tube system. Nothing can prepare you for the madness of the tube, but the second you get to London you need to start figuring out the basics of traveling, on the off chance you get separated from your group or even if you want to branch out and do your own thing. Read the signs, play monkey see monkey do with the Professors for the first couple of days, and if you ever find yourself really not knowing what is going on ask one of the nice folks working there for assistance, they’ll help you figure out what you have to do.

22. Check your bank balance regularly. Maybe every other time you have wifi. That way, if there is something sketchy going on with your money situation, you can catch it quick and take care of it before anything too serious goes wrong. Definitely check it every time you take money out of an ATM. One of my friends actually had her debit card info stolen while we were in the Seattle airport waiting to fly to London, and she realized it the night we got there and was able to stop too much money from being taken, and got a reimbursement from the bank.

23. Don’t buy wifi, just go to the pub and buy a pint and use theirs. It is great because you have wifi, and you also have a pint, and that’s truly all you need in this life anyway.

24. Get out of the hotel room. There are going to be moments when you are actually very tired and don’t really want to do any adventuring, and that’s okay, but don’t spend more time in that hotel room than you have to. If you need a break from life, go to a coffee bar (Pret is good, Nero is better) sit down, and soak up what it’s like to be in London, you have very little time to do so anyway and soon enough you’ll be back languishing in your dorm at school bitterly wishing you had walked Hyde Park one more time.

25. When you are in the hotel room at night, watch some British TV, and marvel at how weirdly English everything is. And also England has very different commercials than America does. You’ll see what I mean.

26. Be conscientious of what you talk about when you’re in public places. Some conversations aren’t meant for the tube or for the bus, and you don’t want to be that group of Americans making everyone uncomfortable. You would think this doesn’t need to be said, but you know, some peoples kids.

27. Try all the food. Try traditional British food, try awesome Indian food, and sample as much Thai food as you can get your hands on. When you eventually eat at Wagamama (which you will definitely do), get the Wagamama Ramen, and one of their fresh pressed juices. It’s part of the experience.

28. Take Pictures. You will regret it so so so much if you don’t. I’m not suggesting you live for moments you can post to Instagram, but you are going to see some very new sights and some incredible things that you are going to want to remember the details of later. No one on this trip is going to judge you for asking them to grab a snapshot of you with Big Ben. They’ll actually probably just be relieved because now they can ask you to take their picture with it too. Pictures are fun and free souvenirs, so go for it.

29. Go with the right attitude. Travel is tons of fun, but it can be stressful at times and people get homesick easily, and if you aren’t in the right frame of mind you can really start or end your trip in the wrong headspace. You have a limited amount of time to explore an incredible and ancient city, which you have been studying for a semester, and after those three weeks you are done! And your first time in London is over. Take advantage of every moment, recognize that it is all temporary, shake off any negative feelings the best you can and live in the moment. COI will be the same when you come home. But if you’re lucky you might be a little different.

30. Journal. It’s a grade, and infinitely easier to do every night when the memories are fresh rather than haphazardly and hurriedly near the end of your trip. Also if you are too busy/exhausted every once in a while to write an entry, take notes, just a quick little bullet point list of all the stuff you did that day, that way it’s easier to recall information when you do have time to write it.

31. Go on allllllll of the optional excursions with the professors. They have lots of experience and tons of cool information, and you end up seeing and learning a lot more about different places than you would have on your own. It’s low key and lots of fun, and you’ll regret missing out on what they have to say. Plus you get to see the sassy saucy super side of the Professors, and that’s worth going all on it’s own.

I’m sure there are many more things that I just might not be thinking of at the moment, but those are some of the key suggestions I have when it comes to your upcoming study abroad in London. Being back now, there are so many things I can’t wait to do the next time I’m there, but I’m so grateful I had the first experience that I had, and that it was with all of the perspective the London Class was able to give me. You will never regret for a moment all the amazing and beautiful memories you will make on this trip!