Having recently arrived back to sunny, hot Australia from London (I snigger as I type this – the heat hates me and I hate it!) and with no immediate plans (hello post-uni degree unemployment?! Just keeping it real haha!), I’ve finally started to put words to paper on what was the most crazy, magical, challenging five weeks spent abroad in the UK (mostly in Central London).
Despite the many words of advice and reassurance, nothing could really have prepared me for five weeks…travelling solo…in one BIG city. The adventure that ensued both built and broke me – often almost at the same time! There were high ‘highs’ and low ‘lows’ but the sum total equaled a memorable experience that I will never forget, and in fact didn’t want to end (you’ll certainly be seeing me again soon London!).
Now, whilst this post is somewhat reflective for myself (it has been cathartic to write!)…I do not want to bore you all with too many personal epiphanies. I do, however, want to share a few ‘light bulbs’ or ‘take-aways’ about London itself, but also the experience of travelling solo in such a city. When you’re a ‘tourist’, an ‘outsider’ I think you also tend to notice the little idiosyncrasies of the everyday, even more so than the locals. Hopefully these lessons can help fellow first-time solo travellers – especially those heading to London. Oh and there’s also a little bit of a ‘love song dedication‘ speech to all those I met along the way included below too (you can skip that part if you wish!) – because the ‘PEOPLE’ made the trip!
Lessons from London:
1. Everyone on the street will be on a mission, few will smile at you or generally go out of their way to make conversation (unless of course they’re fellow Aussie tourists!)…it’s not you, it’s not them, it’s London during business hours – accept it and move on.
2. During those first few days, those first few outings and solo brunches, you’ll probably feel lonely and think to yourself ‘what the fu$% have I done?!’. This is completely normal – you’re in a new environment (far beyond your comfort zone) with likely not many people to share your every waking (excited) thought with. It will get easier every day, and with every new conversation and friendship. You will be okay!
3. If you think coffee is expensive here…move to London. Did I still pay for it? Of course I did. Was it good? Mostly yes, actually. I feel the influx of Australian baristas into the city may have something to do with it (I’m biased though, clearly).
4. If you get really sick (like I did – cue first and worst upper respiratory infection of my life!) then do not put off seeking medical advice or attention (also like I did!) for fear of cost/lack of cover/future need to claim on travel insurance. Turns out the UK has a reciprocal agreement with Australia so that all Aussie citizens have access to free medical treatment via the NHS. I’ve never been so grateful for a public health system (that apparently ‘mostly’ works), and friends who are also British doctors. Being sick when you’re a million miles away from loved ones is never ideal but help is always around – don’t be afraid to ask.
5. The PEOPLE make the trip. Yes, yes they do. Apart from the few Australian friends I was reuniting with whilst over there – the majority of people I met along the way (and now call great friends!) I had not ever met in person. Did I know them? Well yes, that’s what Instagram is for…but did I expect them to welcome me with open arms, like a dear old friend that has returned…no. Though THAT is exactly what happened. The generosity well and truly blew me away! Yes, I am going to name ‘names’…my list of mentions probably longer than most speeches at the Golden Globes, but here goes anyway.
From the lovely Felicity who gave me a safe, cosy place to stay for the entire time and brought me cinnamon buns when I was ill; to Eleonora who fed me home cooked meals and showed me the best of Paris; Michael and Mark who hosted a mean Christmas dinner; Luis and Gerald for extending an invite to their fabulous NYE party; and dear Katy for shouting me to an excellent ‘Aussie style’ brunch.
To the lovely Helen, Rosie, Laura, Megan and Izy for talking all things ‘nutrition’, providing words of wisdom and generally ‘nerding’ out with me; to Monique for keeping it real re:London life and talking loudly and proudly with me (in our Aussie accents) as we walked the streets of Marylebone; and to James and Anna who also both provided some real words of advice re: Aussies living in London.
To Rupy for giving me the low-down on the public hospital system and where I needed to get my butt when I was cycling in and out of fevers; and the lovely hospital pharmacist whose name I do not know but who gave me a smile and stopped for a friendly chat, during my lonesome A&E experience. Also, much love to the damn amazing Lisa (hairdresser extraordinaire and fellow Aussie!) for rescuing my locks from London’s ‘hard’ water and miniature shower heads!!
To dear Alexandra for making my last day in London, as enjoyable as the first, sharing our deepest thoughts over tea and making plans for London reunions (sooner rather than later), and the ever lovely Henrietta for ‘testing out’ your sublime cheesecake on me (inspiring me to get baking again!); and beautiful Erika for giving me the low-down on the cutest cafes in our area and getting excited over hummus and vegan quinoa/sweet potato bowls with me! Big kisses also to the ever vivacious, egg-loving Alice for making me cackle, treating me to breakfast and hooking me up with one of the cosiest hotel rooms in London – you really are a gem!
To Libby for showing me Brighton and sharing a Sunday roast with me; and to Sue, Kate, Lottie, Ali and the entire Dean’s Court family for making my visit and stay in Dorset one of the most memorable experiences of the trip. Special mentions also to Lani for my behind-the-scenes chocolate-making tour and supplies of extra choccy to take home; to beautiful Kylee for letting me visit you ‘preserve and pickling’ workshop and gifting me the most sublime jams; and to the lovely Annie for sharing your business story and a box of delicious ‘new’ granola with me!
Kudos to the lovely Anna who took my making contact with her on an ‘Instagram whim’ in the best possible way…and for spending your lunch breaks with me eating Japanese food and wandering the streets of Camden in search of ‘pretty doors’…and finally, to dear Valeria for stuffing me with wine, three cheese fondue and homemade galette de rois, accompanying me on many a ‘Leila’s Shop’ date, posing for floral shots against white walls and just generally making me laugh!
Phew, I told you that would be long – if you skipped over that section then I don’t blame you but honestly each of those divine individuals all deserved a mention!
6. If you can avoid using the tube, do. Take a bus or better still walk…you miss a lot of magic underground!
Side note: if you happen to find yourself in London during a tube strike then I advise not leaving the house (if possible). Walking to Waterloo station (in the rain, with luggage) to catch a train to the country was certainly NOT a highlight. Haha.
7. Also avoid converting everything into Aussie dollars/your currency (you’ll never leave your lounge room otherwise!). Yes, London is expensive, though strangely some things like everyday groceries seemed a lot more affordable?! Don’t get me started on how much ‘supermarket stalking’ I did too – can’t help it! Come to think of it lucky I did ride solo!
8. Do convince yourself that because it’s extra cold you need that extra mince pie, slice of gingerbread cake, salt beef bagel (if you visit Brick Lane… you must have an infamous bagel… follow the queue!) or extra wedge of cheese. This is the truth! Malnutrition only heightens hypothermia risk.* Oh and a weekly Sunday pub roast is also known to cure the winter blues.*
*Above claims based on anecdotal research and have not been proven by validated studies
9. Do take the train OUT of London and visit one of the many close UK towns (like Brighton or Cambridge or Salisbury or Oxford) OR better still nab a cheap airline ticket to Paris, Copenhagen or Amsterdam! London is an incredibly alive and bustling city, but can easily become overwhelming and exhausting. You have to get out every now and then and smell the roses (a.k.a actually breath in some fresh, non-polluted air). Also, it’s pretty hard not to wantb to explore, when Europe is literally at your fingertips and the cost of a plane ticket can be less than that spent on the tube in a week!
10. Do take time to be completely by yourself…not rushing off to meet someone or texting/talking on your phone. After all…you decided to travel solo for a reason. Enjoy creating your own plans, wandering on your own watch and embracing your own company. I found it was those times when it was just me and my camera that the real ‘a-ha’ moments happened!
I hope these little anecdotes and insights are helpful. Stay tuned for city guides and more tips on what to see and eat in London, the wider UK, and Paris – coming soon!
Oh and I would love some feedback on what YOU want to see more of on The Alimental Sage this year?! I have put together a super quick survey which you can access here. I would be so grateful for any feedback!