Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Advice Series Part 2: When in England...

Because I am the person from whom you want to recieve advice!

A few things that my mom wisely added to Part One (and you should take her word- she packed my stuff and will be helping me again for the way back!):

-Even if you can pack well and get everything you might want into one suitcase, double check the weight, check your airline for weight and suitcase size restrictions... if your bag is too heavy/large, you will be charged extra (many airlines charge not only for extra weight, but extra inches.)

-If you need to bring an extra bag, go on the airlines website; you can arrange to pay for the extra bag at a reduced rate.

-Remember, you will be completely in charge of moving your own suitcases around, so make sure they are manageable for you in size and weight.


-Get to the airport early. Like, really early. It may seem tiresome to arrive three hours before your flight, but this will allow you to calmly check- in (or, as my mother and I did, calmly try to find the place to check-in… Newark Airport is confusing.) This will also give you ample time to say good-bye, rather than having to run off to your plane with just a quick hug and a “bye, I’ll miss you.”

-If they give you the choice, go through the little scan-y machine because, let’s be honest… being patted down is awkward.

-Make sure you bring a jacket/sweatshirt/cardigan onto the plane with you. Airplane “blankets” are not actually blankets, and if you’re a normal person and sleep on a plane (unlike me), it’s probably easier to do so when you’re not cold.

-If you’re planning to stow your bag in the overhead compartment and you’re sitting by the window, try to take out the things you’ll actually use on the flight. I’m not talking laptops, but things like books. People don’t appreciate those that stand in the aisles picking through their belongings when others are trying to find their seats. If you have a smaller bag and plan to dive into it every five minutes, just keep it under the seat in front of you.

-As long as you get in line when your section is called, it doesn’t matter where you are in line. You have an assigned seat.

-Be conscientious of those around you on the plane. Check if someone’s behind you before tilting the seat back. If they’re watching a movie, you doing so will force them to slouch to see the screen (someone did this to me on the way here. I was angry.)


-When you arrive at the airport and go through border control, just answer their questions. They don’t want to have a conversation and the people behind you don’t want to wait as you make your attempts at conversation.

-Get a luggage trolley before you wait for your luggage. They’re really easy to steer and much better than lugging your suitcases around the airport.

-Realise how cool it is that all of the people waiting for friends/family members when you come through the arrival doors make you feel like a celebrity because everyone’s looking to see if you’re their person.

-Figure out which is the best way to get to where you’re staying (actually, this should be done beforehand.) I would recommend NOT taking the tube if you have more than one bag. Cabs/hired cars can be expensive, but check out those prices, because the tube will be awful with a big bag, especially if you take certain lines at certain times.

-Don't sleep if you arrive in the morning. You'll want to. You will experience a tiredness that is so overwhelmingly powerful that you will gladly lie on any flat surface if it means you can sleep for a minute. If you do, though, it will screw up your sleeping schedule (which, admittedly, is a much smaller deal when you're staying for a few months as opposed to a week.) We were also advised not to drink, but since that's not a concern for me, I never bothered to ask why.

-Wear the seatbelts on the buses. Yes, it's weird and uncomfortable, but it's the law. Just do it (and you will be hounded if you don't most of the time.)

-If you’re staying for longer than a week or two, unpack as soon as you can. Of course, go to any meetings and take care of getting the things you need to get, but don’t live out of a suitcase. I think this is especially important if you’re going to get homesick. Living out of a suitcase is probably not the best way to get used to the semi-permanence of your stay.

-If you’re living in a place that allows you to cook, go grocery shopping a day or two after you get there. There are some nice, cheaper sandwich places to get food around the city, but they’re not everywhere and even the cheap prices add up after awhile. Sainsbury’s is a great shopping place with good, low prices. There are huge ones around the city as well as smaller “local” ones. Other stores, like the co-operative, Tesco, or Budgens are a little more expensive, but still good choices.

-If you need things like lamps, blankets, bookcases, etc. to use temporarily, go to Argos. Their prices are cheap and you’ll either get what you ordered within minutes, can have it delivered, or can pick it up in a few days. There are Argoses all over the city, so just look up where your nearest one is.

-Go to the meetings you’re supposed to go to. Yes, they’ll probably be boring, but you’ll most likely get at least one bit of important information and they’ll probably give you a free pen or something, too.

-Just a note that if you only have a laptop (as opposed to a television, which you probably won’t have due to need of a crazy tv license), be aware that you won’t be able to play your own DVDs as well as renting or borrowing from a library because they’re in different zones.

-Talk to people. Get to know those with whom you’ll be living. This is the part I found hardest. Thankfully, I had a ready-made friend in Adrienne, and she talked to people while I lurked behind :p But definitely get to know your residence-mates. While I know and like two (three, including Adrienne) people in my flat, I haven’t had a single conversation with the other three.

-More about Oyster Cards: if you’re going to be traveling a lot every day (basically, going in and out of the tube more than twice), get a deal other than pay as you go. Pay as you go adds up fast, and it also holds you and your friends up when you have to stop and wait in line to top up.

-Get a street map and a tube map. You will use them during your entire stay.

-If you’re at university, do your required readings. The teachers actually use them.

-Don’t study too much. My roommate told me that the thing she regretted most about her time abroad was how much time she spent studying, and now that I’ve taken my exam, I can say I have the same regret. Studying is important, but you only have a limited amount of time in your temporary home.

-Go places. Especially if you’re in London, there is so much you can do spur of the moment. There are museums and festivals and exhibitions a lot of them are free.

-Go places by yourself sometimes. Friends are lovely to visit places with, but when it comes to museums, exhibitions, etc., especially those that you’re really interested in, it’s nice to not feel that you have to go slower or faster.

-That said, travel with your friends. Or your family. Just travel with someone. This is for a few reasons. First, for safety. Second, for cost (hotel/hostel rooms, etc.) Thirdly, as I discovered when I went on the countryside tour on my own, good experiences can be had without friends along… but then there’s no one with whom to reminisce. It’s a little lonely.

-It doesn't rain here as much as you might think. I kept track on my calendar, and as of today, the final count is 37 instances of rain in nearly five months. The lovely thing about London rain is that it rarely pours and when it does rain at all, it's short and the rest of the day is fine. Like I wrote last time, I've worn my Wellies only twice.

-London has a night life, but it's mostly pubs. Shopping and the like cannot be done after about six pm because everything closes down. It's annoying at first, but then you get used to it.

-About pubs: pubs are cool and different from American bars. Some are more similar in that they play loud music and are overflowing with drunk people. Others, though, are more for hanging out, with couches and things as well as the bar. I really enjoyed the one I went to that was like this, and there's not the same expectation to drink at these sorts of places. Also, remember that as much as you might want to drink (whether in a pub or at home here), the cost of alcohol, like anything else you'll buy a lot of, adds up,

-Two notes on traveling and souvenirs that contradict one another: When you first arrive in London (or any new, exciting place), you will feel the urge to buy every cool thing you see, sure you'll never find anything like it ever again. Ignore these impulses for awhile until you calm down about your cool new place of residence; in a few weeks, those ceramic Will & Kate masks will start to look pretty silly.
However, do remember that you may not be back for a long time or ever. This is especially good to remember when you're traveling to places besides your adopted country. Travel is expensive, to be sure, and I'm not recommending that you go crazy, but I had to remind myself while in Venice that I'd probably never be there again. It's okay to get souvenirs, but make them worthwhile ones and don't spend your life savings on them.

Next time: specific things to see and do!


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