This week marks the 10 year anniversary of my first solo trip abroad. At 22 I sold most of my possessions, quit my job, gave notice at my rental and with $1200AUS and a credit card moved to London knowing nothing and no one
It was hardly wandering off the beaten track (European Contiki and UK working visa) Closer resembling a well-trodden slightly eroded track through a sand dune. Regardless I still consider it the best, scariest, foolish, wonderful, gutsy thing I have ever done and possibly will ever do.
Travel for me was never an ‘if’ it was always a ‘when’, breaking up with my high school boyfriend was the kick up the ass I needed to get my head down bum up and save like crazy to make it happen so within 8 months I was boarding an Emirates flight to the UK.
And 10years on (8years since I got home) I still miss it, I am by no means looking through rose coloured glasses some days that city kicked my ass, I spent most of 2005/2006 totally broke, with a maxed out credit card and working two jobs, barely sleeping to keep myself afloat, at times running back to the warm security of home and a hug from Mum seemed like a tempting option. Its busy, its dirty (look at your feet after riding the tube in flip flops), the weather most of the time is rubbish and the people can be quite rude- the moment I knew it was time to go home was when I tripped on Oxford Street during rush hour, had the guy behind me grunt his disapproval for being stopped, stepped over me while I was still on the ground and kept walking… despite that I’m oh so glad that I stuck it out. The city is magical
It’s naive to believe travel/ living abroad won’t change you, I just wasn’t prepared with how much it changes you- that 2 years in most part defined what type of adult I would become (or still becoming, I’m not entirely convinced that I am a proper grown up yet) The me that I had always been just a little bit braver, a little bit freer, a little bit wilder, slightly more curious, much more open minded with a pinch of gypsy added in. I foolishly thought if I saw all the European countries I set out to Id have my fill of travelling and come home, get a good job and settle down like all normal people. What actually happened was a fire was lit within, a desire to see as much of the world for as long as possibly, and thanks to my current employment situation it’s only gotten more achievable, with no desire to slow down anytime soon. Initial plans to return in 2012 (with a few million other people) didn’t eventuate, but could 2016 be the year I see the town on the Thames again?
Top 10 Things I Miss About London
- Getting Lost in the Streets – I would spend my days off just wandering up alleys, down laneways, along the Thames finding little cafes, small bars and other hidden treasures. I knew the central part of that city like the back of my hand.
- Sunday Nights at my share house – 5 permanent rent payers in a 4 bedroom townhouse in Willesden Green, more often than not there was someone dossing in our lounge (that person was me for a few months over summer 06) and more than a couple times I opened the door to find someone I didn’t know sitting at the kitchen table. We travelled together, socialised together and fought like crazy at times, but every Sunday night we’d all mooch down to the local Chinese restaurant nursing more than likely another hangover, order take out (Beef Black Bean, steamed rice thank you) and watch Lost (it was 2005 after all)
- How the City would come alive when the sun shone – And no this didn’t happen often. You get very used to grey skies very quickly, it dawned on all in our house how much we took the ocean for granted back home, the salty breeze and fresh air seemed like memories from a dream, border lining a sort of mild depression longing for the warmth on your skin and the sight of a clear blue sky. And for a few precious days in summer in happens, awaking the city from a type of hibernation. Everything is better, the city almost sparkles, people are nicer and lunches are spent spread out on the grass in one of the many parks, dipping your feet in the fountains. Aint no one loves a bit of public sun baking like a Brit.
- Not needing to have a car – The irony that I took a job driving a truck for a living is that I hate driving, I despise it. I’m a terrible passenger also, like a small child the bearded man has to bribe and lie about distances to get me in a car for long trips. Most of my adult life I have been lucky to live relatively close to transport/ shops/ pubs/ cafes so driving is something I only have to do in short bursts. In London I was thrilled to meet co-workers my age that shared my disinterest in driving to the point where some of them didn’t even have a licence as there was simply no need. Not only is the public transport so comprehensive, it only takes a couple weeks to realise that you can walk from A to B in central London quicker than catching a train/ bus cab. Why disappear underground when you can leave Big Ben to walk via Leicester Square on your way to Covent Garden? I managed to go the whole time without EVER having to get behind the wheel- gold.
- There is always something to do – Always. Something as simple as a couple of after work drinks could (and did) lead to a dance party at a club with a Saturday Night Disco floor. The endless galleries, shops and sights you could take in, picnics and day trips to parks near and far. Endless concerts, movie openings, previews, shops, bars, cafes and festivals, something is always new, always opening begging to be tried. Not to mention weekends away and day trips both out of town and abroad (for someone who lives in the most isolated capital in the world this was amazing) Catering to every budget your time can be spent as cheap (free) or as expensive as you like.
- Was actually cheaper than Perth – I am basing this on 2006 prices and seeing how much more expensive Perth has gotten I could assume that it’s all pretty relative still. Back then the exchange rate was rubbish and I did earn a pittance (pulling pints and waiting tables is hardly high skilled work) but eating out, drinks and travel were all cheaper than back home which really surprised me you had to be savvy a pint of beer could cost 2pounds in one place and 4 in the next (clearly I didn’t frequent many upper end establishments) chippers on every high street offered dirt cheap (nutritionally empty) meals, flights abroad could cost as low as 8 pounds if you got in quick and early, I even managed to do a weeks’ worth of grocery shopping for 6quid – there was veggies involved but also a lot of 30p tins of soup. I personally found living cheaply in Europe was much easier than Australia
- The history– As a self-confessed history nerd, coming from a country where a building older than 100 years is classed as ‘heritage’ to working in a building that is 400 years is a massive eye opener, travelling to countries to see relics from 1000’s years is mind blowing and puts in perspective just how ‘young’ my homeland is (meaning young for western civilization I am aware that Indigenous Australians are one if not the oldest continual culture on earth)
- Pre-Packaged Sandwiches – Slightly odd yes, but you know you have been in London a while when you don’t even hesitate to buy a pre-packages sandwich for lunch. In Australia, desperation would almost be the only time you would buy one and more times than not be met with stale or soggy bread, brown lettuce and questionable meat. In London they were basically a food group, everywhere from Sainsburys to Pret a Manger pre made wraps and sandwiches were an easy and relatively affordable lunch option, and delicious – I’m looking at your bacon and egg brown bread Sainsburys sambo (why I gained 22kgs during my stay is starting to become more obvious)
- Waiting for the Tube – There was something about standing on the platform underground waiting for the train, hearing the oncoming rumble then the spray of warm air in your face as it pulls into the station. I don’t know why I loved it, the dusty smell mixed with fuel and oil always reminded me where I was and emit a small smile or appreciation
- Being anonymous – When the town you went to high school in is 2 degrees of separation it’s oh so refreshing to live in a city of 10 million and know that on any given day there is literally no chance of bumping into anyone you know. I know I wasn’t a very good friend/ family member when I was there, basically falling off the grid (this was before the days of Facebook) but it did feel good to just disappear down the rabbit hole and be a bit selfish for a while. I knew it wasn’t forever so made the most of it while I could.