I have been in London for over 24 hours and I still can’t believe I’m here. Like, it just isn’t real yet. I have been planning this trip for what seems like forever, and now I have to navigate the whole world on my own. Well, not the whole world, but close enough. I had trouble just navigating the airport in Canada.
In the few short hours since I boarded my plane in Pittsburgh, I’ve accomplished many firsts. I left the country for the first time. I crossed an ocean for the first time. I used a bathroom in Iceland for the first time, and even though me and some random other girl both got lost in there, the bathrooms at the airport put all other American bathrooms to shame.
I took public transportation for the first time, and now after one ride I feel like I have mastered the London Underground, and I was indeed confident enough to go down today and just sit on the stairs at a random stop because I was tired and needed somewhere dry to sit. No one even glanced at me, so they probably assumed I was homeless. Close enough. In Googling this trip I found only shit tips on how to use the underground, so here is the simplest explanation.
HOW TO USE THE LONDON UNDERGROUND (FOR DUMMIES)
First, figure out where you want to go. If you take a second to look at it, the tube map is very simple. The hardest part would be if you need to switch lines during your journey, but it’s announced on the train which station connects to other lines. Second, buy a ticket. There are little machines or people at the windows, you just need money and your destination. (It you are staying for a while or know you will use the tube a lot, get a oyster travel card.) Once you have your ticket, feed it into the bottom slot at the gate to the trains. It will come back out on top and you just take it and wait for your train to get there. When it arrives, let people off first before pushing on, then sit or stand somewhere that you can see the line map on the wall. It lists all the stops on the line so that you can be prepared to get off at your stop. They announce the stops, so there’s no fear of missing anything so long as you are ready to get off and don’t have to waste time pushing past people. Once you arrive at your stop, there will be another gate you feed your ticket into, then you’re free to get lost again on the streets of London.
Disclaimer: I have been in London for like a day and a half so this might be terrible advice.
I think I’m a bit jetlagged because I just want to nap, but that could also be from walking all the way to Big Ben and back. My strategy for navigating is to just aim in the direction of where I want to be and just use the little pillar signs that are everywhere (the ones with little “you are here” stickers) to get where I need to be. It’s working out so far, but I may be out of luck when I use that technique in other countries. We’ll see. For London, it’s worked just fine, and it’s a lot easier than trying to open a big paper map in the rain. Also, this way rather than just going from point A to point B you get to see all the little extra roads on the indirect routes, which somehow for me always leads to walking past a million restaurants. Seriously guys, you will not go hungry here.
GLUTEN FREE IN LONDON
The best thing about London so far is that gluten free dairy free brownies are cheap (well, less than £2) and not terrible. The grocery store was a wonderful adventure and I highly recommend for anyone traveling on a budget to go grocery shopping ASAP. I could eat with like £7 a day or less by not eating out. I will also be moving here because their gluten free pasta is cheaper than in the US. (Wtf America, why are you punishing those of us who can’t eat gluten?) Many resturants have signs that say gluten free and there are plenty of options to choose from.
ACCOMIDATION FOR BACKPACKERS IN LONDON
If you’re going to be backpacking in London, I’d recommend the Smart Russel Square Hostel because it is cheap, but I have low standards. I’m staying in the 18 bed dorm and I chose the top bunk, in which I have made my nest, and there are an additional two bunks below me, but because I am right next to the door my bed is the only one with a fan. There is a sink in the room to brush your teeth and there was a group of German guys who came in late at night, turning the light on and talking loudly, but a member of the staff threatened to kick them out so they shut up, so that was nice. The showers are a bit cramped and I am short so the water sprays directly on my face, but they were warm enough for my quick shower. The free breakfast is just toast, cereal, coffee, milk, and koolaid cleverly disguised as fruit juice, which is no help for me as I can’t have gluten, but for normal people it would be enough. It’s also basically next door to the British museum which makes it convienient for me since whatever day I have extra time I can just pop in there till I got bored or they kick me out.
SAFTEY IN LONDON
There are people everywhere. As long as you stay where the people are, you should be fine. There may be pickpockets out there, but if you’re smart it shouldn’t be a problem. I went walking alone at night as a small female and didn’t have any trouble or feel at all unsafe. Just don’t walk down any dark alleys.
Bring an umbrella AND a raincoat, and I advise a waterproof backpack. People are not joking about the rain here.
Don’t try to overdo yourself. Nap if you’re tired, slow down if you need a break. Just because you’re in a new city doesn’t mean you have to see EVERY site the city has to offer. London will always be here, and no matter what you do you will never see everything, so why bother trying if you’ll be miserably tired the whole time?