The Hobo Guide to Moving to London
Late last year, I shoved everything I owned (which sadly at the age of 26 was not a lot) into a backpack, bid farewell to the mushrooming warmth of the Australian summer and relocated to the brisk, but charming city of London. The motivation for this move stemmed mainly from the wish to visit European countries with the ease of catching the L90 from the beaches to the city, but also because the human I had developed fond feelings for was a citizen of this kingdom and our country had the audacity to kick him out when his visa expired.
I had many fictional ideas of what this move would entail, most of which involved images of me riding double-decker buses and visiting Harry Potter World while looking cute in a beanie and a puffa jacket. Very little involved the real logistics of moving to the other side of the world with not much money and even less possessions. So to prevent any London-bound hobos from making the same mistakes I did, I’ve decided to let you in on what I’ve learned over the last few months living with our British cousins, the most important of which is that puffa jackets look good on no-one. Not even Harry Potter.
1. Look at the money you’ve saved, and then double it
I was very fortunate that I had a place to stay when I first arrived, meaning I wasn’t destitute within a week from paying hefty hostel prices. But I was destitute in a couple of months, and I hadn’t even started paying rent yet. When you arrive, your money will basically be cut in half due to the unfortunate dollar situation. You will be simultaneously excited and disappointed when you see something for the low price of £20, work out the conversion and realise that sandwich meal deal is actually $40 AUD. Set a savings goal and then try to double it. Otherwise you won’t be able to feed yourself the pie ‘n’ mash special at the local pub, let alone rent and transportation costs.
2. Hone your administration skills
If you’re anything like me, when you first arrive you will be too busy riding the London Eye and eating Jaffa cakes to focus on the life administration side of relocating. That is, getting a National Insurance number, bank account and registering with a doctor. Then suddenly you will get sick, run out of money and realise you need ALL THE THINGS NOW or you will become a homeless hobo who has to wait for the free NHS service for five hours on a Friday night. As soon as you have a permanent address, call JobCentre Plus to apply for an NI number. You will need this to get paid and it can take up to eight weeks to arrive. The NI number you receive will serve as the ‘I live here’ proof that the bank requires, allowing you to open an account. You can then register with a doctor, using your bank account statement as proof of address. Essentially, a permanent post code, good penmanship and not leaving everything to the last minute is pretty fucking crucial in obtaining all the above.
3. Accept you will get fat
I don’t care if you went to cross-fit six times a week and have been a religious follower of the Paleo diet since the dawn of time. As soon as your feet touch the ground in London the pounds will automatically start showing on your puffy face. Nobody knows why this happens: theories abound that David Cameron is injecting sugar into the oxygen circulation of the tube, but I think it has something to do with the abundance of delicious treats, too many American themed diners and an overconsumption of Sunday roasts. The fact that it’s cold all the time and the only thing you will exercise is your mouth as it demolishes another packet of Minstrels is also a contributing factor. There are ways to avoid being unable to fit in your jeans, most involve exercise and eating better, however I’ve found after five months of continuous treat eating, the best thing to do is to buy new jeans. It’s only a two-year visa, how much diabetes can you really get?
4. Survive the transport system
The London underground is a dark forbidding place that is similar to Fight Club in that it’s violent, and there are unwritten rules which if broken, have dire consequences. Get yourself an Oyster card and try not to weep as you see half your savings swallowed up in the first week of commuting. Try not to travel during the peak hours of early morning and evening and don’t even think about getting off the tube, stopping and having a look around to get your bearings, the glacial stare from commuters keeping calm and carrying on in the face of your obvious tourism will fuck you up for days. Don’t worry if you forget to mind the gap, you will be told once every four seconds before the doors close. And whatever you do, DON’T STAND ON THE LEFT when going up the escalator; you will be tutted at, glared at and maybe even knifed.
5. Embrace being Unemployed
Being unemployed on purpose is a rare gift obtained when moving to a new country and shouldn’t be squandered. Don’t waste this time sitting in your underwear savaging blocks of cheese and watching Hart of Dixie. You’re in bloody London for bollocks sake! Get out and explore the shit out of the city. Top picks include: Borough Market, Tate Modern, Southbank, Big Ben, any red phone box, Buckingham Palace, any park with squirrels, Camden, Notting Hill and Oxford Street. All standard tourist outings, all free, all offer Instagram worthy snaps and all guaranteed to make you go, “Fuck, I really am in London!” at least once a day.
While it’s only been a few months since leaving the golden shores of Australia, I have found myself settled into my new British life with only a few running out of money hiccups. If you’re thinking of making the leap to this side of the world, do it. The city is bloody exciting, the weight you put on is totally worth it and I don’t even notice the cold anymore. And that has nothing to do with the fact that I’m currently wearing two pairs of pants.
Cover by Elsa Konig
Rowan still hasn’t finished War & Peace, but she did use it to balance her dinner once. Living in London, she’s steadily working her way through the Europe’s great cities and hopes to try every wine in England before her visa expires.