Oh London, my newly-adopted-yet-short-lived-temporary-home. I love you to bits, but you are waay too expensive for this frugal traveler!
I made London my base in September as I traveled Europe because here I had a place and close friends to come “home” to. Much like New York, London is a gargantuan city with lots to offer in terms of culture, historical sights, historical and art museums, parks and down right fun just hanging out.
My goal for visiting London was the same with all the places I visit: I have none. I tend to transplant the life I had in NYC to wherever I roam. I like to get to know a city by living in the city, weaving myself into the cultural fabric. I’ll explore a good bit, do some touristy stuff, however I like my normal, every day creature comforts of a good coffee in the morning, a quiet place to read and work on grad school applications, and a nice pint to go to bed to.
Step 1: Get ready to explore
Converting your cash to £’s is quite easy. There are loads of ATMs and cash exchange points everywhere. Depending on whom you bank with, you can withdraw from ATMs for free, e.g. Bank of America –> Barclays.
If you plan to be here longer and have acquired a job contract or student acceptance letter, then you’ll be able to set up an account quite easily. I attempted this at Barclays. First, you have to come in in person to any branch, make an appointment for 2-3 weeks later. At the appointment, bring your passport and physical, snail-mailed acceptance/contract letter on official letterhead with the address of Barclays on it and length of how long you are contracted for. Et voila! This will make your life so much easier traveling through Europe with a cashless/contactless/ chip and pin card that you can even use in place of an Oyster card on the Tube and buses.
I went with 3 (three.co.uk) since they had good rates for traveling through the rest of Europe (excluding The Netherlands). I paid £15 for the first month that included unlimited 4g data. I’ve topped up a total of £30 after just for use in France, Belgium and Israel.
Like all major cities, there are loads of free Wifi spots all over, however getting one that consistently works is a bit more of an issue. Register with The Cloud; they have agreements with Pret A Manger, which like in NYC, are everywhere.
Easiest thing to do is get an Oyster Card. They’re £5, and you pay as you go, top up every now and again. A typical one way trip costs £2.20 in the Tube and £1.45 bus. I have a chip and signature card that works in some machines, otherwise pay with coins or go to the attendant if paying with a normal swipe credit card or cash. Once you get your Oyster Card, register it online so you can top it up online or cancel it if it gets lost. You can also turn your Oyster Card back in for the £5 deposit when you leave.
Random nifty tips
- On a Mac US Keyboard, press alt/option + 3 to enter in the £ sign.
- Girl, you gotta look good! To do so, you need some grooming. I get my eyebrows threaded at Nipa in Shoreditch. This isn’t Anastasia Beverly Hills, but they’re fast, nice, good and at £3, how can you say no?
Step 2: See and do
I tend to wander when I travel. I have some set points, sights that I want to see. So, I set plots on Google Maps on my phone and loosely attempt to follow the blue line to my destination. Here are some of my wanderings.
Step 3: Eat and drink your heart out
I have a few favourite places to get coffee here.
I know, I know. It’s a grocery store. But much like my obsession with Albert Heijn in NL and Belgium, I’m a massive pig for food, especially interesting delicacies that I didn’t grow up with like scotch eggs and pain au raisin. So coffee here is free with the My Waitrose card. I have made friends with one of the cashier ladies here at the Waitrose by the Angel stop. When she sees me in line, she rings me up even before I get to her. It’s good to start the day off with a smile and a “Hello, again! Enjoy your latte, see you tomorrow!”
I stumbled upon this place with friends after we left The Breakfast Club 1 hour Sunday brunch queue. Great coffee and service. They have a frequent buyer card, buy 6 get 1 free, which is the best offer I’ve seen in London. Apricot jam or marmalade and sugar are strewn over several tables, and they have free Wifi.
Only downsides are: no soy or almond milk and no outlets to charge your phone, otherwise, they are my go to place!
Small, cute music store/cafe with £2.30 soy latte. They have a cute frequent buyer card as well that are hand drawn and vary in size and shape.
Caravan at Exmouth Market
The food and coffee here are no joke. They roast their own coffee in house (in the basement) and their breakfast is a complete disaster for your diet. Crumpets with too much butter is where it’s at.
Holy smokes, they have some amazing soup and rice boxes. My favorite place to go to lunch in Islington. Everything they have is good. My favorites are anything vegetarian. One size for everything: the right size. I usually get a soup and a piece of fruit (sub bread). Go early, before noon, or expect a long, but moderately fast, line a few meters out the door.
The Breakfast Club
Good food, a bit on the high side (pricy) for those on a budget, but definitely worth it. Great, tasty cocktails, good coffee and pretty good service. However, not the best place for weekend brunch unless you like to queue for an hour or so. I went to the Hoxton location on a weekday night and didn’t have a problem finding a free table. Also when you’re here, check out the WC’s. They’re pretty cute, enough to make you pee a little.
The Book Club
Great food, good service and cozy atmosphere. Loads of hipsters, but whatever, it’s Shoreditch. Still so chill. I came here during tea time with a friend just before dinner and shared a large home baked nachos with vegetarian chili. It filled us up right, perfect serving for two. Sorry no food pic; we devoured it all before anyone had time to Instagram a photo of it. But I did manage to get a bathroom pic if anyone is interested.
This place is tasty, fast and cheap. Some of my favorite qualities in a restaurant. Check out the Dol Sot, kimchi pancake and chives mandoo. To die for!!
There you have it!
Not much, I know, but it’s my little bit of London that I grew to love. After reading this, I hope you will learn to appreciate the cities you visit by creating your own little bit of home away from home on your travels. Cheers!!
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