Adjusting to the London Expat Lifestyle

expat
As I sit here in my dorm room, sipping on my favorite drink, Rekorderlig Cider (definitely try it out if you’re in Europe), I am finally settling into my new home. I’ve finally accepted that London is where I live. It’s no longer a dream. Every day, seeing Big Ben or walking past thousands of tourists, is finally becoming just a common occurrence in my life. And this is what I wanted. Imagining myself living in London is what I spent most of my time thinking about.

Actually living here is another story. I’ve romanticized a lot about the United Kingdom, and upon arrival a few years ago, the little things that aren’t necessarily so perfect about this country definitely became apparent. I could start to understand why so many of the English people I spoke to wanted to move away and to America. I told them that America has its problems too. But that’s what everyone wants; the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. But even seeing some imperfections in my imagined England, I didn’t get enough time to get scared away completely. And now I’m back (possibly permanently), and I’m starting to figure out my expatriate life here in London.

All the, “Hiyah’s,” “Cheers,” “You alright’s,” and “%@*~ off’s” I’ve heard constantly, paired with accents everywhere, shopping at Tesco and taking the Tube, I know that I’m starting to be fully immersed in what makes London, London. I’m settled into my home for the next 8 months, finally registered with a local doctor, wandered around my neighborhood, enjoyed some local entertainment, and got my student Oyster card. I’m feeling more and more like a real Londoner every day. I think the only thing that would make me feel even more like true resident would be living in an actual flat, rather than something owned by my university, as well as having a full-time job.

I’m starting to memorize which bus I take to get where, if it’s faster to walk or take the Underground, realizing that going out for a drink will be a rare occasion (due to the expense), and how I need to stop converting pounds to dollars in my head (or else start to freak out about how much money I’m spending). It’s strange to think that in less than a month, I’m starting to feel at home in this gigantic city. Homesickness has not kicked in yet, so I haven’t had to deal with that yet, so in the meantime, I am going to enjoy myself.

As a bonus to this post, I’ve decided to post three (plus 1) apps every American expat in London needs:

1. Hola

Hola is an extension for the Google Chrome browser, and is a lifesaver for when you just have to watch your American shows on Netflix or Hulu. While Netflix does work abroad, the selections are different, and sometimes you just want to watch something familiar. Download this lifesaving app, and you’ll be watching everything you love again, and you can easily switch back to UK websites if you want to watch the BBC iPlayer again.

2. Citymapper

London is a complicated city to get around when you’re a newbie (and even if you’ve lived here for awhile). Citymapper will get you out of a tight jam, especially when you’re too nervous to ask for directions. Just plug in where you want to go, and it will give you the quickest routes, how much it costs, how many calories you’ll burn if you walk there, and transfers you need to take. I currently owe my life to this app.

3. BBC News

London is a major capitol of the world, and it’s really good to know whats going on, especially in such an international city. The BBC news app not only covers national news, but news from all over the world. If you turn on notifications, it will let you know when huge events take place, and that way you’ll always be in the know when something big occurs.

4. Couple (bonus)

I am currently in a long-distance relationship, and this app has been wonderful. You connect with your partner, and only you and them can chat. It shows you what time it is where they are, you can send photos in a Snapchat-like fashion, thumbkiss, draw with each other and send messages. It’s a really great one to use, especially if you’re in different countries and don’t want to use Facebook messenger to keep in touch.

Planning a Romantic Getaway to Paris (from London)

paris

While I wait patiently for my amazing boyfriend to arrive in London on October 2nd (only 10 days away!), I am in the planning stages of our weekend away in Paris, so I thought I’d write a guide for anyone who has ever wanted to take some time to go on an adventure to the city of romance and lights. Your journey doesn’t have to be romantic, of course, so you can use this information for a trip with friends or a solo tour.

Getting There

There are a few different ways to get from London to Paris. For a fast train ride, you can take the Eurostar from St. Pancras station, which only takes 2 and a half hours, and can range from $68-180 for a one way journey. If you’re lucky, you can get the cheap fare, but they usually sell out fast. If you want to fly, it’s only about an hour and 15 minutes in the air, but you have to take into account getting to the airport early and then going though customs and immigration on the other end. These fares usually range from $120 being the cheapest if you go through Easy Jet. The cheapest way to get to Paris is to take a bus. With MegaBus or iDBus, you can get to Paris for about $40 one way. This takes longer (between 7 and 10 hours), but if you get an overnight bus, you can sleep during the ride and arrive in Paris in the morning.

Sleeping Arrangements

The 3 major hostel websites are HostelWorld, Hostels.com, or HostelBookers. I like to check all 3 of them before purchasing, because occasionally, even though they have the same choices on each site, sometimes it will be cheaper through one website than another. I have no idea why, but it’s worth the extra ten minutes to check before clicking the purchase button. For example, a double bedroom with a shared bathroom for 3 nights at the Le Regent Montmartre is $357 on HostelWorld, $350 on Hostels.com, and $334 on HostelBookers. While the payment difference is only about $20 between the highest and lowest, if you’re trying to budget, obviously the smaller amount is better to go for. This makes me glad I checked multiple sites. Another tip is to check the hostel’s website and see what they charge. Le Regent Montmartre charges even less if you go directly through their website, making the amount $314 for the three nights. The only pro to going through one of the hostel booking websites is that you only have to put down a deposit on the room instead of the full amount, which is usually the case when you purchase through the hostel’s website directly.

Don’t forget to check out Airbnb as well. It can actually be even cheaper than a hostel, especially when it comes to booking a room to share. Since writing this post, I’ve come back to revise this section, because I found a deal for about $100 cheaper by staying at a room in an apartment, rather than going for the hostel. Hostels are better for solo travel or when adventuring with friends. Airbnb works better for couples I’d say.

City Transportation

Like London, Paris has a really great underground train system, as well as buses that go all over the city. The Paris Metro system is fairly cheap to ride on. You can buy individual ride tickets for $2.50, or 10 rides for $18. You can also purchase day passes, with the 3 day pass for only $34, which is a really good deal for unlimited travel around the city. Paris is a fairly walkable city, but you will definitely get tired if you’re on your feet all day, so catching a bus or train is simple and can end up being very cheap, depending on how many times you want to use the transportation system. Taxis can get expensive, and you’ll usually find a bus going somewhere familiar.

Romantic Excursions

For me, who has been to Paris twice now, I’ve already done all of the traditional tourist activities, but never with a loved one, so it will be very different. He’s never been to Paris, so I figure it’ll be worth it to do everything again, especially if it’s with someone I care about. The Eiffel Tower is a must-do. For $18, a youth ticket to ride the lift to the top may seem like a lot, but it is so worth it. It’s not like the London Eye (something I think you can definitely skip). The Eiffel Tower is magical. The view from the top is staggering and unforgettable. I’ve been up twice now and can’t wait for my third time. At night, the tower lights up with a sparkling light show. It’s delightful.

The Louvre is one of the most amazing museums of the world that you really need a whole day to explore. I can say that the $16 you spend will be an adequate amount to be able to view the great art of the world. Obviously the Mona Lisa is in there, but the crowd to see it is usually wild. It’s still nice to see in person. It’s understandable how one could get lost in there. The building used to be a palace, and it now houses a great amount of history.

Right behind the Louvre is the Pont des Arts Bridge, which is famous for its love locks. According to this recent article, the bridge may be getting a makeover soon, to ensure locks cannot be put on it. I’m hoping when I get there in a couple weeks, that won’t be in effect yet, because one of my bucket list items was to put a lock on this very bridge. Either way, it’s a very romantic bridge to cross, with a nice view of the Eiffel Tower and the Seine.

There are plenty more things that can be done in Paris. It is a city full of beautiful things to see and do, so I know my boyfriend and I wont be bored. I am sure that this list from Time Out of 101 Things to do in Paris will definitely be used in our deciding of pursuits for our weekend in this beautiful city.

Any romantic spots to suggest? Please let me know 🙂

Starbucks US vs UK

starbucksusuk

I hate to start any of my writing with a disclosure (funnily enough, I’m writing this while listening to the music group Disclosure), but I know this topic will be seen as totally dumb and such a #firstworldproblem to write about, but I also figured for how ever many people think it’s irrelevant, there will be a bunch of people who would like to know the difference. With that being said, here are the US/UK differences I’ve found out about my beloved Starbucks.

On my last study abroad adventure, I hadn’t really become a Starbucks fan, so I can’t remember going there enough to have noticed any differences. The only thing I do remember is the fact that, while most of the UK doesn’t drink egg nog, and you can’t find it anywhere, Starbucks is the one place that will have it. But since 3 years ago, I’ve grown a very large affection for this corporate chain, and have spent many hours there blogging, as well as drinking their coffee. I was assuming since it’s a global company, the coffee would be the same quality in the UK as the US… I was wrong to assume that.

Half & Half vs Skim Milk

In the United States, it is common to put half & half or cream in our coffee. We are also used to having many options of milk-like products to put in our drinks. It’s definitely not a burden to the barista to put soy milk, almond milk, or even non-fat milk in our coffee. But in the UK, the only options out for pouring are skim milk and semi-skimmed milk. When I asked for cream (or pouring cream as they call it), it’s rarely available. They do have full-fat milk, but I’ve gotten the sense that it’s a task to ask them to put it in my drip coffee.

Quick Heat Oven vs Panini Press

I am so used to asking for a breakfast sandwich or a scone and having them throw it into their oven to warm up in 30 seconds. It’s so wonderful to get a quick meal that way. Not only are the food choices at the UK Starbucks completely different (lots of toasties, croissants and cookies), they don’t use the ovens, and instead use panini presses, which can only warm up the sandwiches and take a lot longer to get a meal from. If I order a muffin, it means I have to eat it at room temperature, which having an option of making it warm would’ve been nice.

Strength vs Weak

I order drip coffee (or brewed in the UK), because it’s cheap and is normally a strong taste that I enjoy drinking. I can not get on board with this weak flavored water they like to brew over here. I guess coffee really is an American thing, or maybe I’m spoiled being from the coffee capitol of the world, Seattle, but I expect my coffee to taste better. So far, it’s been bitter and rarely savable with sweeteners and milk. It’s almost undrinkable to the point that I’m thinking I might have to force myself to give up coffee unless I make it myself.

Splenda vs Sweet & Low

I hate Sweet & Low. I’ll say it. It doesn’t taste good. It’s horrible. Spenda actually is a good sugar substitute that enhances a drink when you’re trying to stay away from real sugar. I have not found Splenda anywhere here yet. I may have to have my mom mail me some. It’s a bit frustrating to be stuck using Sweet & Low, especially when I know there are better sucralose products out there. It’s a tiny problem, and I know we have Sweet & Low in America too, but I never use it… Because it’s gross!

So now, you probably think I am a complainer. I feel like I get to complain at least about one thing. That’s fair, right? I’ve really liked everything else about the UK so far, so unfortunately my comfort drink of coffee has disappointed me greatly, which is sad, because when you’re so far away from home, it’s nice to have something to depend on, but oh well. I’ve tried the coffee at Costa and Pret a Manger, but they don’t aid my tastebuds either. I’ll have to suck it up and find an alternative, or else give up coffee, I guess. Wish me luck through this coffee transition. It probably doesn’t help that I am a former barista/coffee snob, but I can change!

Fall Fashion Trends I’m Loving

My closest friends know that I wait all year until it’s fall fashion season once again. Who doesn’t love the comfy, stylish look that the autumn brings? This year, there are some very sexy trends coming up that I am so excited to wear. I thought I’d share some of my favorites with you.

Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 8.46.16 PM

I can’t wait until it is cold enough outside to wear my thigh-high socks. I think wearing these over tights, paired with boots, is super sexy and shows off the leg in a gorgeous way.

Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 8.50.25 PM

Large cardigans and kimonos are making their way in at the end of the summer, and right in time for the chiller weather to pair them with. They’re cute and actually keep you warm.

Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 8.53.26 PM

I think I got on the smoking slipper bandwagon before a lot of people, and I’m glad, because they are adorable shoes, and look great paired with a rolled up skinny jean.

Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 9.00.09 PM

Burnt orange, mustard, purple and oxblood are beautiful colors, and usually only appropriate in the fall, which is lucky for me, because I get to wear them again!

Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 8.55.50 PM

I didn’t used to be a fan of this type of shoe, but now I can’t get enough of them! They are very versatile and can be used for everyday wear, as well as for going out at night.

Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 9.02.59 PM

Backpacks were never my thing, and over the years, my taste in messenger bag has evolved to this lovely brown, leather-look that the recent bags have. They look good with every outfit.

What are your favorite fashion trends for this fall?

Tips for Starting a Travel Blog

travelblogtips

Blogging is a beautiful form of communication. It allows you to write, post photos and links, as well as tell stories in a short format that people like to read. There are news, lifestyle, food, fashion and political blogs, but a type of blog that seems to be popping up even faster than the others is the wide-covering travel blog, that is an umbrella term for anything one wishes to blog about, while traveling. Many study abroad students create a blog to write about their adventures and let their friends and family know what’s going on while they are away. Some are started as a way to inspire themselves to travel more, and some people just have so many tips already that they just want to share them with the world. Any type you are, starting a travel blog isn’t hard, and here are a few tips to create a eye-catching blog that people will really be excited to read.

Research a blogging platform

I used all the major blogging platforms before I finally decided to stick with WordPress. Blogger, Tumblr and WordPress are all great sites to upload your writing and photos to. Test out each of them, and see which has the features you need to create your content. Make sure you like the one you choose though, because transferring posts to a different is a task that is a bit more advanced, but is doable if you decide you’d rather use something else.

Invest time or money in a good design

If you have Photoshop or any sort of design talent, taking time to create a logo and layout will make you stand out from the crowd of generic blogs. If you don’t know how to do design, googling tutorials is a good place to start. Or, if you have some extra cash and want to have someone else do it for you, there are many designers you can find through Etsy and other freelancer websites who will help you make the best blog you can imagine. The prettier your blog looks, the more likely people will want to keep coming back to read your content.

Stay consistent with posts

No one likes to read an inactive blog. It’s much nicer for subscribers to get continuous content, which will also lead to loyal readers who come back for more. Posting once a month is not enough nowadays. If you want to stay up to date, you truly have to be posting at least a few times a week. It might seem like there isn’t enough going on in your life or your travels to create new content that often, but brainstorming new posts, posting about things happening in your local area or giving helpful tips will keep your blog fresh.

Switch it up

In keeping with the last tip, keeping your blog fresh is important. A travel blog can be an online diary of your day-to-day life abroad, but the formula of “Today I went to a castle, and then I did this, and then I did this and here is a picture of this…” will get very old, very fast. The people who care about you who read your blog might be interested, but if you want a wider audience of readers, you’ll want to be posting something a little different in-between the journaling and give some life to your content. Instead of a “Here’s what I did today,” post, something like, “Things I Learned About Greece,” are more fun to read.

Reach out to other bloggers

A lot of us travel bloggers are very happy to help out newbies in this realm (since we all started at some point). Email a blogger you’ve been following and ask for advice or a possible shout out to drive some traffic over to your site. We really do want to help, and are usually fine with giving out some tips. The blogging community is wonderful, friendly and always ready to meet new travelers who we can collaborate with.

Find a writing space

My go to place to write is Starbucks. The internet is free, and it takes me out of my comfort zone of my own house, which means I can’t just lay there and watch Netflix, I have to look productive! Maybe a good place for you is your room, but sometimes getting out of the norm can help with inspiration, and ambiance noise can be good for keeping your mind on your work. A coffee shop, a library, a train ride or a park are all nice locations to put your mind on your writing and creating.

Do what feels right

Your blog is really all about you, so post whatever you want and will make you happy. If you are a creative writer, make your posts all fiction. If you are a journalist, write in a news-like style. If you are a photographer and don’t like to write, just post photos. Your blog is your place to put the content you feel proud of sharing. Find a niche that works for you and go with it! And good luck new travel blogger. It’s a big world of adventurous websites, but with fun, unique content, you can definitely stand out from the crowd!

How I Became an Anglophile

If I look over my life and try to figure out how and why I became an Anglophile, there are many things and moments that spurred that love in me for the English world.

When Lucy Ricardo went to London, I wanted to go too.
Lucy & Ethel go to Buckingham Palace.

I always watched I Love Lucy as a kid, and Lucille Ball became my hero when it came to strong women in comedy (I think I picked up my ability for comic timing from her). I remember watching the season where the gang goes to Europe, and other than wanting to visit all those places too, the episode, “Lucy Meets the Queen,” was definitely one that struck a chord with me. The episode is iconic of Lucy trying to make a guard at Buckingham Palace laugh. This was so funny to me as a child, and still is as an adult. I wanted to go to London and try that too. Of course, I know not to actually do that, as it’s rude, but it was fun to dream about.

Colin Firth might've been my first crush.
Colin Firth might’ve been my first crush.

The next big item that awoke a love for the UK for me was when my mom showed me the 1995 BBC series version of Pride and Prejudice. I fell in love with the beautiful clothing and the proper sort of language they used to get their point across. Even as a young girl, not quite fully understanding of what was happening, loved the aesthetic of this Regency world. I read the book, started watching more Jane Austen films, and daydreamed constantly of being a part of that era. Through this literature, I was later inspired to write my own novels set in this time, and while I haven’t finished one yet, I hope to complete wrtiting at least one of these books by the end of this next year.

These books shaped my life.
These books shaped my life.

And of course, who can forget Harry Potter? I came across these books as a 10-year-old, and they were definitely something that made me the person I am today. I could imagine myself in this magical world, and it opened up my mind to so many possibilities. The Harry Potter culture was so important to my life, and with each book release or midnight movie showing, my teenage years were consumed by J.K. Rowling’s words and images. I think this is what cemented in my mind that I was meant to be in England. It was very much a driving factor in my quest to finally get abroad to the country I read so much about through this young adult literature.

Things Seattleites Won’t Admit to Doing

Enjoying Pike Place Market
Pike Place Market, 1973

I’m pretty sure as much as Seattle people complain about how much of a tourist trap Pike Place Market is, they still jump at the chance to take any visiting friends there. Seattleites like to act like these out-of-towners are the only reason they’d even get close, but truly, Pike Place Market is fun to walk through each and every time you visit. It’s definitely not someplace a Western Washingtonian would go, due to all the foot traffic and expensive parking fees, but there’s always something new to see and gum to put on the wall.

Wanting to go Up the Space Needle
Monorail and Space Needle, 1962

It costs a lot of money to visit ($18 for an adult), but any Seattle area person who hasn’t gone up the Space Needle secretly wants to go up it sometime in their life, to at least say that they did. I know that I didn’t finally get up to the top until I was 18, even after living in the Pacific Northwest my whole life, but it really was worth it. Seeing all of Seattle and the Puget Sound laid out before you is really a treat, and Seattleites are lying if they say they don’t care about going to the top. Everyone is curious about what it looks like up there.

Drinking Too Much Starbucks
Starbucks store in Pike Place Market, 1977

In true hipster fashion, many Seattleites won’t admit to supporting such a large organization, even if it did start right in their city. Tiny, non-chain espresso places tend to get a lot of praise around the city. But in the end, when you’re in a hurry and need coffee fast, many PNW people will end up in a Starbucks, making ridiculous claims (“It’s organic and fair trade! I read about it!”-person who just bought Starbucks) to make themselves feel better about their corporate purchase.

Being Jealous of Portlandia
Garfield Street Bridge under construction, 1930

Washingtonians, especially Seattleites are constantly wondering why “Portlandia” is set in Portland, when Seattle life is basically the same, and we have many of the same day to day issues that Portland citizens face. When Fred Armisen performed at Bumbershoot in 2012, people yelled from the audience at why there’s no “Seattleandia,” to which he responded that Seattle is already popular enough without needing a TV show based on it. While that’s true (we already have Frasier, Grey’s Anatomy, iCarly, etc.), we still wish we had our own Portlandia-type show that showcased how wonderfully weird we are here in Seattle, Washington.

This list is really my opinion and I’m not trying to speak for Seattleites, as I must admit, I did not grow up quite in Seattle, but on an island about 45 minutes away. But these are thoughts I’ve always had and shared with fellow PNW friends who grew up in this area as well, so I thought I’d write them down in listicle form, just for fun.

 

Packing for Grad School (video)

Sorry for the lack of posts in the last week! I’ve been pretty busy and not around consistent internet. But I am now at home for a few days and thought I’d make a short video showing what is going into my suitcases when I leave for London in two and a half weeks! Check out the video above and comment below letting me know what you always pack for a trip!

What I’m Buying Upon Arrival

Upon Arrical

I obviously cannot fit everything I want to take with me into my bag, but I figure I’ll stuff as much as I can, and then buy anything needed once I arrive in London. But there are a few super crucial items I’ll be getting pretty soon after I get to the city that I will wait to get until I land.

  1. Plane Tickets (or any travel/bus/train/boat ticket for that matter)
    My bucket list is really long and I’ve already budgeted and planned out almost all of my trips for when I’m abroad. Problem is, I don’t want to buy the tickets for these trips until I get over there, or else karma will hurt me for getting ahead of myself and something bad might happen. I will wait until September to start actually paying for the transportation for these trips and that will be better.
  2. Heels
    I was going through the shoes I’ll be taking with me, and I tried to narrow down to just a few pairs, but in the end, none of my heels made the cut, and that’s because I think I just need to wait until I get to London to head to a Primark or something and get myself some heels that’ll fit good and work for me on those occasional nights out that I’ll need them for. More room in my suitcase if I don’t pack them in advance.
  3. Coin Purse
    England uses A LOT of coinage, and when studying abroad before, I definitely had to buy a coin purse just for all the currency that didn’t fit in my wallet. I don’t really want to get one before I go, so I’ll wait until arrival and find something cute to put my money in.
  4. School Supplies & Books
    I don’t even want to think about buying notebooks and such until getting over there because that’s one extra thing to weigh my suitcase down, and as cheap as I could probably find used textbooks in America before I leave, I might as well wait and do it the traditional way and go to the university bookstore and buy all my stuff at once, rather than worry about it in advance. I know I’m heading over for grad school rather than just a fun time, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself with school stuff.
  5. Oyster Card
    Once I am officially enrolled in school, I will be able to get my student discount Oyster Card, but for the few weeks before that, I’ll be okay with getting a normal-priced one that the tourists usually use if they’re staying for a week. I just want to immediately start my adventures around the city the moment I get there, and I know I’ll feel like a true Londoner if I have an Oyster Card the minute I step off the plane.
  6. Full-Length Mirror
    Since I shall attempt to do as much fashion blogging as I can while in London, I really need a full-length mirror to not only see my full outfit, but to take photos of my entire ensemble if I can’t find a willing participant to do it for me. I get super frustrated when I can’t see the whole picture when putting together my clothing for the day, so the first buy for my dorm room will be a long and tall mirror (unless the room comes with one, but it’s doubtful).

Anyone else have any “upon arrival” buys they’d suggest? Share yours with me! 🙂