GUEST POST by Samantha Guter:
27 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Coming to the ICLC
1. Sign up for rewards cards!
Waitrose gives a free tea or coffee every day to myWaitrose card holders. Tesco, Sainsbury's and Boots give you money off for points you rack up. It's worth it. You can even order them so they're there for you when you get to the ICLC.
2. TfL will be your best friend and your worst enemy.
3. Short-let flats aren't your only option.
The flat hunt is infamous, but you don't necessarily need to deal with creepy landlords to get a good deal. My flat mates and I found a student housing complex with really great rates that had a community internet room, laundry in the building, and gave you the opportunity to meet a bunch of other international students. Keep these types of things in mind when looking for flats. What's available in London may surprise you.
4. Go on Bill's walks!!
You learn! You conquer! You get free things!! You get to spend time with Bill!
5. Go to the Primark near Tottenham Court Road, NOT Marble Arch.
This is why.
6. East London is trendy, West London is posh.
7. Group up on groceries.
My flat mates and I consistently spent about £15-20 on groceries per person per week because we planned out what we wanted to eat and shopped carefully (Lidl, Aldi, Asda and Morrison's are the cheapest grocery stores). That often included alcohol, desserts and snacks. Not all flat groups are willing to do that, but even going in with one other person makes it a lot easier so you don't have to buy a litre of milk for one.
8. The exchange rate will hurt.
For both GBP and euros. It'll be okay.
9. Book early.
If you're planning on travelling, look into tickets and hostels as soon as you can if you're interested in saving money. Make sure to book transport to and from airports, too. London is the worst with these - we found EasyBus was the cheapest if booked in advance and Terravision was the most flexible. The fastest will always be the trains to the airports but they can be more than double what coaches cost, so it depends on what you prioritise. Pro tip: Kayak.com is generally the best for comparing flight offers. They include the most amounts of low-budget airlines.
10. Tesco's £3 meal deal is the best thing in the world.
11. You won't get a cocktail for less than 6 quid anywhere.
Unless you hit up happy hours. Get drunk early. On a related note,
12. Say goodbye to weird alcohols.
London doesn't have a lot of options for specialty liqueurs, so don't get your heart set on recipes that call for things like cotton candy vodka. You're not going to find it.
13. The monthly or weekly tube travel cards are so worth it.
14. Get out. All the time.
For the love of all that is holy, don't stay in your flat on the weekends. If you don't have the cash to travel, don't worry. That's the best thing about London. I funded my semester entirely on my own and I understand being short on money. There are tons of free things to do (check out Time Out, the Londonist, Twenty Something London, London for Free and the weekly email the ICLC sends out). If you're in on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, you're doing something wrong.
15. Allow your bank to do the conversion rates.
ATMs all over Europe will ask you if you want to do the transaction in USD (US Dollars). Always say no. The conversion rate through your bank will be much better. On a related note, if you book RyanAir flights, make sure to uncheck their little box (it's hidden on the last page before you confirm your flight - there's a selection that says "see more" next to the final price and if you scroll down you'll see the box. I see you, RyanAir).
16. Bill is everything.
Even if you're not sure at first, you will see. Join the "Bill Sheasgreen Appreciation Club" on Facebook. Just do it.
17. "Off-Licence" doesn't mean anything illegal.
"Off-Licence" has to do with the way the stores pay the government. It's just like a little convenience store that are often open late - even if it looks sketchy, I promise they're wonderful.
18. Chocolate chips are impossible to find.
You can get a tiny bag for like £1.50. Bring some with you if you enjoy baking.
19. McDonald's has mozzarella sticks and they are heaven on earth.
20. Look right then left.
When crossing the street, think "right, then left." Eventually it'll become habit, but I had to think the directions in my head every time in the beginning so you don't end up looking both ways a million times and appearing idiotic.
21. Google Maps will tell you which tube and buses to take.
If you get directions from one place to another, you can click the "public transport" option and it will tell you exactly where and how to get on and off and where to transfer. Amazing!
22. Unlock your smartphone.
You have to call your phone company to do this, and they often have requirements for unlocking (i.e., having the phone for a certain amount of time, in good standing with the company, etc), but you can insert a new SIM in an unlocked phone over here. Three offers a great Pay-As-You-Go plan with "all you can eat" data for £15 a month. You can also get a 99p Nokia from Carphone Warehouse and just put money on it.
23. Platform 9 3/4 isn't actually AT platform 9 3/4.
In fact, there is platform 8 and 9 and platform 10 and 11, so there's not even a wall to run through on the actual platform. That set you see in everyone's photos is a lie on a random wall in King's Cross. I'm sorry to ruin your dreams.
24. Planning isn’t everything.
I am a Type-A plan-everything-out kind of person (you should see the spreadsheets I made before flying over here). It’s okay to not have everything planned out - sometimes spontaneous adventures are the best kind of adventures.
25. “Arcade” isn’t a place where you go to play games.
It’s a like a shopping area.
26. Stand on the right.
When you go on an escalator, stand on the right so people don’t run you over trying to get places. It’s annoying when people block my way. You will learn this. Trust me. On another note, people don’t really talk on the tube. So if you and your friends are drunkenly (or not) having a really loud conversation (especially in obnoxious American accents), you’re going to get some nasty looks.
27. You may fall in love with the city. You may not.
A lot of study abroad blogs/tweets/people will talk about how you’ll “fall in love” with whatever city you travel to. This isn’t necessarily true, and don’t feel bad if it doesn’t happen for you. I know plenty of people this semester who want to live in London forever, and others who had a grand time but don’t see themselves here forever. It’s okay. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.