Why London Is Not For Me:
I wanted to love it. Really, I did. I have dreamt about going to London since I was little because I didn’t grow up in the city. I grew up in the suburbs near the city and we only went into the city for special occasions that didn’t come around very often. The idea of a booming, diverse metropolis filled with people that have British accents was so exciting. The accent thing alone drew me because honestly the North American accent is not known to induce swooning.
Anyway, I was so sure I would love London and everything about it. I was convinced it would be the highlight of my trip and I would want to come back again and again for years to come. But as you can see from the title of this post that didn’t happen. Not even close. What did happen is that after two days, just TWO, I wanted out of London as fast as possible.
Now, let me start by saying this is just my opinion. Plenty of people love this city. It’s their favorite destination in the entire world and if they could they would pack up and move there tomorrow only stopping on the way to get the Union Jack tattooed on their face. That’s great! I’m glad you love it and I wish I could say I did too if only because I feel bad for the little me who worked so hard and dreamt for so long that she would get to visit. But hey, reality and dreams very rarely line up perfectly. What actually happens is:
I Couldn’t Get Around
So this one was partly me. I know it, I own it. I just could not figure out the whole public transport thing. Within the first hour of my trip to London, everything went wrong. I skip merrily out of the bus station and walk over to the bus stop all prepared. I looked up everything beforehand and knew when the greyhound would drop me off and which bus route to take from there to get to my hostel. Easy, right? Nope! What actually went down is I walk over to the bus stop and someone wearing one of those official neon vests stops me and says “Sorry, buses aren’t running right now.” I’m sorry, what? They aren’t doing what now? How are buses not running…in a major city…in the middle of the day? Did you know I was coming or something? Is this some trick?
No friends, it wasn’t a trick. The man in the yellow vest said it so it must be true. No buses were running and I had to walk over an hour to my hostel carrying a heavy pack.
Day One: off to a bad start.
I hoped things would get better from there but then I ran into another issue. Taking the bus was now out of the question. I didn’t trust the bus system anymore. It had already burned me once. So naturally, I turned to the only other affordable transport available to me: The Tube.
There was only one problem. I grew up in Florida…I didn’t know how to ride the subway. Yes, laugh. I’m laughing at myself now too. But at the time I was seriously overwhelmed at the sight of all those colors and squiggly lines. I had no idea what to do or where to go. I tried a total of one time, got lost, and vowed never to ride a subway again.
Now if you have ever been to or live in London you know that it is NOT a walkable city. The place is massive and all the major tourist spots insist on being miles away from each other. You cannot walk London but that’s exactly what my stubborn self did and it’s one of the regrets I will carry to my deathbed. After two days of that I wanted to amputate my feet, they hurt so bad. It was awful. I couldn’t take the bus or the subway but I also couldn’t stand to have come all this way and not get to see the places I dreamt of seeing. So, therefore, pain.
Do not try to walk London. You might be tempted to take on the challenge but London will win. It will win every time. All the time you spent trying to get to next place, is better spent actually there enjoying that place. Instead, utilize public transport. I’m sure the buses only stopped running on the day I arrived because that’s just how my life goes. When you visit it’s sure to be running without a hitch. As for the Tube, if you know how to ride the subway you’re golden. If not, don’t be like me, just ask someone to help show you where to go. It’s actually pretty easy! Who knew!
London is pricey. The food is pricey. The entrance fees are pricey. From the moment you step into the city your travel fund just starts bleeding money. And while the exchange rate has started to swing a bit more in the US dollar’s favor, it’s still an expensive destination. When you are traveling on a budget this is no small thing because the more you spend in one place, the less you have to spend in another.
Money Saving Tips:
- Visit the national museums and galleries for free! Here is a list of museums that are free to the public: The British Museum, the Natural History Museum, the National Gallery, the Science Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Tate Modern, the Museum of London, the Imperial War Museum, the Horniman Museum and Gardens, the National Maritime Museum, the V&A Museum of Childhood, Sir John Soane’s Museum, Guildhall Art Gallery and Roman Amphitheater, the Wallace Collection, the National Portrait Gallery, Tate Britain, the Royal Air Force Museum, the Wellcome Collection, the British Library, Whitechapel Gallery, the Museum of London Docklands, the National Army Museum and the Serpentine Galleries.
- Buy a Visitor Oyster Card. Oyster cards can be used on all modes of public transport and will grant you a 50% discount on Tube rides in central London as opposed to paying with cash. Also, flashing your card can get you discounts at over 30 eateries, attractions, and museums around London. All in all, it’s a great way to keep costs down.
- Buy A London Pass. The London Pass grants you free entry to over 80 museums, attractions, and tours around London. The price of the pass comes in under what you would have paid if you went to all these attractions without it. Some other perks are a free guidebook, the ability to skip the line at select attractions and you can opt to buy an Oyster Travelcard along with your London Pass.
- Book online. Booking in advance online can save you money and time. You can beat the lines and take advantage of online discounts.
Where Are You Really From?
One three separate occasions (remember I was only in London for two and half days) I had random people on the street assume I was a tourist. Of course, I am but it goes a bit deeper than that. One dude jumped in front of me while I was walking and reached out like he was going to grab me. He scared me half to death only to say “Stop, you’re going the wrong way! The tour bus is that way.” That was the second time I was stopped. The third time I was walking through the park and another dude was heading in the same direction. I noticed he kept looking back at me and staring. Once again, making me very nervous. He eventually stops and asks me where I’m from because he “knew I wasn’t from here.”
I wasn’t speaking so they didn’t hear my accent. I wasn’t running through the streets wearing the American flag like a cape or chanting USA. Also, I had on jeans, a simple top and was carrying a cross-body bag which is pretty standard dress in many countries. So why exactly were those people convinced I didn’t belong?
I shared my confusion with someone and their response was “it’s because Black people are different here. You know, they are African-African. They look African.”
If you have the next week or so free we could spend some time unpacking that statement but if not let me just say that response was, in a word, ridiculous.
It was also the cherry on top of an already unhappy stay in London. Having people terrify me in the streets and assume they could read my citizenship in my skin wasn’t what I was hoping for when I boarded the plane to the city I have always wanted to visit but that’s just how things went down. So, what’s my advice for this issue?
I guess you should remember my experiences won’t be yours. You should go to London and make up your own mind about the city. You might absolutely love it there and meet the greatest people that you will end up staying in touch with for years to come. Hey, I may go back one day and have the best time and meet the best people too. My two days don’t define an entire city full of different and unique people.
If you do have unpleasant experiences on the road then share them, condemn them, use it as a teaching opportunity but don’t let it stop you from traveling. If traveling is what you love then don’t let anyone ruin that. That is my most important point. Don’t let them take away your joy of traveling because you belong everywhere you want to be.
How about you? What are your thoughts on London?