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Insider guide to London working holidays

Published January 29th, 2014

So you’re moving to London? It’s not exactly unchartered territory, but nonetheless here are some tips from someone who’s been there, done that and lived to tell the tale on a London working holiday.  Student Flights writer Rachel Surgeoner spent 2 years living in sharehouses, working in marketing and social media and living the London life on an Aussie budget. Here's what she's learnt along the way...

 

 

 

Transport:

We’ve already got plenty of tips for navigating the tube but if there’s one thing you should know; don’t always trust TFL.com and learn to read a map. TFL doesn’t always include the quickest option, which may actually mean going a little out of your way to get there faster – buses, National Rail and overground trains can, in some cases, be your saving grace from the daily tube grind.

 

Missing having wheels? Like most Australians, you gained your independence at 16 when you could got your drivers licence and the road has been your highway ever since, so when you get to London, while the public transport is outstanding, before long the itch to get behind a wheel will start.

 

 

Zipcar – Try a car-sharing club like Zipcar. You pay a nominal fee to sign up, then a daily or hourly hire fee, and there is more than likely a little Golf Polo or similar on your street just waiting to be taken for a road trip or a minivan that will help get your new flat-pack furniture from Ikea home (don’t attempt the bus from Tottenham – just trust me). I once drove a Zipcar from London via the Eurotunnel to France and on to Bruges in just over 4 hours. The Eurotunnel will. Blow. Your. Mind. In a group it’s also more cost effective to use a Zipcar for a day trip rather than taking a train - for example, a seaside day trip to Whistable with 4 passengers costs 15 quid per person and just over an hour to drive, however taking a train would have cost double and taken twice as long. #winning

 

 

 

Hire cars from Heathrow – If you’re planning a driving holiday around the UK – and you really should partake in a staycation in your time living in the UK – while Europe has a bounty of cheap holiday options, don’t miss what’s right under your nose too; the Jurassic Coast, Cornwall or The Lakes District are stunning. Hiring a car from London Central can be a nightmarish experience: it’s more expensive, the offices open in restrictive hours and then there’s the obstacle of trying to get out of London on a Friday evening – forget about it! Take the tube out to Zone 6 and hire a car from Heathrow instead; the rates are cheaper, and once you figure out which roundabout takes you out of Heathrow you’re free on the open road with no city traffic to contend with.

 

Mini-cabs not black cabs - Bit of a no-brainer, but in case no one ever told you – unless you’re a royal or a trust-fund baby, don’t take a black cab. Ever. Unless someone else is paying. Instead, befriend your local mini-cab company where you get a fixed quote from A to B so you know exactly what your fare will be. Only use a reputable, licensed mini-cab company that you have a booking with – if it’s not booked, you’re just getting into a car with a random.

 

 

Cycling London – There is no greater satisfaction than beating the bus home on your pushie. If you’ve got your wits about you, cycling in London is one of the greatest joys you’ll have as a resident of the city. Cycle along the canals, learn the back streets and get to where you need to go often faster than taking a bus or a tube – as well as burning off the calories from the pints you’re bound to drink at the pub. Word of warning: don’t go too fancy – nice bikes get stolen, and make sure you invest in a heavy duty lock. Further warning: everything but the seat? If you have a nice bike seat, lock that saddle up - and your wheels too! Anything that can be removed will be and there is nothing lamer than wheeling your bike to the nearest bike shop to get a new seat in order to cycle it home. Lastly, safety first: there is nothing wrong with a high-vis jacket over your new London wardrobe, and even though it’s not a requirement by law, wear a helmet and get your bike fitted with some lights.

 

 

Entertainment:

Concerts, festivals and theatre shows sell out really fast. Like really fast. If you want to get a heads-up on who's coming to town, sign up for alerts from Songkick and Eat Your Own Ears newsletter is a good one too.

 

If you’ve been working as a professional in Australia, prepare to take a paycut when you get to London. With the Aussie dollar doing so much better than a decade ago, gone are the days of the great Australian dream.  Don’t expect to come home with thousands of pounds to bankroll your future great Australian dream. While the pay can seem dismal in London and everything consumable crazy expensive, there are some great deals out there to help stretch your quid further without scrimping on having a good time.

 

Some examples: Pizza East restaurant in Shoreditch (part of the Soho House Group) offers a non-advertised half-price off the bill (food and drinks) on Mondays – all you need to do is eat here full price once, then ask the front door staff on the way out for the ‘keyring’ (wink – actually the wink isn’t necessary). This keyring is then yours to keep and you're welcome to return as many Mondays as you like for half-price. Crazy! Many restaurants in central London offer pre-theatre dinner deals that are open to anyone within the time bracket. Hawksmoor serves up great British fare and has a before-6pm tasting menu and on Mondays you can BYO your own wine for just 5 quid corkage per bottle.

 

 

 

Wait, there's more:

Far out, airports – Sometimes the cheapest flight isn’t actually the cheapest option when you have to take into consideration paying 60 quid for a cab to make your flight from no-man's-land a.k.a. Luton, Stansted or Gatwick. Sure there are some crazy budget buses that will ferry you out there and back but that journey can sometime take longer than your flight to Italy! Always weigh up the cost of flying from Heathrow as well; it might just save your sanity.

 

Things that go screech in the night – If you ever wake up to a blood-curdling yelp in the middle of the night, 9 out to 10 times it's foxes doing it in your backyard.  Things I learnt in London #11:  Foxes are loud, rigorous and brutal lovemakers.

 

 

Don’t get mugged – Don’t walk and talk on your smartphone. Walking home at night, you might find chatting on your phone to a friend or lover a comforting notion – but it’s a false sense of security. According to the Metropolitan Police (and proven by yours truly), you’re just a walking target for a hooded youth looking to snatch and grab.

 

London culture guides – Get the scoop on what to see/do/eat and drink in London Town from the experts: Urban Junkies , Thrillist London, Flavorpill , Time Out, Emerald Street.

 

Learn – London is a great place to learn from all the other smart people who live in one of the greatest cities in the world - these guys often have interesting short courses or talks worth knowing about: General Assembly, it’s nice that, prote.in.

 

Rachel Surgeoner

A self-confessed 'food-tourist', I take hunting for the world's greatest sandwich very seriously, my quest has taken me from Berlin to Hoboken. Stopping off only for vintage shopping, craft beers and Mediterranean sunsets.