My brief time in London, England would likely be categorized among anyone else’s worst travel stories. Arriving already sick with a cold, I departed sicker. I racked up nearly twice the amount of debt I’d anticipated just covering expenses such as trains to and from airports, and an “upgrade” for a rescheduled flight home that cost me an extra $400. Yes, at the time I was there, London was cold and wet and I was not in the best physical shape, but it was still a fascinating time.
The first thing you’ll find yourself doing upon arriving in London is searching for a US-to-UK adapter so that you can charge your phone and laptop, both of which are probably dead or dying. You see, if you’ve never traveled anywhere in Europe before, you wouldn’t know this, but most European countries have their own specially designed outlets, which of course, American chargers aren’t compatible with. You need to get an adapter. In the airport in Lisbon, Portugal, I was forced to steal one such adapter out of desperation (well, that, and I wasn’t going to pay the $25 asking price, fuck that extortion). Anyway, UK chargers have plugs that are THREE TIMES the size of an American charger.
So my first real night in London (you’ll sleep most of your first day away, don’t even try to fight it), I’m running around looking for a UK charger adapter, but I’m also looking for anyplace with good WiFi so that I can reach my friend to figure out where we’re meeting up exactly. I’m in Leicester Square (pronounced Lester), which is kind of like Union Square, only far more charming (and walkable). I find a shop that sells charger adapters pretty quickly, and it’s only £5 (thank god). Finding stable WiFi on the other hand proves to be a challenge. Note to self: when traveling overseas again, find some way to bring phone service with you. Running around trying to find a hotspot strong enough to make a WhatsApp call is just as it sounds: frustrating and time-consuming. Argh!
Once you take care of the technical difficulties though – get your phone(s) charged, your commute(s) planned – London is yours for the taking!
I spent much of my time in London as an observer, only talking to my friend Michael, who was the reason I was there, and his friends, all Londoners of course. The average Londoner seemed to me to be strikingly cosmopolitan, almost too well dressed, and a bit unflappable. This is not a city where people stare, it occurred to me. As a result, I felt mostly at ease, because no one was judging me as an (obvious) non-Briton, but also because the city seemed to have a very laid-back almost tranquil vibe. This is not to say that there wasn’t urgency in the air. Londoners are very fast, especially in the Underground stations. On the streets, they walk in an orderly but rapid pace, rarely stopping to idle or look through shop windows or at passerby, the way we do in New York. These people are composed: they know where they are going, and if they don’t look at other people on the street, it seems to be out of respect or civility.
In New York, you can get lost in the existential sense. In London, that didn’t really happen to me. Everything about London is so quaint, and small: it’s not a city that threatens to overwhelm you, or swallow you whole. You can get lost in the literal sense though, as the streets are jagged, go off on tangents. If you’re traveling to an Airbnb in a more remote part of the city, be prepared to walk around in circles for a bit.
London is a big party city, and I did a lot of that there. A lot of eating too. I had DIRTY BURGER, which was fuckin’ delicious, thanks Michael. Is that solely a UK franchise?
I did drink. Three beers on the second night there at a club called G-A-Y, then I danced my head off at a club called Heaven. The next night, I had a few beers, and a shot of tequila with a cutie named James. Whatever, I still claim sobriety. A few drinks whilst visiting a country 3,000 miles away from home does not a relapse make. When in Rome, does as the Romans do (and the English are renowned for their binge drinking).
HUGE FUCKING CLICHÉ ALERT – I felt like a different person in London. Calmer, somehow. It wasn’t regular life. I was just… there. In London, walking around. Not even a tourist really, just, bloop, in a foreign country. Of course I was a bit anxious, but also stimulated, excited. There were moments of complete frustration in London, of course, as there would be while traversing any odd and unfamiliar territory for the first time, but also moments of complete liberation and exhibition *wink wink*
This trip did wonders for my mental health, simple enough. If you’re ever in a rut, or just need to get away, taking a spontaneous trip like this is a good idea. Put it on your credit card, hop on a plane, visit an amazing city, worry about the bill later. Best decision I’ve made in a while.