Before I spent a semester abroad in London, I vaguely knew how to take care of myself. Had I been dropped out of an airplane and into foreign territory, I would have survived for perhaps a day or just until my cereal bars ran out.
Shockingly, my brief stay in the UK gifted me with a set of sharpened survival instincts. The polished and cosmopolitan city of London seriously whipped me into shape to prepare myself for the direst of situations.
1) The Water Conditions.
The first time I walked into my bathroom, I noticed a prominent sign: “Water from sink is NOT suitable for consumption.” Okay, I thought. I’ll just drink from my kitchen sink. Unfortunately, no one had warned me about the taste of British tap water. It’s basically the equivalent of garbage water.
“You’ve got to buy your water from the market,” my flatmate explained to me. After going through a two-gallon container in roughly two days, I decided that this was an unsustainable lifestyle and that I was better than that. After a painful week of exposure therapy, my body acclimated to the vile flavor, and I have not bought bottled water since.
Moral of the story: You can drink anything, as long as it doesn’t kill you.
2) The Potato Diet.
Like any other city, being in London meant spending money on everything, no matter what I did. My budget included responsibilities like buying groceries, sending obligatory postcards, paying for public transport (London is not a walking city) and a portion for personal indulgence.
I shared groceries with another girl, and we were pretty good cooks. During our first few days we marinated chicken and julienned zucchinis…but alas, this did not last long. As the “personal indulgence” portion of our budgets grew bigger and bigger, we realized that we were going to have to make some changes. After some trial and error, we realized that the cheapest but still substantial food at the market was potatoes.
From that day forward, it was sautéed potatoes, baked potatoes, oven-roasted potatoes for all of our meals.
Moral of the story: If it’s only for 3 months, you can survive off of anything.
3) The Lost Wallet.
Arguably the worst moment of my time in London was the time I accidentally left my entire bag (with wallet & keys) on a bus late at night. After a day of despairing, cancelling my card, and filing multiple reports for my missing items with the Transport of London, I decided that I needed to try harder.
I was going to get this wallet back myself.
I got an insider tip from a man at the register of a bodega that all buses end up in a bus garage. This might sound obvious, but it hadn’t occurred to me earlier in my delirious state. There was, however, a catch: different numbered buses were run by different companies (even though they all look like the same bus) and some companies are much less competent than others.
The company that owned the bus I had taken not only owned a website that looked like it hadn’t been redesigned since the 80’s, but had no phone number to call. After some intense web searching, I figured out that my bag may or may not be at the Peckham Bus Garage. It was only about a mile away, so I walked there, praying that it would be open on a Sunday at 8:00 AM.
I was devastated when I found out that it was definitely not open. By a stroke of luck, however, I ran into a kind construction worker who told me that there were actually two Peckham Bus Garages, and that the one on Google Maps was the wrong one.
Moral of the story: The Internet and kind strangers are all you need to solve any impossible task.
London, thanks for the tough love. I’ll be back for you soon!