Beat the infamous Heathrow Injection

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As scary as the ‘Heathrow Injection’ πŸ’‰πŸ˜± sounds, thankfully it doesn’t involve anything sharp – quite the opposite. ‘Extra padding’ is something most London newcomers experience after they’ve settled in.

Picture the scene: a summer-like period fades into long dark days, ramping up the desire for nights in with a growing pile of takeout boxes on the kitchen bench πŸ₯‘

If, like me, you’ve traded climates πŸ–οΈπŸ›¬πŸŒ¬οΈ you might also adopt the after work pub culture and comfort food on the menu (mmm, fish ‘n’ chips) as you adjust to your first UK winter.

It’s not all doom and gloom! London is a thriving city and there’s always things to see, try and do – you just need to find what works for you 🀩

Walk to work

Actual photo of Londoners walking to work

You’ve heard this one a thousand times, and it sounds almost too easy – but have you actually done it? You might discover a new coffee haunt or local boutique on the way, or someplace to come back and check out at the weekend.

If you’re crossing half the city on your regular commute then aim to get off a few stops early and walk the remaining journey πŸ‘Ÿ

⚠️ Spoiler alert: despite the drizzly reputation, it doesn’t rain all that often in London.

Shop the high street

Get lost in Camden’s famous markets

Last Christmas, the ‘death of the High Street’ was all any media publisher broadcasted. Basically, online shopping is overtaking in-store shopping as our preferred purchase method πŸ›οΈ While a great alternative for time-strapped people, it’s not so great for clocking up steps.

Pick a Tube station at random and guaranteed there’s an interesting local market in the vicinity. Ditch the cookiecutter handbag and hunt for something unique πŸ‘

Get behind two wheels

Santander Cycles are just Β£2 a ride!

London may be a bustling metropolis, but its streets are becoming increasingly bike friendly. There’s even cycling ‘super highways’ popping up all over town! πŸš΄β€β™€οΈ

Many workplaces have also adopted ‘cycle to work’ schemes – check if your company is already on board πŸ‘Œ

If you’re more of a leisure cyclist, take advantage of the UK’s longer daylight hours in summer (until 10pm!) and take a two-wheeled tour around your borough 🌳

Unless you live under a rock, you’d also have noticed Santander Cycles docking stations. Find out more 🚲

Prep your meals

Impress your colleagues with your cooking skills

With chains and meal deals (coupled with an active social life) competing to be your food choice, it’s no wonder we opt for convenience over effort. Sushi 🍣 might seem healthy but did you know the rice is full of caster sugar? Not to mention it’s likely white rice, too.

Knowing exactly what you’re eating when you prepare it yourself puts you back in control – not only of its contents, but portion size as well βš–οΈ

Some of my favourite (and simplest) packed lunches for work are rice paper rolls, falafel wrap, chicken and avocado toastie, and soft tacos πŸ˜‹

Join a fitness group

From CrossFit to circus, flamenco to kayaking, tai chi and more, there’s an abundance of fitness activities happening in every corner of London πŸ’ƒ However, prices for anything specialised can make you question whether its worth the pounds (mind the pun).

If you’re after something that combines culture, socialising and fitness like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, then 3-4-1 sounds like a sweet deal! And if you’re after something more casual, the pricey gym membership might not be the best option πŸ’Έ

Outside of solo runs and cycling, there’s a huge selection of free (or cheap) fitness MeetUp and Facebook groups. *Shameless plug* our Hiking Group is pretty cool! πŸ‘Ÿ

Up your Insta game

If chasing invisible monsters on Pokemon GO isn’t getting you out of the house like it used to, it might be about time to dust off that Instagram account? 🀳

If you Google ‘most instagrammable cities in the world’, chances are London will make the Top 10. Outside of its classic icons – think roundels, red double deckers and telephone boxes – there’s monuments, palaces, churches, extravagant eateries, historic pubs, quirky street and food art and more! 🎑

Some starting points for inspiration are: scenic walks along South Bank, eclectic markets in Camden and Shoreditch, stunning views at Greenwich, and colourful architecture in Chelsea and Notting Hill πŸ‡¬πŸ‡§

Curb your liquid calorie intake

Wine might be the way to go when it comes to sugar in alcohol

London hosts incredible traditional pubs and riverside al fresco spots for blink-and-you-missed-it summer, but there’s a reason a pint or two leaves you feeling full 🍻 I’m not suggesting anything drastic, just to watch your intake. The NHS has a helpful guide on their website🍷

And then there’s a host of chains offering sweet-tastic drinks – think: bubble tea and smoothies that are more ice-cream than fruit – and sugar-loaded ‘coffee’ frappuccinos with all the latest flavours πŸ₯€

If you need that flavour hit, try mixing your own sparkling fruit juice with soda water and 100% fruit extract, adding mint leaves to a jug of water or swapping coffee for herbal tea 🍡

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Thrifty London life hacks

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London’s ranking may have dropped down out of the ‘World’s Top Ten Most Expensive Cities’ list, but this costly metropolis gives new meaning to the phrase ‘dropping a few pounds’ πŸ€‘

Compared to other major cities back home like Sydney or Melbourne, London’s lower wages and steeper costs of living (think: rent, transport and bills you’ve never heard of) will surely shock your system in the first months as you gradually start thinking in pounds instead of dollars.

No, the sting of that Β£3 latte never really goes away β˜• And that’s without a croissant.

To give you an idea, compared to Sydney, in London: there’s 20% VAT added to consumer goods and services (up from Aussie’s modest 10% GST), a meal out is 25% more expensive, and monthly utilities are rarely under Β£100 per person.

Setting a budget is a great idea, but let’s be honest that’s a whole new blog post to cover. These London like hacks are a great place to start πŸ‘‡

Key: πŸ†“ Free, πŸ‘› Cheap, πŸ’° Reasonable, πŸ’Έ Make the most of unavoidable expenses!

Food and eating out πŸ₯‘

In a city with a reputation for exceptionally pricey dining, a cheap meal actually isn’t all that difficult to come by.

πŸ‘› Β£3 meal deals at most Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco – enough to get you through lunch break and afternoon tea
πŸ‘› Β£3-5 M&S and Waitrose salads and sushi – there’s a decent and healthy variety!
πŸ‘› Β£1 confectionery and 2-4-1 cold drinks at Poundland
πŸ‘› Stretch your pence with loyalty cards, locals’ discounts, reusable coffee cups
πŸ‘› Too Good To Go app – save a meal before it goes to waste at a fraction of the cost
πŸ’° Do your grocery shopping at Lidl, Aldi, Asda and Morrisons
πŸ’° Food markets – lots of options bound to suit everyone’s tastes and budget
πŸ’° Lunch menus tend to offer cheaper deals than at dinner time
πŸ’° Discounted sandwiches and sushi in the few hours before store closing time.

Transport and getting around 🚌

London’s transport system is world class service, but you do pay for what you get. Even with fares frozen over the past few years, the Tube network is particularly expensive. Thankfully there’s plenty of options for getting from A to B.

πŸ‘› Β£1.50 Hopper fare for buses, and connecting bus journeys are free if you tap on within an hour of tapping onto the first bus
πŸ‘› Β£1.50 on Overground journeys as you avoid travelling into Zone 1
πŸ‘› Β£2 Santander Cycles hire per 30min journey
πŸ’° Cycle to Work schemes – an employee benefit that saves you 25% or more on a bike and accessories with payments taken tax efficiently from your salary by your employer
πŸ’° Subscribe to emails such as Trainline to get a heads up on cheap fares for spontaneous weekend travel.

Rent and living expenses 🏠

Rent is the other necessary evil of living in London. While this topic could easily be another entire blog post (or series) in itself, here’s a few main points to consider:

πŸ†“ Score a free haircut from salons like TONI&GUY as hair models are often sought after by apprentices
πŸ‘› Take advantage of so many competitive mobile plan deals – challengers such as giffgaff piggyback off more established networks, so you get the same coverage for less!
πŸ’° Avoid paying for a useless TV licence and split a streaming service across your devices like Netflix
πŸ’Έ East and South London (for the moment, at least) tend to attract cheaper rent as opposed to their affluent Central, West and North London counterparts
πŸ’Έ Opt to live in an area that’s a 15min+ walk from a Tube station. For instance, Crouch End is a gorgeous spot wedged between some of London’s most exclusive neighbourhoods.

Socialising and sightseeing πŸ₯‚

A boozy Friday night could quickly leave you out of pocket for the rest of the weekend – or month – if you’re not careful!

πŸ†“ Many of the world’s most renowned parks, museums and galleries are free!
πŸ†“ MeetUp and Facebook groups – learn a new language for free!
πŸ†“ Sky Garden rooftop at the Walkie Talkie is free entry, you just need to book in advance
πŸ†“ Pub theatre performances
πŸ‘› Host a picnic in the park in summer or a dinner party at home (if you have the space!)
πŸ‘› I’ve heard Wetherspoons pubs are great value for drinks
πŸ’° Rush tickets are a great way to secure cheap seats at some of the best theatre performances in the world. There’s an app for that!
πŸ’° Affordable bottomless brunches are few and far between, but you can certainly drink back your money’s worth – and some.

Shopping and activities πŸ›οΈ

πŸ†“ Browse upcoming talks and networking events on Eventbrite, MeetUp and Facebook
πŸ†“ Check out a free (or cheap Β£5) gig at one of the city’s many comedy clubs, including central London
πŸ‘› Bag a bargain at London’s array of markets and charity stores
πŸ‘› Shop around for cinema tickets – booking online often works out cheaper
πŸ‘› Enjoy a performance at The Globe Theatre with a Β£5 standing ticket
πŸ’° Browse offers on Groupon for meals, experiences, classes and services. My trip to Stonehenge was half price in the middle of summer!
πŸ’° Many major retailers offer great membership loyalty benefits. Never pay full price again!
πŸ’° Students and youth card holders also enjoy discounts at food chains and major retailers.

Health and fitness πŸ‘Ÿ

πŸ†“ Register for free fitness trials – try something new!
πŸ†“ Join a local fitness MeetUp or exercise group
πŸ†“ Walk whenever possible – plus it’s the best way to explore
πŸ‘› Buy in bulk and prep meals for the week yourself – freeze half and rotate the options to mix it up
πŸ‘› Swim at the Lido or Hampstead Heath ponds in summer
πŸ’° Buy a bicycle – there’s an upfront cost but it’s free onwards (except maintenance)
πŸ’° Shop around for the best gym membership.

Holiday travel ✈️

πŸ†“ Learn the basics of a new language using an app like Duolingo or go to a free language exchange session
πŸ‘› Heard of Β£9 flights to France? Travel mid-week well in advance to score those fares
πŸ’° Always hunt for the best airfare online – try Skyscanner or Google Flights
πŸ’° Book your flight home to spend Christmas holidays with family on Christmas Day itself, or New Years Day to save
πŸ’° Take advantage of student and youth airfares and travel packages.

Your hacks

I’ve undoubtedly missed a few crucial London life hacks, so I’d love to hear your tips in the comments!

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Life-changing reads

If you’re a fan of print, you’ll understand the panic mode that hits when you realise you have to abandon your home library when it comes to The Big Move (see below or read more on Instagram).

With an average of 20-something kilos per bag, you quickly realise suitcase space is hot property real estate. That’s when you face the painful process of picking your favourite book child(ren) and sadly part with the rest πŸ“š

A few ways to get around it are to:

  • Convert to an e-reader and bring your digital library anywhere you go
  • Hit up secondhand bookstores once you arrive. I picked up Rubicon by Tom Holland in great condition for just Β£2 at a London charity shop!
  • Ask your family to stuff a bag full of books and goodies from back home during their obligatory visit
  • Scope out pricey shipping options if you can’t live without your 12 volume fantasy saga. Expat Facebook groups are great for recommendations.

Below are some of the titles that I couldn’t bear to part with, and ironically some actually inspired me to move in the first place – like inspirational comets, crashing into my life plan and shifting its trajectory off course β˜„οΈ

β€œA room without books is like a body without a soul.”

Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman Orator

Warning: Reading the following books might change life as you know it! Proceed with caution.

Writing and teen angst

Bitten🐺

Kelley Armstrong, Women of the Otherworld, Horror, Fantasy, 2001

Elena Michaels is the world’s only female werewolf. And she’s tired of it. So she left the Pack and returned to Toronto where she’s trying to live as a human. When the Pack leader calls asking for her help fighting a sudden uprising, she only agrees because she owes him.More info

Before Twilight‘s sparkly vampires infected our lunchtime gossip sessions, I was nose deep this is dark, gritty urban fantasy about werewolf mafia.

The story gets up close and personal, making you shudder with images of gore, and flush red from the abrupt, raunchy sex littered throughout. Armstrong’s writing perfectly blends the supernatural and the adult world, minus the cringey tropes of teen fantasy novels.

After turning the last page, I opened up my Word and immediately started writing my own supernatural saga (because I was such an ‘expert’ by that point). I’d print off every new chapter and bring it to school for my best friends to take home and read. Surprisingly, they enjoyed it and pestered me daily for the next installment. Chuffed that my writing was such a hit in the schoolyard, I decided that being a writer was my calling.

History buff

Mistress of Rome βš”οΈ

Kate Quinn, Empress of Rome, Historical Fiction, 2010

First-century Rome. Thea is a slave girl from Judaea, purchased as a toy for a spiteful heiress. Now she has infuriated her mistress by capturing the attention of Rome’s newest and most savage gladiator. Reinventing herself as a singer for Rome’s aristocrats, Thea unwittingly attracts another admirer: the charismatic Emperor.More info

The story hits the ground running. Quinn brings imperial Rome to the present through her protagonist’s modern voice and hits you with sensory bursts – colour in rich silks, thunderous applause in the Colosseum, the shiver of the Emperor’s breath down your neck, and the smell of gladiator sweat as they fight it out for their lives.

I picked up Mistress of Rome early on in my uni degree. At the time I was indecisive about first year Psychology and looking for ways to avoid stats. Knowing that I’d have to tackle my numerical demons at some point, I jumped into my imagination’s time machine. The world of emperors, gladiators and lavish banquets was so richly immersive I longed to be a part of it.

And so began my second (and third) academic start, bringing me closer to my Serious Writer dreams and ever so much further away from stats. Seeing the Colosseum in person never fails to snatch the breath from my lungs πŸ›οΈ

Culture and cuisine

The Gypsy Tearoom 🍝

Nicky Pellegrino, Fiction, 2007

Raffaella Moretti is by far the most beautiful girl in the southern Italian village of Triento and she is about to marry the only boy she has ever loved. The last thing she expects is to find herself a widow one short year later, down on her hands and knees, scrubbing clean the layers of dirt from a strange house.More info

I don’t subscribe to the motto ‘don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ – something has to entice you to pluck it from the shelf, right? This little teal book caught my eye and the strange title instilled me with the sudden need to know what a ‘gypsy tearoom’ was.

A chapter or two in, and I’ve been a tragic Italophile ever since. Food, language, art, history, culture, romance … what’s not to love?!

Pellegrino depicts Italy in sepia – picturesque towns and traditions passed down over generations, and a calmness that makes you want to curl up on a sunbed and sip spritz on a summer afternoon by the beach. Hmm, maybe I could live there…

Girl power!

Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon πŸŒ™ Volume 1

Naoko Takeuchi, Shōjo Japanese Manga, 1992

Usagi Tsukino is a normal girl until she meets Luna, a talking cat, who tells her that she is Sailor Moon who must fight evil and enforce justice, in the name of the Moon and the mysterious Moon Princess. She meets other girls destined to be Sailor Senshi (Sailor Scouts), and together they fight the forces of evil!More info

Sailor Moon combines most things I enjoy – superpowers, strong females, romance, action, mythology, Japanese culture, the list goes on. The series really kicked off my love for visual storytelling, resulting in many trees sacrificed to my endless ink doodling. Good thing now we have tablets!

Confession: This phase actually started with the American 90s anime adaptation Sailor Moon. This ‘phase’ hasn’t exactly ended yet, and it may have inspired a trip to Japan and led to an obscene amount of merch purchases πŸ›οΈ

My interest in the original manga only started amidst the hype surrounding the franchise’s 20th anniversary and the release of the Sailor Moon Crystal anime series. Nostalgia of the fun, quirky show of my childhood came flooding back and I gave the back-to-front illustrated novels a go. After devouring every instalment, plus a few volumes in Spanish and Italian, I went ahead and rewatched the entire series.

Warning: Prepare to have this track stuck in your head all day.

Myths, gods and heroes

The Iliad 🏺

Homer, Epic Poem, 800 or 700 B.C.

The darkest episode in the Trojan War. At its centre is Achilles, the greatest warrior-champion of the Greeks, and his refusal to fight after being humiliated by his leader Agamemnon. But when the Trojan Hector kills Achilles’ close friend Patroclus, he storms back into battle to take revenge knowing this will ensure his own early death. Interwoven with this tragic sequence of events are the conflicts between the Gods on Olympus as they argue over the fate of mortals.More info

Homer. Where to even begin? A timeless epic of Greek and Trojan heroes: honourable Hector, god-like Achilles, beautiful Paris, proud kings, egotistical gods, a hidden trap wooden horse, a decade of war and forbidden love, and ‘the face that launched a thousand ships’.

The Iliad is eternal and enduring. It embodies the Greek heroic tragedy, and would pave the way for countless retellings and interpretations across the ages. The story represents storytelling in its richest form and adapts seamlessly across all mediums: oral, written, audio, visual. In my opinion, its only downfall is the repetitive comparisons of every warrior to a lion. How about a wolf, mountain bear or an eagle to mix things up a bit?

The Iliad is my muse, as my well-thumbed copy can attest.

β€œEvery story I create, creates me. I write to create myself.”

Octavia E. Butler

Honourable mentions πŸ₯ˆ

Okay, so this post sort of became a shopping list.

  • Wonder Woman: Warbringer, Leigh Bardugo, YA Fiction
  • The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller, Historical Fiction
  • Imperium, Robert Harris, Historical Fiction
  • Antony and Cleopatra, Colleen McCullough, Historical Fiction
  • The Phantom of the Opera, Gaston Leroux, Gothic Horror
  • DraculaBram Stoker, Gothic Horror
  • The Aeneid, Virgil, Epic Poetry
  • The Odyssey, Homer, Epic Poetry
  • Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert, Memoir
  • Lunch in Paris, Elizabeth Bard, Memoir
  • Geisha of Gion, Mineko Iwasaki, Memoir
  • The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood, Dystopia
  • The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien, Fantasy
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien, Fantasy
  • The Book of Tomorrow, Cecelia Ahern, YA Fiction
  • The Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton, Children’s Fiction
  • Percy Jackson and the Lightning ThiefRick Riordan, YA Fiction
  • Stardust, Neil Gaiman, Fantasy
  • Garden Spells, Sarah Addison Allen, Fiction
  • Harry Potter: and the Philosopher’s Stone, JK Rowling, Fantasy
  • Eragon, Christopher Paolini, Fantasy
  • Magic Knight Rayearth, CLAMP, Shōjo Japanese Manga
  • Sakura Hime: The Legend of Princess Sakura, Arina Tanemura, Shōjo Japanese Manga
  • W.I.T.C.H, Elisabetta Gnone, Alessandro Barbucci, Barbara Canepa, Italian Comic.

β€œIf there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.”

Toni Morrison

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