Things no one tells you about moving to London

Little fish, meet big pond.

Some people spend their whole lives dreaming of getting away, of leaving the familiar behind to dive headfirst into the uncertainty of being a stranger in a strange land.

On the other hand, I never even considered living anywhere other than New Zealand until a few months before it actually happened.

I love travelling, but I’d always been a holiday kind of person – leaving for a short spell before retreating back to the comfort of home. The idea of upending my life, with all its dependable routines and structure, to start from scratch in a new country was utterly alien to me.

And then, I met someone.

He was a born traveller who’d already done a couple of six-month stints backpacking around Europe and South America, and he couldn’t wait to get out of New Zealand again.

Now, I’m not an intrepid adventurer by any stretch (my idea of spontaneity is chucking five items into my online shopping basket and hitting ‘checkout’ without thinking twice). But he helped me realise there’s something more rewarding about living away from home. Thanks to him, I wanted to find out what it was like to immerse yourself in a different place, with different rhythms and different people.

The big move

Cut to one year later and suddenly we’re talking about the idea of moving to London. Within a few months, we had applied for our visas, sold/given away/gotten rid of most of our earthly possessions and were saying goodbye to everyone we knew.

Lugging along a single suitcase to start my new life with, I hopped on a plane a week ahead of him (my halfhearted attempt at the ‘solo travel’ thing) and 30+ hours later, the London tube system spat me out, bleary-eyed and fighting off jetlag, straight into the chaos of Clapham High Street.

What I’ve learned about London

Now we’re almost a year in (it feels incredibly strange to think that much time has already passed), there are a few things I’ve learned since moving to London that I never would have expected:

  • There are no mince and cheese pies. This is not a joke – if you mention the combo of mince and cheese to any Brit, they’ll practically go green at the gills. Their pies are more of the steak and ale variety, and the kind you have to pay at least $20 NZD for at a pub. Big Ben pies, I miss you more than you’ll ever know.
  • In winter, the evenings start at about 3pm. Nothing shocks you quite like looking up from your desk in the later afternoon, only to realise the sun has fled and it’s already pitch black outside. I exaggerate, but honestly, only a little.
  • London is grimy, overwhelming, beautiful and thrilling all at the same time. There’s an energy here that’s addictive, and it’ll carry you through the tube rides where you’re packed in with other commuters like sardines, or when you get accidentally elbowed in the head by someone striding past you on the sidewalk, due to lack of space.
  • The struggle tan is real. Summer is a precious commodity here, so the minute the temp gets above 20 degrees it’s fair game – Londoners flock to the nearest park, armed with towels and sunscreen, to lay out in the warmth and bake like mad.
  • You’ll miss things about home you never thought you would. As well as the people you leave behind, it’s the small things you start to appreciate – being able to eat fish and chips on the beach, having a back yard, the laid-back pace of life.
  • You’ll hate it sometimes, and that’s okay. I had this idea I would be the ultimate version of myself in London – better dressed, more outgoing, constantly jetting off for weekends in Europe, juggling a million different social events and a dream job like something out of The Devil Wears Prada (the fun part where she got a cool mag girl makeover, before things went sideways). Needless to say, it didn’t exactly turn out like that. There are times when I’ve felt I could conquer anything, and there are times when I’ve wanted to get on the next flight home. Shit happens, and you’ll miss out on things, but all you can do is let go and live your life the best way you know how.

What’s next

We have just over a year left now. It’s been a wild ride so far and I’ve had some of the best experiences (and truly, some of the worst) of my life here.

There are still a few big things I need to check off my bucket list – Iceland, Morocco, Glastonbury, Oktoberfest – but I’m excited to make those happen in the year I have left here.

And after the visa is over, who knows? I have no idea about what the future holds or where we’ll land after London, but there’ll be time to figure all that out later. For now, I’m happy settling into the home we’ve created, travelling as much as I can and getting the hang of this whole Kiwi abroad thing.

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