Things to Know Before You Go: London, England


Deadlines for study abroad have come and gone in past months. This is an exciting and terrifying time for all involved. You may be going for the summer- or if you’re feeling brave, a whole semester- and have little to no knowledge of international travel. You may have never been on a plane before. Don’t be alarmed, this is the case for many of your fellow students. This checklist is here to help students who are going abroad to London, in order to make the transition as smooth as possible. 

  1. Know What You’re Packing!

Before you even step foot in an airport, you should check what’s going in your suitcase. This could mean the difference between packing effectively, or having a bunch of useless items that will only take up space in your bag. 

When going to Europe, one of the most important things you should bring is a travel plug adapter. American electronics are not compatible with most countries’ outlets, and if you wait until you arrive in the UK, it may cost more to purchase one. If you’re looking to be proactive- buy a three pack of adapters online and preemptively pack those. They’re small, and won’t take up too much space in a checked bag. 

Another thing you should bring is a bag to carry your laundry in. Most dorm buildings will not contain a space to do laundry, which means you’ll have to walk to a laundromat instead. Don’t pack any laundry detergent, though, as it will likely exceed airport liquid restrictions, and you can always buy some at a local grocery store once you’ve settled. 

You may also want to bring 1-2 reusable tote bags that can carry groceries.

London is known for their heavy rain, so bring an umbrella with you. 

Bring walking shoes and a pair of formal shoes. Leave the flip flops. London streets are mostly cobblestone, so you’ll need some sturdy and reliant footwear. Some places have a dress code, so having a nice pair of dress shoes can come in handy. 

Depending on your cell provider, you may need to upgrade to international messaging, or purchase a SIM card so you can communicate with folks back home.

 The last thing I would recommend, depending on when you arrive, is a small fan. London summers are incredibly hot, and most places do not contain air conditioning, and in some dorms, opening the windows are restricted or not allowed at all. 

And as for the things you should leave behind? Large amounts of liquids, food, alcohol, and other things that can easily be purchased after you land. 

  1. Watch the Tubes! 

When you touch down in London, you will likely be in Heathrow, Stansted, or Gatwick. This means to get into the heart of the city, you’ll be taking the metro subway, or the Underground Tubes. The Tubes are a complex system of railways designed to quickly move large amounts of people around the city, and are color coded and named for your convenience. 

The Tubes are divided into three sections: The Overground, an above ground train that moves slower and can even take you out of the London area, The Underground, a metro akin to an average subway, and the National Rail Services, a railway that has above and underground portions. To access these, you will need a metrocard, known as an Oyster Card, which you can purchase for 5 pounds at most rail stations. Once you have this card, it can be filled with cash, or you can use your credit/debit card to load it, this will be at the same machine you acquire the card from. 

However, know at times, especially during summer months, that the trains may not always be available due to rail worker strikes. The most convenient route to your destination may be cut off, or certain stations may be under construction. To check to see if any trains are on strike, you can use the TFL Go app or the CityMapper app, which can also calculate the quickest train route to any given station. If all else fails, Oyster Cards can also be used to access the large red buses that travel throughout the city. They may move slowly, but they’re reliable. Plus, you only need to tap once when you get on, there’s no exit fare on the bus.

If you’re traveling outside London for a day trip, you will need to purchase a physical paper ticket, as oyster cards are limited to the London area. If you don’t have a ticket, you’ll get stuck at the turnstiles and will need to go back.

  1. Get Cooking!

If you’re studying at a school in London, chances are, you don’t have a meal plan. You’ll need to pick up ingredients and cook your own meals. Most dormitory buildings will have a kitchen with pots and pans. If you need to pick up quick ingredients, check the Tesco’s, or the Sainsburys, local corner stores that have anything from snacks, to fresh produce to frozen meats. Local grocery stores like Aldi are also available. However for all of these stores, you need to bring your own reusable bag. You can also purchase one in most grocery stores. Otherwise, you’re carrying everything back by hand.

  1. Nightlife!

London isn’t just a stuffy town full of museums and vast culture (although it’s highly recommended that you visit at least a few museums, including the V&A, the Science Museum, and the Wallace Collection). It’s also home to a wide variety of bars and nightclubs. Drinking age is lower than the US – 18 compared to our 21. However, some bars may still enforce a 21 and up policy, mainly rooftop bars. However, safety is highly important. Always go in a group when going out to bars, as muggings are more common during tourist season. If you’re looking for a district with good nightlife, Shoreditch is your destination. With bars focused around arcade games, mini-golf, karaoke, and disco, and drinking is always optional rather than required. Just remember to bring ID!

  1. Food Culture & Tipping!

In the UK, you don’t need to tip your servers at the restaurants. There’ll be an “Optional service charge” at the bottom of your bill that is automatically added to your charge. Don’t remove this charge unless there’s absolutely something wrong with the service- the servers will be angry at you. 

When it comes to actually getting into a restaurant, most places require a reservation in advance. If the place you want to visit is more fancy, make the reservation before you arrive in London, maybe even a month in advance if you’re going someplace like the Ritz Carlton, or the top floor of Fortnum & Mason’s. Some places may take walk-ins on slow days, though, especially if they’re more casual. 

Also- don’t ask for the check. Ask for the bill instead, or they won’t have a clue what you’re talking about. 

These tips and tricks will hopefully help you feel a bit more adjusted during your time outside of the states. Remember to take plenty of photos, read up on events happening, and above all else, stay safe and have fun! 

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