By: Bridget Bartos
Although London was both the first and last destination on our five-week trip, my experiences the first and last week were quite different.
This was my first time out of the country besides Canada and Punta Cana, so I am not the most experienced traveler on the block. Although I have travelled to Arizona myself multiple times now, going eight hours to a different country was much different.
Upon our arrival at London Heathrow, Rohan, Emily and I managed to get lost within the first five minutes of exiting the plane (causing us an extra 40 minutes in passport control – watch what line you’re getting into). After getting through the airport, we headed towards Paddington Station. This is where things got rough. Three college kids, foreign country, no cell service, attempting to find Troy. After 30 minutes (at least) of looking, we stumbled upon him because we spotted his green MSU hat. He then gave us the task of getting all the way to (our very nearby) apartments. No cell service meant no gps, which meant much confusion. Troy gave us the easiest possible instructions to get to the Landward, with only two turns, but we yet again managed to get lost. We did end up finding a shorter way to the tube station on this little adventure, so getting lost was beneficial in this instance.
After settling in we had to research the best phone service and prices, then adventure all the way to the store to buy a SIM card. This was an easier task because a larger group of us decided to travel together (remember, traveling together was easier at the start since none of us knew anything about anything). Once we made the purchase of the SIM and actually could communicate, life got a lot easier.
Knowing where you are going is crucial in a fast pace city like London. People are ruthless, pushing you out of the way and walking quickly. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you become an extreme inconvenience to everyone else. This is especially true on the Tube. The London Underground is unforgiving. The trains are packed, the doors open and close quickly, and people do not care about anyone but themselves. In such a high-speed environment, you need to know what you are doing to thrive. We, obviously did not. Being a large group of 15, loud, and not dressed in London fashion made us stick out like a sore thumb.
As our London adventures unfolded throughout the week we did become much more proficient in traveling. By the third day we all could use the tube by ourselves and knew how to navigate a high-speed environment. By our last day in London we thought we knew it all and that we were professional travelers. We even made it all the way to the London Eye by ourselves and discovered Underbelly festival going on in Southbank. Little did we know; we knew pretty much nothing about how to travel well.
Flash forward a whole month, after traveling to Cardiff, Wales; Dublin, Ireland; Derry/Ballintoy/Belfast, Northern Ireland; Edinburgh/Glasgow/ the Highlands, Scotland; and Manchester. This all living in hotels, flats, and hostels. We were living out of a suitcase and with roommates, sharing rooms and bathrooms and lifestyles. Even though it sounds miserable, it could not have been a better learning or life experience. It was humbling, encouraging, and incredibly fun.
Coming back to London was exciting, but a long adventure. A group of us decided to head to Manchester for a day of our vacation. This required us to take the last train to Manchester from Scotland that night, and then buy and Airbnb for when we arrived. We then had to find another train to London after our day adventure, and have the station hold all our bags. After figuring this out, we felt like travelling professionals. If you would have asked me to try planning all of that the first week, I could have done it with boat loads of help. Now, however, it took a matter of minutes to plan our excursion.
We had three days of our vacation left when we arrived to our flats in Conway Hall. The flats were huge and located conveniently next to Waterloo Station and the London Eye, which was awesome for exploring the city.
After a good night’s sleep, Emily and I decided to take adventures into our own hands. Both of us are die-hard fans of the royal family, so it only seemed fitting to head to Windsor. Windsor is the home of Windsor Castle, where the queen frequently spends her days, and of the most recent Royal Wedding. Our travels to Windsor were slightly tretourous. Emily and I arrived to Euston station right on time for a train that would never come. After searching the board for our train, we made our way to the help desk where they promptly told us the only trains going to Windsor that day were out of Paddington. Slightly frustrated, we walked our way to the tube where we then transferred to the station. It was easy from then out though, as we hopped on the next (crowded) train to the station that takes you to Windsor. From there we took the train that actually went to Windsor. All of this travelling was worth it, as we got to see the Queen! The first week in London, there would have been much more stress and confusion during our tiny adventure.
We also took bikes through London on our vacation, and this would not have even been on my agenda before traveling the world. Driving on the other side of the road is terrifying (but thrilling) and the drivers in the UK are all savage. The roads are skinny and jam-packed, and nobody will stop for you. I was terrified, but it was also easy to navigate. After being here so long I know how the roads work and where drivers are, making the biking a manageable task.
Becoming more efficient in traveling made London a better place. It was much easier to fit it when we were not looking at a map every 5 seconds, or yelling to each other, or walking on the wrong side of the sidewalk. I was now able to look and feel more confident and independent as well as comfortable. This feeling is incomparable to others, and I am looking forward to traveling the world with my new skills.