What to Expect During Your First Few Days in London

Jan 23, 2019 10:03:00 AM / by Sarah Mai

In this week's post, Sarah tells us how she had a smooth start in London, from passing through customs all the way to exploring her neighborhood. She also unpacks her first week in the city and what she has picked up on so far. Take a look at her helpful tips about grocery shopping, navigating the Tube, and getting a phone plan. 

(Original illustrations by Sarah Mai)

I successfully made it to London in one piece and have settled in nicely within the neighborhood in my new city—which is such a relief after a stressful pre-departure week! I’m not a terribly anxious traveler, but I found myself worrying quite a bit about how navigating the airport and Tube stops would go for me once I arrived in London with quite little sleep. Luckily, it was a very smooth travel day. The immigration line to check my passport and visa post-flight took about 45 minutes to pass through, so bringing a snack along is a good move (something easy to eat with one hand, like a granola bar). After a pleasant interaction with the immigration agent, I quickly made my way to the underground station (marked as the London Underground, not trains, which are much more expensive and won’t take you where you need to go).

Travel OutfitA quick travel list on how to have a smooth flight experience.

My stop was about 30 minutes into the city, all of which I stood holding my bags. The Tube can get busy in the morning with commuters, who are very quiet and don’t appreciate much eye contact (which I can understand, to be completely honest) but I fit in fine with my two bags. Because I printed the instructions CAPA provided to get to my student flat, I didn’t need to fumble with my phone to make it to my new home, and finished the final few minutes by walking.

Shopping ItemsGet an idea of what your groceries, favorites, and daily items will cost.

Once in my new home, I was able to spend the next few days getting comfortable in the neighborhood. My flatmates and I took a walk around the area and found the local grocery stores, which for me are Sainsbury, Waitrose, and Tesco, all with different varieties of prices and foods. Waitrose is more upscale if you want some fancier food and has more specialized items, while Sainsbury and Tesco are much like your hometown grocery chain and get you pretty much anything you might need for every day. Packages are generally about the same size for things like cereals, pasta, and crackers, but almost everything else comes in smaller containers and is slightly more expensive. Dairy and eggs seem to be very high quality here, however, and if you like fresh brown eggs—you’re in luck. Further, if you usually buy in bulk at home, you might want to get used to smaller and more frequent grocery trips in London—and bring your totes!

Reading on TubeThe silence on the Tube makes for a good reading time.

As for getting around, the Tube is truly amazing. The trains come about every three minutes, so if you miss one, there will be one around the corner very quickly. Tubes are always relatively quiet, and conversation between folks happens in hushed tones. It gets slightly livelier in the evening and on weekends with various pub and club goers, but it’s still much, much quieter than most public American spaces. If you can grab a seat and have a longer trip, they’re a good place to read, get some work done for class, sketch, or relax for a while. Also, if you make a mistake and take the wrong change, it is easy to right your wrongs—in most train stations the right train is just on the other side of the platform. As for buses, sometimes it is easier to just walk than to take the bus as they can add extra time to an otherwise quick walk. For some transport safety tips, don’t hang out too much around the entrances and exits of stations after your stop, and certainly not with your phone or wallet out in your hands. Especially at big tourist spots, in the evenings, or on busy weekends, phone or wallet theft is not entirely uncommon in the city. Just be careful of your things and keep an eye out for yourself and your friends!

Tea TimeBritish tea time etiquette.

As for schooling, do not worry at all about adjusting to CAPA. The staff members are friendly as can be, super helpful, and do a thorough job of getting everyone settled in. Orientation at the CAPA center in the first week helped answer all the questions I had not thought to ask before I left, and I honestly feel entirely supported to make it through the semester (this sounds like an ad and I promise you I was not paid to say this). Also, you can phone home and let your concerned parents know that the CAPA team has lots of ways to make sure you’re safe and healthy while abroad, from healthcare to travels elsewhere, and things in-between.

PhoneYou can get a phone plan when you arrive in London and start your first of many texts and calls while studying abroad.

Speaking of phoning, getting a phone plan here is something you can do quickly the day you arrive here. All you need is an unlocked phone, which you should check your provider’s policy to make sure your phone is unlocked before you come (AT&T usually does not unlock phones until they are entirely paid off, while Verizon keeps your phone unlocked all the time). Do some research into the providers, then pop into the shop and get the sim card changed for your British number. Contacting friends, family, or partners at home can be done easily through WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, or whatever way you choose to do it.

Thanks, Sarah!

Sarah Mai


Sarah Mai is an official CAPA blogger for spring 2019, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. An English and Art major at University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, she is studying abroad in London this semester.

Sarah's journey continues all semester so stay tuned.

Learn More about the CAPA London Program

Topics: London, England, Local Culture