Let’s start from the beginning. I was set to leave the country on December 30, 2014, and I had been extremely anxious as to what I was supposed to do with my luggage when I arrived in London. My biggest concern was carrying two full size pieces of luggage and a carry-on while navigating my way through an underground metro, while my Mom’s concern was me doing it alone.
I ended up booking a car company to pick me up at the airport instead, but after living and navigating the tube for six months, I realize how much this decision was a mistake. Don’t get me wrong, it was so much easier having a car to come get me at the time. It gave me time to contemplate the next six months of my life on the ride there, as well as provided me with an easy way to ensure my stuff stayed together, but I really do wish I had experienced the tube straightaway upon arriving in London.
My First Encounter with the Tube
If we’re being honest, I was terrified prior to experiencing my first trip on the tube. In America, public transportation is a scary thing. I had never experienced a place such as London, where taking the tube was the norm and it was strange to see people with cars. My first day at Queen Mary, my friend and I ventured out to experience the underground. We had received the keys to our flat and realized that there were a lot of things we needed to get. Having heard that Primark was right around the corner, we decided to venture our way over to Stratford, which we were told was only one stop away.
We went down to Mile End, figured out where the Central Line was and got on the first train that came to the East platform. While we were aware of the fact that we needed to go East, we were not sure if all the trains went to Stratford. My friend and I rushed onto the first car we saw, and then in a panic after jumping on, got nervous we were on the wrong train so we jumped off.
I went first, and my friend followed. Unfortunately neither of us realized that the loud beeping noises on the train meant the door was closing, and my friend got her body and coffee trapped inside of the train door. Luckily, the tube will not move if it knows something is stuck, so after panicking for a few moments, the doors opened and my friend was free from the door! After we regrouped for a couple of minutes, we realized that even if a train had a different ending destination, the stop we needed didn’t change because it was immediately after Mile End.
Being able to navigate the tube and give directions to tourists truly made me feel like a Londoner.
Other than this, I never experienced any other trouble with the tube. By the end of my 6 months in London I was an expert and there were times when strangers would come up to me asking which direction to go in. To me, being able to navigate the tube and give directions to tourists truly made me feel like a Londoner, which had been one of my many goals going abroad. In order to help out future IFSA-Butler students studying abroad in London, I have decided to let you in on the two best things to have when tackling the underground.
First: Oyster Card
The first thing you want to do upon arriving in London is buy an Oyster Card. Your Oyster Card will truly become your best friend. For a meager 5 pounds, you can purchase one and reload it with as many pounds as you need whenever you need them! Normal fare on the tube is about 2 pounds 50, depending on how many zones you are traveling in. However, if you are doing quite a bit of traveling, you have two options. You can either purchase a student travel card and receive a discounted rate on fare, or you can travel with your Oyster Card and depending on what zone you go into, the daily fare is capped around 7 pounds. This means that once you hit 7 pounds on any given day, the rest of your travel for that day will be completely free!
Second: City Mapper
City Mapper is hands down the best app you will ever use in London. All you need for the app is a smart phone that works with Wi-Fi! As long as you have Wi-Fi, the app can detect your location and all you need to do is put in the place you are going. Once you enter where you are going, the app formulates a route for you to take by means of public transportation, walking, or jet packing (yes it does really give you that option).
If you choose public transportation, it gives you the time of the commute, the tube line you need to take, what stop you need to get off at, and then the walking or connecting bus information that you need once you get off the tube. This app truly saved my life SO many times! Once you understand London, the places you normally go will be embedded in your brain so you won’t actually need to use the app; however, it is extremely effective when the tube has closures, because the app will give you alternative routes. It is also useful when you travel to other large cities in Europe where this app is also available.
I cant promise you that you will be a master of the tube your first or second week of living abroad, but what I can promise you is that you will undoubtedly have the best semester of your life. London is an amazing place filled with great food, people and culture, as well as the best transportation system you can find. In such a short time, I was able to experience so many beautiful places throughout London with the help of the tube. I’ve been back in Rhode Island for almost a year now, and I long for aimless rides beneath the most beautiful city in the world. I constantly wish I could go back to London, not only to experience the culture, but to embrace the comfort and convenience of the tube!
Ariana Greco is a Business Management student at Providence College and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler at Queen Mary, University of London in England in 2015.