Arriving in London was exhilarating. I thought, “this is what dreams are made of.” After nearly two years without international travel, not only was I in a new country but I was also experiencing it alone. I was excited to take on a new place alone. My hard work was finally paying off.
After a few days, though, thinks took a turn for the worse. I found myself finding excuses to cut my touring day short. Around 4pm every day, I went back to the hostel instead of further exploring the major world capital. I would binge watch Netflix, eat chocolate and chips in bed, and troll the internet.
I finally realized something was wrong after a Tower of London Beefeater tour. During the tour, I was in a haze I couldn’t beat. Later that night I was unable to recall more than a few details from the tour. Although sarcastically, the Beefeater even called me out for not paying attention! It was embarrassing to have my stellar-student badge of honor revoked, but it is true — I wasn’t paying attention. My mind constantly drifted elsewhere.
Every journey has its ups and downs, but was this normal? I’ve traveled before and had never felt like this. Since London was my first time traveling solo, I questioned if I was cut out for solo travel. Is it only a phase? Do I not like London? Did I set too high expectations? Am I homesick?
After a few more days of pushing myself to do more in one day and enjoy the city, I figured things out. London confuses me. Although I enjoyed my time in London, the city was also an overall lackluster experience. It is a very confusing chemistry.
Now several weeks after visiting London, I am able to narrow down the five things I believe most contributed to my lackluster London experience.
I spent my fifth evening in London either in the bathroom or the hospital due to extreme food poisoning. I’ll spare you the details, but it was a gruesome, exhausting, painful, and scary experience. The one woman who walked into the bathroom during my several hours hiding away with head-over-toilet refused to help me. Eventually I gathered the energy to approach the hostel’s front desk and ask for help. The front desk assistants gave me my own room for the night, which was nice and helpful, but it didn’t solve the problem (they also told me where a drugstore was, because I was obviously ready to walk several blocks to a drugstore). Eventually, I was losing awareness due to extreme dehydration, amongst many other scary problems. I requested the front desk to call a taxi to take me to the hospital (apparently emergency services take several hours to arrive in London).
I have never felt so alone in my life. This was the epitome of homesickness. All I wanted that evening was familiarity and family.
British doctors are top notch. My doctor gave me a magical shot which allowed me to hold down water. The doctor and nurse checked me over for any other potential issues and asked me a hundred questions to ensure nothing else was wrong. The doctor asked me to not leave until I was more hydrated just to ensure I didn’t relapse. For such a lonely and scary incident, I was finally in good hands.
Oh yeah, and the visit was free thanks to the UK’s health care system. The doctors actually explained the concept of free healthcare to my dumbfounded face. The first time you ask “how much do I owe” and the hospital staff laugh is quite the shock.
After returning from the hospital, I rested for 24 hours. Unfortunately I missed the Greenwich 5K I excitedly anticipated. The next day I was able to get out, but only for a few hours. Four days later I was back to normal…four days too long. It is unfortunate to have wasted precious travel time.
I allowed myself time to rest. I wrote a lot, read a lot, edited photos, and talked to family and friends back home.
Upon return from the hospital, I slept in the private room the hostel’s reception gave me a few hours earlier. When I was finally capable of returning to my hostel room, I realized a few of my items were stolen — an 18-pack of PopTarts I purchased as a gift for a friend, a Paddington children’s book I also purchased as a gift, my 120-pack of gum, and one pair of jeans.
Nothing. Two pounds of my luggage were dedicated to PopTarts for nothing. I had no gift to offer friends residing in London. I miss that gum every day. My favorite pair of jeans are gone forever (don’t judge — it takes a while to break in jeans to perfection).
I guess there are worst things to happen though…like almost die from food poisoning or something. Geez, wouldn’t it suck if both of those happened within 24 hours?!
London is expensive. The tube costs 2.40GDP per ride with an Oyster card. Lunchtime meals cost around 15GDP. Paid attractions usually cost 20GDP. Hostels typically charge 25GDP per night. It is extremely difficult to travel here on a budget.
Attempting to stay under budget forced me to explore less expensive activities. I discovered a free walking tour, visited an Adventure Travel Show, explored random London neighborhoods, and people-watched. I think these experiences had a much more positive impact on my time in London than any of the museums.
From bad weather to bad personalities, I guess London does have it all. Many Londoners refuse to smile or even look at strangers. As someone who seems to always smile, this was extremely disheartening.
Londoners tended to give me unwarranted advice. Catcalling exists, just as in any big city. I even witnessed a young couple smoke marijuana on the Tube (which is very illegal)!
Although many days were foggy, rainy, and too cloudy in London, I also experienced many bright and sunny days!
Morning commuters often read during their journey. Whether its the free newspaper at every tube station, work papers, or novels, it seems like the easiest way to point out a tourist is if someone is not reading! Needless to say, I quickly jumped on the bandwagon and towed my Foreign Affairs magazine or Russian history book everywhere I went.
Although they appear miserable, Londoners are kind, helpful, and happy. They may not smile or look at you, but many are willing to help you if you’re lost. Londoners love to converse with foreigners. And that drug story allowed me to meet two more solo female travelers. It turned into a wonderful girls’ pizza night!
…how you confuse me. One minute I’m picking out my future London town home and the next I’m counting the hours until I’m snuggled up in my bed.
Eventually I accepted that, although London is a great city with lots I still want to do, it is not a city I envision myself visiting time and time again. London and I don’t have chemistry, and that is okay. Every city has something to offer, but not every city will leave me heart-eyed.
Have any cities left you feeling incomplete? Let me hear it in the comments below!