I'm studying abroad in London for six months, starting this Wednesday, as in three or four days from now. I need advice on how to live cheaply in London and still enjoy myself. Rent and two meals a day are covered, but I need advice on everything outside of that (Very long, sorry!)
I'm studying at UCL
until June. I'm living in university accommodation- Ifor Evans Hall
, near Camden. It's a catered hall, so my fees cover breakfast and dinner on weekdays, but I'm on my own outside of that.
My budget, after tuition and fees for the residence hall, is about 2,600 pounds ($4,100 USD). This needs to cover lunches and weekend food, traveling- both inside London and elsewhere, doing fun things in London, and random expenses like shampoo and buying things for my room. I also have a (US) credit card with a $3,500 (USD) limit and my parents can help me out to an extent, but these are last-resort sources of funds I'd only use in an emergency or if I run out of money completely.
I normally attend a college in a really small town, where there's almost nothing to buy and I've been on a 21 meal a week meal plan and living in a dorm, so I have very little experience budgeting- I've never had to figure out how much I spend in a week. General advice on how to get by on a fixed income for a short while would be great, like how to parcel out my funds so I don't run out by the end of the term.
More specific questions, roughly by subject:
Food: I think I'll have access to a stove/microwave/refrigerator equipped kitchenette and a Sainsbury's. I can cook OK, but I don't want to invest in pans and spices and things. Ideas for cheap, portable lunches would be great, especially UK specific things.
I'd also like to eat things other than homemade sandwiches, whatever the UK equivalent of ramen is, and dining hall food. What places are worth paying what I understand to be high London restaurant prices? Are there super-cheap places to get lunch in London if I don't bring my own food?
Travel in London: There's a bus route from my residence to the main campus of the school, or it's a 30-40 minute walk. Is walking this route a feasible thing to do in the winter, or should I plan on taking the bus most days? I'm used to the cold since I go to school in the northeastern US but you can walk across my campus in 20 minutes. I know about Oyster cards, but I'm trying to figure out if I need a student travel card and monthly passes, or just a pay-as-you-go option.
I'm also hoping to explore London. I've seen advice on cheap fun things to do in London, but I've done the touristy thing (although I'll be revisiting most of the museums) and I'm more interested in cheap, day-to-day things to do, since I'll be there for a while and I don't need to pack in the "London experience". Good coffee shops I can sit around in and do school things that are near where I'll be living, fun neighborhoods to wander around in, things like that. This website
has a lot of the sort of thing I'm looking for, but location-specific advice would be great.
I have hipster-ish tastes but I don't dress like one- I like indie music, old buildings and architecture, interesting out-of-the-way parks and neighborhoods and places to explore. I'm not a food snob, I'm not really into the theater or classical/jazz/etc. music, I'm not an alcohol snob, I like magazines and journals, I like modern art but not necessarily contemporary art. I'd feel uncomfortable in places where everyone is excruciatingly cool.
I'm also really hoping to travel outside of London. Ireland, Scotland and Wales are all on the list, as well as other areas in the UK.
If it's at all feasible, I'd like to visit Paris, Amsterdam, and maybe Portugal or Spain (more or less in that order of preference). I'm looking for the cheapest ways to get to those places over the long Easter holiday I have, from the end of March to beginning of May.
: Advice on living in London cheaply, but experiencing as much as possible. Advice specific to the UCL/Camden area would be particularly appreciated. I'm also looking for advice on traveling cheaply from London to other parts of the UK and the nearer parts of Europe.
I'll be monitoring this thread, so please let me know if I've left out any vital information. If my expectations are completely at odds with my budget, I'd like to know that as well! Any advice on adjusting to UK university practices (as opposed to US liberal arts college practices) would be appreciated as well. Or any advice on anything at all, really- I'm leaving very soon and I'm freaking out slightly. My mother's British aunt and uncle will be picking me up from the airport and helping me get settled a little, but I want to gather as much information as possible before I go.