Next time I return to the UK, I will…

Posted on 15. Nov, 2010 by in Europe Travel, Expat Life, expat UK

expat in london

I lived in London for about a year in 2008. And while I keep excellent memories from my time there, I can’t help but feel like I’ve missed out on some things because I wasn’t prepared enough, and I was too naive to keep in mind that I would be leaving eventually.

If I had to repeat the whole ‘expat in London‘ experience, here are a few things I would do differently.

  • Find more unique pubs. I wasn’t aware at that time that chain, generic pubs even existed and that they weren’t anywhere near authentic. I wish I had been more selective in my venue choices.
    • Update! I did end up going back to London several times and I found a whole new set of cool London pubs.
  • Experience the afternoon tea. I know it’s expensive and terribly old-fashioned, but the afternoon tea is such a quaint trait of Britain and yet I haven’t been to one – the scones and cucumber sandwiches are calling me.
    • Update! I did end up having afternoon tea, and it was fantastic!
  • Take more photos. I took the city for granted and forgot to snap many things I now miss, especially insignificant sights in my neighborhood, but that warm my heart every time I think about them. I didn’t photograph by backyard, Camden Town station, double deckers – it didn’t even occur to me to do so because I had the feeling I would always be there. How wrong I was!

expat in london

  • Get out more. I was a bit reluctant to get out because I was usually by myself and thought it would be boring. I slowly realized it wasn’t the case but it was too late – time had gone by and I was on a race to tick every item off my ‘To-Do’ list. Maybe I was just trying too hard, too.
  • Spend less time shopping. How many hours have I wasted in Primark queuing for the fitting rooms and the cashier? Or counting how many Canadian bucks this sweater was? It was a lousy investment of money and time, two things I will never get back.
  • Buy more souvenirs. I know it’s a bit contradictory with the previous goal but really, I wish I could have tangible souvenirs of my time in London, because my current collection of souvenirs consists of a mini phone box and museum tickets. My boyfriend even forgot to buy a UCL T-Shirt, where he was part of an exchange!
  • Take advantage of the great railway system. I’m sure many Brits would beg to differ but as opposed to what we have in Canada, the railway system in Britain is actually pretty extensive (that’s a t, not a p) and efficient. Aside from an Edinburgh-London roundtrip, the few times I used the trains were to get to Marlow for work - that’s hardly called an experience. I wish I would’ve just hopped on the next train to somewhere, anywhere.

expat in london

And last, but not least:

  • Socialize. My biggest disappointment is undoubtedly that I didn’t make any friends. I haven’t met anyone. The closest contacts I had were my curry dealer at Curry 4U and the cashier at Sainsbury’s. That’s just how social my life was. I wish I would’ve worked, hung out, laughed, drank, lived with Londoners, people I would be in touch with for the years to come, people I would keep track of on Facebook and pollute their walls with ‘Hey, we should meet up soon, it’s been too long!’ messages. I don’t have any souvenirs of crazy late nights and laughs with the locals and every time I think about it, it makes me really sad. Maybe it was because I already had a partner and didn’t feel so lonely? Maybe it was because of the English reputation? I’m not sure. All I know is that next time, I will make the effort – and I’m sure I will be rewarded.

Do you have any travel regrets? is it possible not to have any? Are there things you would do differently?


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25 Responses to “Next time I return to the UK, I will…”

  1. Lauren

    15. Nov, 2010

    Nice post! Especially relevant to me because I don’t want to leave England with regrets. First off, I have a love-hate relationship with Primark. That store is so appealing, yet so revolting at the same time. I’m not sure how their clothes are so cheap and I’m not sure I want to know. Second, I actually went to Yo Sushi the last time I was in London. I’m sorry to say that it was pretty awful. Would NOT return :( Third, I LOVE the tube. I think it’s fantastic (although expensive) but it’s incredibly clean and efficient. And lastly, I was debating getting a sweatshirt from the University of Southampton today-I think I definitely will after this post. This post made me so happy, thanks for a great read :)

    And P.S. did you study abroad in London or spend an extended period living there?

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      15. Nov, 2010

      Well that was prompt! ;)

      1) I know. In addition to my money-regret, I have this social-regret going on. I’m never going back there again. I think.
      2) Now that makes me feel better!
      3) I love the tube too, but I prefer buses. The view, the feeling of sitting upstairs, the icon… something about it I can’t resist.
      4) You should get it. It’s not a random sweatshirt if you put it in your drawer, take it out in a few years and smile at the thought of your time in the UK ;)

      I’m glad you had fun reading it! I hope you won’t have as many regrets as I have.

      P.S. I didn’t study, my boyfriend did. I worked full time from home. In total, I lived in London for 10 months.

      Reply to this comment
  2. Steve

    16. Nov, 2010

    When it comes to a place like the UK, you’re going to end up wanting to do more than you have time for. It’s only natural since there’s so much to see there.

    I don’t really have any travel regrets since I consider all traveling to be worthwhile. Although on some trips I wish I had taken a few more photos. I’ve learned take tons now though and sift through them afterwards. You’re right about socializing too. Socializing with locals while traveling has given me some great experiences, plus some cool facebook friends too. Great post.

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      16. Nov, 2010

      Thanks Steve for your input.
      I know the UK has much to offer - I thought a whole year would be sufficient to cover it! Apparently, not in my case. I admire your way of seeing travels and being so sereine about it. Good for you (and your pictures!) :)

      Reply to this comment
  3. Ant Stone

    16. Nov, 2010

    London is hard for most English people. I’m sorry to hear you feel sad, but glad you have some goals to achieve next time you’re over here. Perhaps consider CouchSurfing (it’s not just for couches) or joining an interest group.

    I won’t lie to you — I tell people to go to authentic English pubs all the time (“chain, generic pubs” are unfortunately the majority these days), but if you’re there alone, it could be a real let down. Same goes for bars in Canada though, right?

    I accept that England can be a hard place to be alone — with 60 million people in the UK, it can seem like everyone’s a couple, in a crew, or has their iPod headphones in.

    Great summary.

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      16. Nov, 2010

      Thank you for your comment. I’m glad you liked this!
      I thought of interest group once I was back home - there are so many I could have registered to, like photography. I was just so scared of not fitting in.

      I don’t feel the same way about bars in Canada, as over here bars are just bars - there’s only a handful you want to avoid. Nothing to do with the legendary quaintness of English pubs anyway. ;)

      I’m glad to hear things in London are not easy for English either. Although your statistics makes me pretty sad - 60 million people and yet I couldn’t even make one friend? How lame is that? :P

      Reply to this comment
  4. Cailin

    16. Nov, 2010

    I was just in London last week! I know what you mean when you say it seems hard to find non-chain pubs sometimes. Fortunately I hung out with some Londoner friends and some wannabes and one of the places they took me too I highly recommend! :) Find more information about it here:

    I always have regrets after travels, mostly because I ran out of time, but then I just make sure to go back to those places again! :)

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      17. Nov, 2010

      Well I think I might just start to like you even more since you have actual Londoner friends ;)

      Thanks for the tip. I already have a to-do list, I just added the pub to it.

      Reply to this comment
  5. Margo

    01. Dec, 2010

    I don’t know… it may have something to do with it being after midnight, but this post made me laugh while also picking up lots of good tips. I am over the moon about your down to earth style, and I think if anybody says they don’t have any travel regrets, it’s either because they are lying or have an enviably good disposition and a brain they can turn off (unlike most writers I know :)

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      01. Dec, 2010

      Thank you very much for this kind comment! I’m glad you liked my post. Indeed, I don’t think it is possible to have no regrets whasoever, not only because one cannot do everything at once but also because people change, and you get older (or wiser, depends of the people) you may wish you did things differently.

      But in the end, I try to think of all the things that happened just like I wished they did. I guess it evens out :)

      Reply to this comment
  6. Veronique

    13. Dec, 2010

    I love the Blackfriars pub in London. Great ale and great pies. Plus, it is beautiful!

    I did the whole tea thing 2 days before moving back to Canada. We went to the Orangery at Kensington. There were 4 of us so the price wasn’t that bad and there were plenty of food. Good memories :-)

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      13. Dec, 2010

      I guess it’s better to go with a small group than by yourself to split the costs. I’ll keep that in mind.

      Reply to this comment
  7. Jools

    01. Jan, 2011

    I missed this first time around, thanks for the round up.
    Spend less time shopping, yes I am guilty of this one too!
    And use the rail network more, that’s a great one for sure. Don’t beat yourself up though. London - Edin is a pretty decent trip though, prob our 2 best cities IMO.

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      01. Jan, 2011

      I totally agree with you, Jools. I went to Edinburgh by rail and it was fantastic. Fast and incredibly beautiful. While many Brits seem unhappy with the rail system (amongst other things), I think it’s pretty impressive and efficient as opposed to what we have in Canada. Most of the time, it’s faster to reach your destination by boat because trains are slow and often delayed.

      Reply to this comment
  8. Andrew

    11. Jan, 2011

    Regrets should be used to learn things and make changes for the future, not beat yourself up so much about the past. “Just go back”, that is what I get from this list. :)

    The pictures thing I get. I have been living abroad for 3 years and while I have some photos of the local town, not much of the stuff I have seen nearby. And literally none of my old hometown. I do regret that. Will remedy it at some point.

    Reply to this comment
  9. Danielle Bosman

    06. Apr, 2011

    I can relate…I moved to London with my (now ex) husband a couple years ago. We thought it was a 3-year stint but ended up only being 6 months, so I kind of put off a lot of “to-dos” and then tried desperately to pack them all in when we knew we had to leave. I too spent a lot of time on my own and way too much time shopping (such an easy solo activity). I also regret that I spent too much time in Starbuck’s of all places. I also didn’t really make any friends, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Connecting with others and forming actual friendships is just a very hard thing to do in a new place.

    By the way, I love your blog and your photos are beautiful! Thanks for sharing!

    Reply to this comment
    • Lauren Cowgill

      18. Aug, 2011

      You know, normal English people don’t actually have afternoon tea. Though we do drink a lot of tea! Have been further up north? There’s so much to see outside London!

      Reply to this comment
  10. Michelle

    04. Feb, 2012

    Building a social network in a new country takes times, I would say at least 2 years before you have a solid foundation if you are doing it on your own. You do have to put yourself out there though, go to meet ups, join groups, book on group trips etc. Some meet someone and take on his family and friends, it can help, but best to have your own network.

    As for pubs, the Morgan Arms in Bow is lovely, the Castle and the Ladbroke arms both near Holland Park Tube station are great as well. In Primrose Hill the Landsdowne and the Princess of Wales are great. The Princess of Wales has a Banksy in their really nice garden out the back!

    If you are in Hampstead the Garden Gate, The Flask and the Holly Bush are worth checking out. They all have their own personalities and are great for people watching.

    As for afternoon tea, it doesn’t have to be expensive, lots of lovely restaurants and hotels do them for about £15/20. Especially if you grab a groupon or some such deal. As well The Restaurant in the Crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral has an afternoon tea for $15, and the scones are to die for.

    Don’t be too hard on yourself, London is a very big complex city that takes years to get to know! I am still learning and figuring it out after 5 years!

    Reply to this comment


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