A Girl Overseas: Lessons Learned in London

A Girl Overseas is a series written by contributor Abby Rasweiler, as she settles in Palma de Mallorca, Spain during a semester abroad.  Abby will offer her own stories & recommendations for adjusting in a new country, one glass of vino at a time.

Keeping in pace with virtually every other basic study abroad student, my weekends are filled with cross-continental voyages. All of these trips have the same end goal of seeing as much of the world – or at least of the European Union – as I can during the year that I am here. Next up on the list was the home of fan-favorite Princess Kate – London, baby!

Don’t Count Out Any City

To be frank, London wasn’t placed too high on my travel bucket list. With so many incredible, culturally diverse places in Europe, I arrogantly thought that going to London was a waste of time. I thought it would be very similar to an American city and I would have preferred to go somewhere completely different. However, as we are all slaves to social alliances, I packed my bags and hopped on a flight so that I could spend the weekend with a group of 20 other study abroad students from my school. Honestly, it was the best trip that I have been on yet.

After only 24 hours in this magical city, my presumptuous attitude had faded completely and I had fallen in love. London is full of iconic sights such as Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and Buckingham Palace. We even managed to arrive just in time to see the changing of the guard! (The pouring rain and see of umbrellas only served to enhance the quintessential London experience.) However, what really sets London apart is the ambience of the city. There is so much life in the streets and, despite the eternally penumbral weather, everyone is happy to be there.

Follow Instructions At Airport Security

Saying I hopped on a plane makes it sound like it was so simple and carefree, but let me tell you – it was not. Here’s an insider tip – if you’re using your school backpack as a suitcase, make sure to clean it out first. Turns out security doesn’t find it funny when you have a knife in your bag, left over from yesterday’s lunch. Also, when the instructions tell you to put all liquids in a separate plastic bag, assume that applies to you and your makeup or risk holding up the group for 45 minutes (Sorry, friends!).

Traveling On A Budget

It’s no secret that London is expensive. The current conversion rate to British pounds from US dollars is 1.52! As always, it’s best to plan ahead and stick to your budget. Some of the best ways to make sure your wallet doesn’t drop too many pounds over the course of your trip are: 

  • Explore as much as you can on foot. Many of the tourist sights and monuments are within walking distance of one another!
  • Invest in an Oyster card. These work for the bus and subway system, and are way more economical than paying for each trip individually. They require a 5 pound deposit on the card but will refund you when you return it.
  • Skip the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus. While this may seem like a typical London experience, you can get the same effect by riding the public buses (they are still as red and photogenic!).
  • For night life, think about investing in a ticket for a Pub Crawl. This is a great way to get discounts on entrances and drinks, as well as to see several different bars in various parts of the city!
  • If you are staying in a hostel and want to be with your friends, book together. We learned this lesson the hard way as all of us ended up alone in separate rooms on opposite ends of the hostel!

Traveling With A Large Group

Traveling with a large group is always difficult, and led to a few bumps in the road on our trip, but we learned quickly. Sometimes it’s best to separate because everyone is going at different paces. Allow for the perfect combination of freedom and structure within the group. For instance, don’t expect to have every minute of the day planned out for the whole group. Instead, choose a few planned activities for everyone, and leave ample time for exploring. As I’ve learned, sometimes the best way to see a city is just to roam around and see where you end up!

- Abby Rasweiler

A Love Letter to London

Dear London,

Even though my friends raved about you, I still wasn’t convinced that you’d be a good fit for me.  After all, you aren’t really known for your food or great weather – two very important things to me. But it didn’t take long for you to surpass any expectations that I had.

When WOW Air announced discounted fares from BWI to London via Reykjavík, Iceland, I thought there was no better time to visit you than on a discounted flight.  I’d be able to cross you off my bucket list and finally say I saw you.  I had never been to visit and honestly, never really had a desire to.  I know; shame on me.  I always imagined you to be cold, foggy, and quite frankly, white-washed. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

I’m not going to lie.  My visit started out a little rocky.  My friend and I got lost on the way from Gatwick to our hotel and once we finally arrived to our room at the Z Hotel Shoreditch, it was the size of an actual shoebox – literally.  I have come to expect small European hotel rooms, but this room took my expectations to a whole new low level. But that’s another story for a different day.

Once we began to explore you via the Tube (which really puts DC’s Metro to shame) and the Big Bus, I realized that every inch of you was at my disposal.  It was awesome.  You always felt so alive. Everywhere we went, there was always something to see.  From Picadilly Circus to Shoreditch, Covent Garden to Camden Town and more, I looked forward to the next place more than the last.

I’m not naive in knowing that most of the places we visited were touristy. You can’t blame me for wanting to see Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and the London Eye.  But still, you’re a big city, much like New York or  DC, with many neighborhoods, sites, restaurants and so much more to see.

More than anything, you made me feel welcome.  Not only was there was way more diversity than I expected, but everyone I encountered was friendly.  Not like fake Paris friendly (actually, people in Paris weren’t friendly at all, but again, that’s another story for a different day).  But each person I encountered had a genuine desire to want to help me explore every inch of you.

There was a familiarness about you that I still can’t quite put my finger on, but you left enough of an impression for me want to return for a longer period of time.  And truthfully, I can’t say the same for many other cities.

While it would have been great to catch a play, have high tea at Kensington Gardens or explore the city outskirts, I did the best I could to see you in 3 days.  I hope I did you justice.  I don’t say this lightly, but I think I love you.  I hope to see you again soon.

Your newest admirer,


Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge

Big Ben

Big Ben

London Eye

London Eye

View from London Eye

View from London Eye

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 3.01.38 PM.png

Photo Credit: Ashlee Tuck