It’s been three weeks since I arrived in London, and that means three weeks of commuting throughout the city, and unlike most people, I quite enjoy this part of my daily routine.
London has many forms of transportation, whether it’s the tube, the over-ground, buses, boats or bikes, anywhere you want to go, there’s a way. Personally, I use the most common mode of transit for London commuters, taking the tube for back and forth every day, whether its to work, class, or to somewhere in London to explore the city.
The tube was the first true ‘London’ thing we encountered when we landed as this was how we got from the airport to our flats. After a couple platform changes and a minute actually on the tube to make sure we were going the right direction, we realized we were going to have to get used to this and fast. Another thing we all realized very quickly was that you don’t talk on the tube, and being Americans we are just naturally loud and this was a no. It’s the classic “unwritten rule of the tube” which you’ll most likely hear all the time if you talk to someone visiting or studying abroad in London.
(Quick side note, I’m currently writing this on a train to Gatwick airport for my weekend in Dublin and the no talking thing must really only be an inner-city thing which is interesting the difference in public transit “decorum.”)
The reason I actually really enjoy my commute is because it’s 35-40 minutes of riding the tube with everyone minding their own business. This may sound kind of harsh but what I mean is that during a 6 week study abroad program your days are going to be busy and you’ll be interacting with lots of different people so getting around an hour each day to sit (or most likely stand since the tube can be very packed) and listen to music and think about the day is actually really nice.
Living in Camden Town and interning in Hammersmith means I have to take two trains, so make one change. I change at Leicester Square to make my way to Hammersmith and from there it’s about a 5 minute walk to the office building I’m in. If there was something I’d say I didn’t enjoy so much about the commute it’d be how crowded it can get.
This commute is unlike anything I’m used to being at Pitt, where everyone either walks, Ubers, or more commonly, uses the Port Authority buses. Pittsburgh’s train system really isn’t used which is very different to London. I do use the buses all the time to get to different neighborhoods, whether it’s to Downtown, East Liberty, Shadyside, and then back to Oakland. I’ve only taken one bus in London in these 3 weeks, but I really want to ride on a double decker bus especially since the one wasn’t.
In terms of tips for others who make the amazing decision to study abroad in London I do have a couple. For starters, don’t let the tube intimidate you. It’s actually really easy to navigate and pretty much everything is sign posted. I keep saying to people who ask about how I’ve been figuring out the tube that it is easier than I thought. I also say that if your phone died, you would be able to just find the nearest tube station and get back with no problem since it’s labeled so well and like I said actually pretty easy.
Another tip I’d say is realize Americans are loud and get used to being quiet or badly standing out. What I mean by this is when you’re on the tube, remember the unwritten rule. Going along with this, I recommend always bringing headphones or something to listen to music since you’ll often be on the tube for 30-40 minutes and it’s nice to put on your favorite playlist and relax for a little bit. If music isn’t really your thing either, pack a book. Lots of people are always reading on the tube whether it’s an actual paper copy or it’s on their phone. Just have the things downloaded because there is absolutely no service down on the underground.
Additionally, while I said the tube becomes very easy to navigate, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Most other Londoners know the tube well and can point you in the right direction. If you are unsure and either there’s no one to ask or you don’t want to, just go with your gut. Get on the train that you think is right because worse case scenario, you realize you went wrong when you’re traveling in the wrong direction you can just get off at the next stop and go back.
Lastly, another tip I have is appreciate public transportation and the hour commute you may have. One, the tube is so efficient and will be your best friend while abroad, along with your unlimited Oyster Card in zones 1 & 2. Two, while some of your friends may have a 10 minute commute compared to your 60 minutes, most of your coworkers will have upwards of 1.5 hours so you’ve got a pretty good deal.
Just remember when studying abroad, wherever you are, always keep an open mind and you’ll have the greatest experience you could ever think of.