A Greatest Travel Experience: Moving to London

London Bus

London bus

Stepping foot off that plane back in 2010 was daunting to say the least. I knew basically no-one, didn’t have a proper place to live, no job, nothing. All I knew was that was the place I was meant to be at that time in my life.

After studying in Austria I knew I needed to return to that side of the world. There was so much to see and experience and then so much more that I didn’t even realise I needed to see and experience!

London is a big city. Like real big. I’m not a big city person, having grown up in a small country town in little ol’ New Zealand. However, London was an amazing experience. An experience that kept me there almost 5 years and took me over a year to decide to return to New Zealand. Even now I have daily thoughts about London and all my friends on that side of the world.

A few of my friends from my leaving do in London

A few of my friends from my leaving do in London

I was grateful to my late grandfather that was Welsh that enabled me to get an ancestry visa – 5 years of working freedom in the UK. I never knew my grandparents, so it was a pretty cool thing to hunt down some details and realise was an amazing opportunity lay ahead for me.

It wasn’t easy. Not at all. Many people reading this will remember all my complaining and how much I missed NZ, but they’ll also remember the monthly trips I’d head off on and how much I loved to travel. Working in London allowed a lot of easy travel. Not just to Europe either, I visited Africa and the USA too.

Overlooking the stunning town of Positano in Italy

Overlooking the stunning town of Positano in Italy

If I’m honest it took me a good two years to get settled in London. In the first 5-6 months I think I moved flats at least 4 times, then again within a year to finally a place with no rodents or animals and friendly flatmates. Having a living room and large kitchen was unusual in London and that place had both, so I stayed there up until the time I left the UK. Accomodation took time, but once that was sorted it was a weight off my shoulders.

Work was the other thing. So many applications went into a deep dark hole and were never to be seen or heard of again. Finally meeting with the right recruiters got me into a few decent contracting roles to get the much needed ‘UK Experience’ that everyone seemed to want. Then I went and got an amazing job with an American who saw me for me, rather that the UK experience and stupid tests that all the jobs were giving me. I was lucky to work for such an awesome employer and great clients. I worked remotely and got to work alongside some amazing people in co-working spaces. It was different, it was a challenge and one I grabbed with two hands and ran with. It was also one of the hardest things to give up when I decided to return to New Zealand.

At the Olympic stadium awaiting an Athletics final!

At the Olympic stadium awaiting an Athletics final!

So job sorted, living sorted. Next was friends. It’s amazing how important friends are to help you get settled. I met some awesome bloggers like London Kiwi Emma were introduced me to the New Zealand Business Womens Network, the New Zealand Society and some twitter groups. Some people are just so incredible. I realised as much as I wanted to immerse myself in UK culture and avoid Kiwis and Aussies, once I did meet them, life became so much easier. It was a little piece of home I could visit for a coffee, brunch or dinner.

Afternoon Tea with the lovely Emma (who also took this pick)

Afternoon Tea with the lovely Emma (who also took this pick)

Working in co-working spaces also provided an incredible network of friends that I could go off for lunch with and remove myself from work-talk. We all did different things and it was great to connect with such a great group of people.

View over London from New Zealand House

View over London from New Zealand House

Then came sport. I wasn’t a sporty person at all, but I liked rugby and had thought about playing touch for some time. So I went off and built up my fitness a few months prior to joining a social team and again started meeting people and actually got pretty good at sprinting, catching the ball and scoring tries! After a season of touch I got into tag rugby and the community was even better. It was a great way to be active and social. Sadly I got injured and this put an end to my running for quite some time (still working on recovery now).

Olympic mascot hunting

Olympic mascot hunting

I also got heavily involved in the WordPress community in London and the UK. Being one of the few girls in the group, all the guys were incredibly welcoming and treated me as an equal, rather than some silly girl that wasn’t as highly skilled at coding as some of them. I’d go out for beers after the meetups and quickly made some incredible friends there. I spoke at a lot of the meetups, a few WordCamps and even spoke at a meetup in Philadelphia when I visited my colleague. I also got to attend the first ever WordCamp Europe and met a wide array of amazing people from across the globe.

Meetup.com was a great tool to meet other likeminded people interested in similar things to me.

So life was great. I’d go to musicals and theatre with special deals that Britbound had. I’d go to bloggers afternoon teas. I would hunt out all the special street art, enjoy the parks and gardens. There was never nothing to do in London. When I wasn’t in London, I was out exploring the rest of the UK, Europe and further afar.

Life was great.

Snowman making in winter

Snowman making in winter

It was also hard. I ended up having a love-hate relationship with London. The weather wasn’t great, some people were incredibly rude. Customer service was ‘cough’ unheard of. When things happened back in New Zealand I wasn’t there, I didn’t have family to turn to when people were sick or passed away. I wasn’t around to see my nephews grow up. I knew the quickest I could get back if something happened was 2-3 days realistically. Europe wasn’t as exciting anymore either. I was seeking ‘different’ places to travel. I wanted to return to Africa and see South America. I wanted a culture shock (I certainly got that!). If I wanted to do extended travel that would mean leaving my job.

So without going into too much detail, I left London. I had an incredible time there and wouldn’t take it back for a second.

Do I ever consider returning? Yes.

Will I? Not at this stage of my life. I’ve got to give New Zealand a good chance now that I’m back. It took me two years at least to feel comfortable in London and it is like that all over again here despite it being my home country.

Green Park, London. Copyright Ngaire Ackerley, 2013

Green Park, London.

For anyone considering doing an O.E. in London: DO IT. It won’t be easy, but you won’t regret it. Save up and just go. You never know what tomorrow will bring, how long you’ll live for or if you’ll ever have the chance to make your dreams a reality. As my favourite quote says from Henry Miller:

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”

– Henry Miller

This is my third post in my ’30 Greatest Travel Experiences before I’m 30′ stay tuned every second week for another exciting adventure story!

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