The London student survival guide

This week my 'little' sister began her university journey. Right now she is probably merrily drinking down cheap wine, wearing a graffited t-shirt and chanting the kind of phrases that encourage carnage in student halls. She is after all, a new member of the freshers brigade and an enthusiastic one at that.

Whilst her university isn't in London (its practically play school in comparison) the build up reminded me of my own experience starting The London College of Fashion two years ago. Moving from such a quiet, sheltered part of Somerset to one of the most famous capital cities in the world proved an educational experience. Prior to moving to Don Gratton House in Whitechapel I didn't get nervous at all, in fact all I felt was excitement, curiosity and how lucky I was to have such an opportunity. Getting into LCF was a dream come true and it was all I could think about. The crowds, tube rush hours, streets to get lost in and expensive drinks were pushed to the back of mind. Despite this I have even amazed myself at how well I've taken to London life and wanted to share some student survival tips that I've learnt over the years. London is an incredible place, and I can't quite believe how many fantastic moments I've had in just two years so if you're reading this as a London fresher, you've got a lot of good times ahead of you!

This list isn't exhaustive but will hopefully give you some helpful advice about student life in London, and are certainly things that I've learnt and wanted to share since being here. I've also shared a few personal photos taken in my first year - but I've spared you the post wine snaps, don't worry!

Staying safe in London

I know, not so fun, but these tips could save more than just your personal belongings.
Safety should always be your number one priority. London can be both an exciting but dangerous city and you need to be pretty street savvy to avoid making yourself a target. Most students will probably spend their university years living in the less affluent areas of London and these tend to have higher crime rates. Most of my advice is common sense, but it can quickly be forgotten after a few to many cocktails.

Be prepared for late night travel - If you and your friends go out at night remember that as a rule most tubes close at 12.30pm but buses run throughout the night and cover most tube entrances. It’s always best to plan a route home before a night out so you’re not left trying to find a bus map on your phone at 4 in the morning. If you're lucky enough to have battery at that time of course (hi five fellow iPhone users). Make sure your oyster can cover your journey or bring some bus money. You can plan your journey here before you head out.
Use registered taxi's - Sometimes no matter how much we organise ourselves, things just go wrong. So be prepared for any situation and bring some spare money for a taxi just in case. Make sure you only use registered black cabs. Unbooked minicabs are in fact illegal so if one approaches you offering you a cheap ride home avoid it at all costs. Remember, if you haven’t booked a taxi then you are just getting into a strangers car. If you know you’ll need a taxi at night then book yourself one with a registered taxi company before you leave. However if you find yourself in that situation then ask staff at bars and clubs for taxi firm numbers – they are always more then happy to help. TFL (Transport for London) have a very handy taxi service and something that should be noted in everyone’s phone. If you text CAB to 60835 you’ll be sent the two closest minicab numbers and one taxi (black cab) number. Your location is instantly mapped by GPS and this is definitely a safe way of getting into a registered cab. Click here for more information on this texting service. 
Don't put yourself in vulnerable situations -  I recommend sitting on the bottom deck of London buses, that way you are close to the door and are in view of the driver. You should also make sure you are never on your own when night starts to draw in and try to walk along busy streets where you can stop in well-known stores if you need to.
Watch your alcohol limit - Of course, I don’t want this to dampen the university excitement because as a student you should be having fun and creating memories. But as boring and predictable as it sounds watching your alcohol intake when you are out and about is really important. I’ve seen a lot of people get extremely drunk and not know where they are at all hours of the morning – on their own, in the centre of London. So if you know you and your friend have to catch three different buses and walk five minutes between each stop then think carefully before you order that last round of shots.
Be vigilant - Be aware of where you are and who’s around you and avoid wearing headphones as this means you are less alert. I also carry a rape alarm in my bag, which I advise every woman to get. In lots of clubs and bars in London, clips are under the table for you to secure your handbag and remember to never leave your drink unattended or accept one you haven’t seen being poured.
Trust your gut instinct - If you feel unsafe take yourself out of a situation. If your friend is leaving with someone who you have a bad feeling about try and persuade her out of it. Its amazing how many times a woman’s gut feeling is right, so listen to it.

Using the London Underground

It took me a few journeys before the underground map finally clicked, but once I knew how to work out my route I wonder how I was ever confused in the first place. It wasn't long before I was tutting at a 5 minute wait and remaining perfectly balanced in 5 inch heels as the train jolted forward. 
Tube level: Expert.

Get a student oyster card - As a student you are entitled to 30% off your tube fare with a student 18+ oyster card. Details on how to apply for this can be found here. 
Paying for your tube fare - There are various options when buying your tube ticket. You can either buy individual tickets (not recommended) or you can use an oyster to pay as you go, or buy a daily, weekly or monthly travel card. There is also a daily price cap that means you will never pay more than a daily travel card no matter how many times you travel during that day. I personally recommend getting a monthly travel card if you know you will be using the tube a lot, as it works out cheaper in the long run. Current fare prices are available here, but be warned they will probably be going up next year! Boo TFL! Another tip is make sure you touch the ticket machine reader with your oyster after you've paid, otherwise the money won't be added. 
Planning your journey - You can use the TFL journey planner, which gives you times and fare costs or you can use the TFL map (available at all underground stations) to plan your route. You can also download the free London underground tube map onto your phone so you're never without it! Remember to be aware of the signs when you're travelling on the London underground and look out for what platform you are on e.g. North bound, South bound, West bound or East bound. Its never fun when after a busy day you end up heading in the opposite direction, and don't notice until you're in zone 5.  
Check tube delays and planned engineering works - Every weekend there are upgrades taking place on the underground, causing planned closures to some lines and stations. It's always best to check the planned closures here if you're not to hungover to venture out at the weekend. 
Tube etiquette - One of my pet peeves are people who push onto the train before the passengers can get off (I've been known to stop 'pushers' in their tracks and make them wait until everyone is off the carriage first.) It's just common courtesy and actually prevents hold ups. Another thing I must mention is when travelling on the escalators, please stand to the right. Every time you stand on the left you're officially a tourist. Also, be friendly to the TFL staff - Its a hectic job for them with many people not appreciating the hard work that goes into keeping the tube running smoothly so give them a smile :) They are also ever so helpful if you're unsure about something (Thank you TFL you've stopped me getting lost more times than I care to mention!). Please offer your seat to pregnant woman, elderly and disabled people who will be incredibly thankful to be able to to sit down. 
THE rule - Avoid changing at bank if you can - trust me on this one. 
Settling in to student life 

Explore your surroundings - There is SO much to see and do in London. Every street has either a bar, a shop, a tourist point or a piece of street art, so it can sometimes feel overwhelming and you might not know where to start first. Of course its important to get to grips with where your local supermarket is, and the fastest route to the tube but also take in other things. During your first week go off and explore your local area, have a look at restaurant menus, take note of the handy corner shops and befriend staff that work in any establishment that sells alcohol. You'll be surprised how much there is in such a small amount of space, or in an area that isn't particulary central or well known. I'n my first year I lived just off Brick Lane so exploring what it had to offer right at the start made my whole experience there even more enjoyable.
Be friendly - Smile, say hi and be nice to everyone you meet. You're all in the same position and there really is no reason to be rude or unfriendly :)
Make it a home from home - Most student rooms come with a pin board for you to stick photos and souvenirs too, so put up things that remind you of home and loved ones. Bring some objects from your bedroom and add some of your own personal taste to your new blank canvas.
Enjoy the nightlife - London has one of the best party scenes in the world and whilst its easy to stick to the same old club, try and explore a variety of different ones and be open to new things! Besides, you might even bump into someone you recognise ;)
Take advantage of your university

You've worked hard to get there so make the most of every thing your university has to offer. Remember, it's all there for YOU.

Take part - Be proactive and get involved in societies, clubs and social events which will enhance your university experience. Freshers fare is also a great way to sign up to events, meet continuing students, find out about student discounts and get given lots of freebies
If it's there, use it - At LCF we have access to a fantastic library (used by Vivienne Westwood), the latest technology, equipment and software, helpful technical support and a variety of creative spaces. I know that once I've left LCF I won't have access to it anymore, so I'm going to make sure I get everything I can from it now. Regardless of whether you also go to a creative university or not, take advantage of all the study resources that are available to you.
Demand more from your tutors - You're no longer at college or sixth form anymore. You're an adult who's worked hard to get onto the course you've chosen. You're paying alot of money to learn about something that you hope will benefit your career in the future. So you have every right to demand more from your course. If you feel that you're not getting enough tutor time, or your feedback just wasn't thorough enough speak up and discuss it with your course director. Not only will it help your studies but it may also highlight a problem on the course that tutors weren't aware of, but are more than happy to sort out.
Student budgeting

I won't lecture you about being careful with your overdraft and loan because I'm sure thats already been drummed into you. But I will give you some tips on saving money in the city and managing your money more effectively.

Check voucher websites - I frequently check out Groupon, Living Social, KGB Deals and Wowcher for vouchers and deals around London. In the past I've found some incredible deals on afternoon tea, meals out at luxury resturants, beauty treatments and cocktail bars. If you and a friend plan on catching up over lunch then definitely check out one of these websites in advance because you might find a 2 for 1 voucher for a 3 course meal in a fantastic resturant.
Get an NUS card - It costs just £12 (or free when you open up a student bank account with Lloyds) and you get discounts on a variety of brands and retailers such as ASOS, The Co-op, Amazon, Office, Coast, Superdrug, Mulberry factory stores as well as a mixture of spas, gyms, nightclubs, resturants and bars. Click here for more information.
The coffee cutback - For some reason, city people are drawn to big money making coffee shops like Starbucks. Every morning millions drag themselves to the counter, order their usual and break a fiver to have the pleasure of their misspelled name scrawled upon a cup of consumerism. Firstly, support  your local, cheaper coffee shops that do actually pay tax, and secondly look at how much you're spending everyday on something you could easily live without. Lets say you spend £3 five days a week on a morning coffee, thats £15 a week, £60 a month and £720 a year!
Happy hour - Available in lots of bars across the city! No other comment needed. Just enjoy it!
Free things to do in London

Despite Londons reputation for being one of the most expensive cities in world, there are actually loads of free things you can do to keep yourself entertained!

Museums & galleries - London's museums and galleries are spectacular. There are over 240 across the city, boasting of millions of exhibits housed in historical and beautiful buildings that capture art, history and culture. And whats even more amazing is most of them are free. Some great free museums are the V&A, the British museum, the Natural History museum, the Museum of London, Tate Britain, Imperial War Museum, the Science museum and the National gallery plus many others. The V&A, Science museum and Natural History museum each have 'late nights' for adults only, so you won't have to hear the laughter and comments of school children confronted with a naked statue. I highly recommend this.
Take in the street markets -  Strolling around the markets is a great place to explore new things and get inspired. Check out Camden market, Portobello road, Old Spitalfields, petticoat lane, borough market and on sundays Brick Lane market and Columbia road flower market are must do's! And if you can scrape together a fiver the street food is out of this world!
Relax in the park - Being a country girl at heart, having the opputunity to stretch out on some grass whilst being surrounded by flowers and trees is a blessing in such a vibrant city. London has some beautiful parks and during the summer months they really are perfect for relaxing and taking a stroll. My favourites are the Queen Mary's Rose Garden in Regents park, Richmond park that has over 600 beautiful roaming deer, Hampstead Heath, St James Park and Kensington gardens.
Tourist spots and site seeing - Grab your camera, tube pass and some comfortable shoes and be a tourist for a day! You can't live in London without paying a visit to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard, salute Nelson and the pigeons at Trafalgar Square, walk across Tower Bridge, hear the chimes of Big Ben or even request to see the ceremony of the keys where they lock up the Tower of London. Check out this fantastic list of 101 other free ideas in London! There's no way you'll ever be bored. :) 
Most importantly, have fun! - Don't take yourself too seriously, be adventerous, be young and be passionate about the fabulous city you can now call home! 
Have a wonderful time! :)


8 comments :

  1. Great and helpful post. Your journey sounds so exciting!

    Ali of Dressing Ken

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  2. Ah yes, strolling the street markets is a superb free activity in London. I'd also reocmmend Borough Market near London Bridge station.....so many free food samples! Perfect if you're feeling peckish on a budget. x

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  3. Wow you have such an amazing blog !! <3 I really love it <3
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  4. I love this idea! There's a lot of hard work here and some really good advice! You've clearly enjoyed being a student here yourself :). Also checked out your laduree post... I need to get myself to Harrods!!

    I'm going to follow you on bloglovin - it would be nice to keep in touch :) x

    Hannah
    www.the-london-blog.co.uk

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  7. Love this post, really helpful! I'm going to LCF next month and will also be living at Don Gratton...I was just wondering how you found Don Gratton..? Can't wait to live so close to Brick Lane and Shoreditch, I can imagine that the night life is pretty good x

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  8. I just stumbled across this post and this post was so helpful! I'm moving to London in September for uni and I'm also going to LCF, I'm studying fashion journalism and I cannot wait, thanks for the tips!x

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Thank you so much for commenting! :)
I appreciate every comment I receive and it makes me so happy that I know people are enjoying my blog!

Jenna Fifi x