London’s Tools of the Dream Chase



It has been hell of a ride to be in the most expensive city in the world especially for a probinsyano like me.

Before leaving the country, I was very anxious about the upcoming journey on what to expect, what could happen, and what is in store for me. Let me impart some practical insights to lessen the weight of insecurity especially in your first month in the metropolis.

1. Oyster is not a sea creature; it is a powerful card

Depending on your location and destination, you can go anywhere by any of the following – Red Bus, The Underground (Tube), and the Overground – through this omnipotent vinyl card. Rides come with special student discount, which is why you have to procure your student oyster as soon as you receive your student ID and make sure to have it registered online. It is reloadable via online or top-up machines in stations. It will be your key to the city of London.

2. Citymapper is a lifesaver

Upon arrival or even before you fly to London, I strongly suggest that you  download this mobile application. It helps you identify your options on how to traverse point A to point B in a highly complex city like London. It uses real-time database so most often than not you get current advisory on the delays.

3. To Unli-Internet or to not Unli-Internet

Consider your budget, location, and connectivity. Availing this mobile service on your first month is a friendly lifeline in case unexpected situations will call for it. Even if almost the whole city is Wi-fi enabled, this thing comes in handy for navigation, research, route-finding, and can act for some as a handy digital homesickness pill.

4. BYOF- Bring your own food

Aside from differences in eating culture, you’d find it healthier and economical to prepare your own food instead of getting it from average restaurants especially for lunch. On average, student meals from the canteen cost approximately 5 to 7 quid. Multiply that to the number of your intake in a week and you will come up with around the same amount of a week’s worth of food shopping for breakfast, snacks, dinner, supper, midnight snacks, and not to mention the weekends.

5. Count your blessings

GBP Sterling coins come in different shapes and sizes, and apparently their values are not assigned accordingly. Losing a coin is synonymous to dropping a generous bag of Cadbury chocolate and we don’t fancy that a bit.

6. Memorise your postal address

Your address is your identity, so be familiar with it. Post codes usually come on a pair of letter and number combinations which you will need in almost all legal transactions you’ll make in the city. Far from the landmark-based school-of-direction-giving in the Philippines, it is more convenient to use these codes; you will land in the right place no matter what.

7. Know your left and right

London’s driver seat is on the right side of the car as opposed to what we have locally, which is directly opposite the British’s sense of directions. When walking, always keep left and if there is a rail dividing walkways into two, use the left side. When standing on the escalator, always keep right as the left is courtesy to those who wants to fast-track. It is indeed so simple yet confusing. But if you pray to bump into your soulmate at the Tube station, you could always take the risk of going against the flow.

8. Take the bus

I recommend that you take the bus on your first few weeks so you can create a visual map of your new urban landscape. Although at most times the Underground is often faster, taking the bus is sometimes cheaper plus you get a nice dose of sunshine if you get to chance upon Mr. Sunny.

9. Open a bank account

Almost all the stores transact with debit cards so it is ideal to settle this as early as possible. 

Not only is it safer but it is literally more convenient for the pocket. Sometimes applying for one is tricky as banks have their respective regulations and some of them require more documents or prior appointments. It is always safe to make a call, research online, or go to the bank directly. But as soon as you manage to pull this through on your own, you’ll feel you’ve advanced a step into the fast-paced adult world. It is rewarding, believe me.

10. Be brave, get lost

You could never find yourself if you have never felt lost, as though you’ve lost yourself. Moving to new places, particularly in London, is partly exciting and partly an anxious experience. In reality when you go here, you have to do most things on your own. You have to trust your guts in choosing which path you should take. A lot of things will shake and shape you along the way, but nothing is most fulfilling but to know yourself beyond the facts.

Truly, studying in the UK is the most appropriate and exciting time to fail and lose track. From there you find your way back to yourself. This holds truth not just in academic education and professional development but most importantly in life learning which this experience holistically offers.

With this, I hope that future Londoners get a glimpse on the tiny bits of what lies ahead. It is equally important to learn things yourself. So formulate your own survival pack and stay strong. Reading this might sound familiar yet totally strange. Don’t fret; I myself barely knew this when I first set foot in the city. Anxieties are healthy and normal in such situations. Aside from the sweat, relationships, and financial resources we have invested -- neigh, sacrificed -- in the pursuit, no time could ever be so perfect to reap our greatest dream that we continue to chase.

“The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.” - Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first female elected head of state

About the Author

Carl Irving Labitigan – or Kulay, as most of his friends call him – is a college instructor on the arts at University of the Philippines Los Banos. He has also worked as an art director for an ad agency, who conceptualises and executes creative solutions, communication materials, campaigns and advertisements for product brands. Apart from his professional involvements, he represented the Philippines as a Youth Ambassador to the 40th Ship for Southeast Asian Youth Program.