‘Site’ Seeing!


Throughout this whole period of preparation during the past few months, I managed to tackle some issues that I was eager to address before September. I made a mental list around mid-April with certain information I wanted to find prior to the move. I am the ultimate planner and I have this relentless need to organize my life — I feel infinitely more comfortable going into a situation that I feel semi-educated about. Plus, since this is a school-less summer, I had ever more time to prepare! Below are some tidbits of information that I am finding invaluable, so I thought I’d share:

1. What supporting documents do I need for my Student Visa application?

The UK Visa site proved to be useful in providing a list of necessary items for my visa application, and Appendix 8 (which has to be submitted along with the visa application) did well to outline what pieces of supporting documentation are necessary. Here’s what my packet includes:

– My visa application (printed from online)
– My passport (the original, not a copy!)
– My Visa letter provided by LSE
– My proof of funding (either in the form of a receipt from the institution, bank statements that are signed off or, as in my case, loan guarantee forms provided by the lender)
– My transcript/degree from your undergraduate institution
– Passport photo (this needs to be affixed, not paper clipped)
Appendix 8 (the self-assessment form for Tier 4 applicants)

2. How am I going to get from the the airport (LHR) to my housing?

I looked through a bazillion chauffeur-type services to get me from the airport to my new housing at High Holborn and the average (whether a taxi or a pre-arranged service) was around £40 – £45. I entertained the ridiculous idea of trying to use the tube, but two huge bags, a carry-on and a personal item don’t travel well from tube to tube. So, per some new friends that I encountered at the LSE Bon Voyage party, I found a site called Dot2Dot. It’s an amazingly affordable service and you can book it before arrival! My trip, from LHR to my postcode (WC1V) costs £23.50!

3. What are the limitations on luggage?

I happen to be flying United, but most airlines have similar luggage limitations. For international travel, I am allowed two checked bags, plus one carry-on and a personal item for free. In terms of weight, there is a 50 lb. limit (get lightweight luggage!), and in terms of size, the luggage cannot be greater than 62 linear inches (length + width + height measurements cannot total more than 62 inches). From what I’ve found, a 28 – 29″ bag hits the limit.

STA also provides a list of some airlines and their pricing and policies for domestic flights. Although charges can be incurred on domestic flights for standard baggage handling, you should get your two checked bags free of charge for an international flight!

4. Where can I get (relatively) inexpensive luggage?

I scoured stores for cute and inexpensive luggage only to learn that luggage is costly! I hadn’t realized how much it can cost for a good quality bag, but I decided that spending $350 on a 29″ bag was not in the cards. Whilst in the Nordstrom Rack in Seattle, I found amazing luggage for half price. I’m not entirely sure that all the Rack stores carry the same inventory, but it’s worth a shot.

I also found a veritable slew of amazingly cute and affordable luggage at TJ Maxx and at Marshall’s. TJ Maxx definitely tops the list with their quality, their selection and their prices. I was amazed! Most of the 28-29″ bags there were in the $50 – $75 range(marked down from $200 – $300 at MSRP). Side note: they also have a bunch of darling handbags!

6. How much is it going to cost me to ship the items I can’t take with me?

More so than weight issues, I think I’m running into space issues with packing. Shoes, jackets, etc. can be awkward and take up a great deal of baggage space. That being said, I have looked into a number of shipping services so I can ship some shoesies overseas and have them meet me in the UK.
{See my previous post on packing & shipping overseas!}

1) USPS was by FAR the cheapest option. For a 65 lb. box, it costs around $208.
2) White Glove Express is about 50% more, but I’ve actually had personal communication/interaction with the people at White Glove & their customer service is definitely selling me!
3) UPS quoted me around $389.09 for the same 65 lb. box, and
4) FedEx was ridiculously high priced — $482.31

7. What are the best websites for information on the city (events, sightseeing, etc.)?

I would re-type this, but there’s no point: see my previous post on the coolest (read: my favorite!) London-focused sites on the web.

8. What are my best options for Euro travel?

I suppose travel can be divided into a few categories: by plane, by train or by bus. For airfare, I’ve found the best deals on Ryan Air and on EasyJet. After talking with one of my friends who backpacked across Europe, I learned that although RyanAir’s prices are pretty unbeatable (£1 and £5 deals pop up frequently), they tend to fly into places that aren’t central to the city; they tend to be in the outskirts which spawns other transportation questions/issues. From what I’ve seen of EasyJet, the flights are a little more standard — normal, central airports at a great price. Also, I don’t think anyone should underestimate the power of Expedia (the UK version). I searched for random flight deals on their site (to Portugal, Greece, Egypt, etc.) and they had some unbeatable deals!

For trains, the only site that I really ever peruse is National Express, primarily because I found some pretty good deals on tickets while I was in Europe earlier this year. From what I’ve seen, trains can be worth it for medium-length trips if you get a good deal, but all in all, there are some amazing flight deals to be had which semi-nullify the idea of trains in my mind. Also, the Virgin Train site is worth a look-see as is the First Great Western site. They post some serious deals occasionally. 

As for buses, I’m not a fan and I haven’t looked into pricing. I know they’re sort of a necessary evil, but they tend to evoke images of psychotic drug users for me. Perhaps I will get used to them next year, at which point I will update this with relevant information, but for now I shall steer clear.

9. Where do I buy my stuff? I can’t possibly cart my shampoo, conditioner, body wash, etc. overseas!

There are a few staple stores with average deals and locations scattered all throughout the country:

1) Sainsbury: There’s a location that’s going to be super close to me and they have bits of everything: food, drinks, sporting goods, home and garden and random necessities.

2) Tesco: Groceries, wine, electronics… their website isn’t all that pretty, but they’re pretty averagely priced.

3) Marks & Spencer: Food, wine, skincare, hair products, accessories… posh Target, anyone?

4) Lidl: So, this kind of reminds me of the Grocery Outlet of the UK. Awesome prices, off-brand stuff; probably a good place for students to shop. Downside: I don’t think there’s a store near me. Boo.

10. Where can I snag a not-so-expensive hair cut &/or color?

The thought of going months without a root touch-up or a trim is a little foreign and would probably be very frightening… and not just for me. Unfortunately, hair cuts, color and highlights got really expensive at some point! On the bright side, I did find a Toni & Guy at 75 New Oxford Street that serves as a training academy and has pretty sweet deals (£5 haircuts?!). Of course, these deals involve student cosmetologists but they do have a licensed professional overseeing everything. The reviews that I have read are mixed, but tend to lean towards the positive end of the spectrum. Perhaps worth the risk?

11. What phone plan is going to work best?

There’s O2, 3, Vodafone, T-mobile… so many to choose from. After checking out pricing & weighing my options, I decided that the O2 SIM Simplicity plan was best for me! I purchased my phone on eBay: an unlocked, jailbroken iPhone. With the Simplicity plan, I can purchase just the SIM card on a 12-month contract for 19.88 GBP per month. It includes 800 minutes, 1600 texts & a bolt-on of your choice (I’m choosing unlimited web!). The plan definitely works for me and fits into my budget perfectly. O2 also has an iPhone plan that’s 44 GBP per month (18 month contract) wherein they give you the phone in the package plus loads of minutes, texts & unlimited web. Lots of deals to be had! Click here for more of the lowdown on my decision.

12. What bank account should I opt for?

After scouring the internet for different bank accounts, I opted for HSBC’s passport account. Firstly, HSBC has a branch that’s two minutes away from my new housing. Secondly, I was able to actually submit the application online! I had it approved within two weeks and now I just need to pop into a location with my CA Driver’s license & my passport to officially open shop! Check out my previous post on different banks & their fees. FYI, they ALL charge fees. Lame, but true.

13. Are there any relevant London-focused apps for my sweet new iPhone?

Oooooh, hellllllls yeah, my friends. There are a load to download from the App Store, but there are three that I found that are actually semi-awesome. If you are a fellow iPhone user/Mac convert, check these out:

1) TubeMap: It’s just that — a tube map, but tads cooler. Here’s why: you get to input your information, including your “home” tube station and it allows you to check the tube station status, map from point A to point B and so much more. It’s seriously awesome. And it’s free! FYI, all my apps are free. I don’t believe in paying for such things.

2) London Highlights {Way2GoGuides}: A sweet little app with audio “tours.” There’s information on location highlights: The British Museum, Kew Gardens, The London Eye, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tower of London, Westminster Abbey and the like!

3) What’s On (London): This app basically uses Time Out London as it’s basis for information. It’s a cool way to navigate and find events you’re interested in. You can view events by category: pubs/bars, opera, theater, art, around town, etc. and see what the haps is in your area.

 There are so many other cool sites I’ve found that are so awesome and so relevant, but I don’t want to overload!

Much love,
Signature Stamp - Shannon

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6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Lauren on July 26, 2009 at 8:16 AM

    I found your blog because I’m also going to LSE in the fall. Your list of visa documents was so helpful – even though I read it today and mailed my application earlier this week. I did have a minor moment of panic when I read that the photo had to be “affixed” (I binder clipped mine). Seems the US and UK are indeed two countries separated by a common language…

    If I could suggest two places to buy shampoo/body wash etc. – Boots and Superdrug. They’re like Walgreens/CVS. You can find most of the major brands you’d find in the US at either store. Boots products are also carried in Target now, you could get into the Brit spirit without even leaving home…

    Reply

    • Hey Lauren! Thanks for the tip! I HAVE seen Boots at Target, so that’s good to know. I have been trying to find places to stock up on my toiletries, so a Walgreens/CVS-style store is perfection! See you at LSE! If you’re on facebook, add me so we can chat!

      Reply

  2. Posted by Lisa on July 26, 2009 at 6:47 PM

    Shannon~
    I have a list almost identical to this one. I too am a planner. Hair has been one of my big concerns. I found a TimeOut article on London hairdressers:
    http://www.timeout.com/london/shopping/features/5406/Londons_best_hairdressers.html
    I do worry about letting a student put color on my hair though… too much to go wrong. Our time remaining in the states is flying by!

    Reply

    • Yeah, I feel like planning helps me feel super comf with the situation! Thanks for the link — I want an inexpensive cut/color, but I’m definitely more than a little wary about having a student color my hair! I’d rather put it on a credit card and pay it back than totally mess it up :)

      Reply

  3. Well..this list was super helpful! Thanks for sharing all your research :D

    Reply

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