I’ve been asked quite a lot recently about the nitty gritty facts about having my GAP year living and working in London. So, here’s the sacred ‘how-to’ guide for those thinking about having a GAP year in the UK, or just looking for a break.
How About Booking Tickets? – I was completing my HSC when I was planning my trip, therefore I didn’t have a lot of time to commit to my planning. Therefore, a travel agent was perfect for me. I used Student Flights because of their cheap flights and outstanding customer service. My travel agent was very friendly and easy to contact via email. I ended up booking a one-way flight to London (via Shanghai). My first piece of advice is to book an open ended ticket. Whilst it might be more expensive, it’s not nearly as expensive as paying 900pounds coming from London back to Sydney (yes that’s what I did and there were tears from my bank account).
What About Those Stopovers? – Take advantage of them! I got to explore Shanghai, an amazing city which I’d never considered visiting (yet would love to revisit). My travel agent hooked me up with a really good deal for a great hotel in central Shanghai and also a taxi service to and from the hotel. So definitely ask if there’s any deals going at the place of your stopover. 3 nights is more than enough to get a taste of a new city and culture (also helps with the jet-lag and acclimatisation).
Don’t you need a Visa? – Yes you do need a visa. For most people on their GAP year, you’ll be applying for a Tier 5 Youth Mobility Visa. They last for 2 years and allow you to live and work in the UK. There are a few travel restrictions like, you can’t spend more than 90/180 days out of the UK etc but it’s best looking up the details to be sure you’re not detained for violating your visa requirements. I never had a problem because I was too busy working and saving money though I have heard some interesting stories.
How do I live and work in the UK/London?- One company – The Working Holiday Club. This great company was a life saver when it came to reassurance that I would have a job and somewhere to live when I made the move to London. I paid about $900 for the Jumpstart Premium which included them organising your Visa (awesome when you have no time during your HSC), 3 nights stay at a hostel whilst you get over the jet-lag, access to a job, access to cheap accommodation, support and also social meet ups. In hindsight, I probably didn’t need to pay that much money for this, however, I couldn’t imagine my life without it.
The Job – With TWHC, you work for an agency called Elements where you do temporary hotel work. You do a few days of training, you need to buy your own uniform, and it pretty much works off of your availability. A hotel will host an event, they’ll contact Elements saying they need 20 staff members, Elements sends out a text/email asking who’s available and first in best dressed. You work at 5 star hotels in central London and jobs range from waitressing, cloak room, room service, concierge, setting up, packing down – pretty much whatever the manager asks you to do. Whilst the job itself is tedious, it does offer one of the better rates for hospitality (around 6.94 pounds p/hr) and also allows you to meet other Australians with TWHC. I became really great friends with a lot of the people I worked with and it’s a great way to meet other people in London.
If hospitality isn’t your cup of tea (I got pretty sick of it after about 4 months), then you can get a job the old fashioned way. Go to a million shops/cafes/restaurants/hotels/offices/ANYWHERE and hand out a million resumes! I went to a big Westfield that I lived near and handed out about 50 resumes. I scored a job in a lovely clothing store and ended up working full time (on better rates and better clothes!). If you move to London around October then many stores will be hiring Christmas temps and usually keep them on throughout the year if you do a good job.
The House – TWHC has access to a company who owns properties across London, Egoli. I ended up living in a shared house in Leytonstone (East London, Zone 3) with 9 other people (mostly Australians, and our lovely Brazilian, Canadian and Kiwi). You might think ‘10 people in one house! What?’ But actually it was a big house with a nice back yard, big kitchen, big loungeroom and 6 bedrooms (it’s common to share a room in London, however I needed my own space and got a single room). My room was a very decent size, complete with a double bed, wardrobe, chest of drawers, a heater and glow in the dark stars on the roof (what a nice surprise). I paid 90pounds a week for rent (including all bills and unlimited internet – pretty good deal!). The people I lived with became my family and we had a great time exploring London and also Europe together.
What About the little things?- Ok, I know there’s more to living in London than a job and a house. For example, the Tube. I swear I could write a short novel about my adventures on the tube but I swear, it becomes your life. Public transport in London is quite expensive (accept it now). When I was working for Elements (and working 5+ days a week) I bought a weekly Oyster Card pass which is 35pounds from zone 1-3. However, once I found a job which was closer to home, I was spending about 25pounds a week on transport.
Groceries?- When I was on a tight budget, I could manage with about 20-25pounds a week spent on food but I couldn’t imagine needing more than 40pounds a week. This included home brand everything, and eating left overs from dinner for lunch. Then when you get a big pay check you can splurge a bit, but I generally kept my grocery spendings down so I could save money for travelling.
How much Traveling Will I do?- Depends on how hard you can save. I was lucky that I had my parents to help me out when the bank balance was looking a bit sad and depressing, however I did get a fair bit of travel done! I went to Scotland, Ireland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Greece, Italy, Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic and Iceland. Though I had friends who barely traveled at all and also had friends who were always galavanting somewhere new so I guess it depends what you’re in London for. To travel around Europe or live in London. I think I did both quite well.
Will I make friends?- You’ll not only meet some of the most incredible people you’ll meet in your life, but also make friendships that you’ll have for life. I know I’ve only been back for 10 months, but the friends that are still in London or somewhere else in the world, I know will be friends for a long time to come.
Any Last Words of Advice? – Yes. DO IT! There’s no better time than right now! Pack your life into a suitcase, book a ticket, put your walking shoes on and explore the world!
If you’ve got any other questions or comments please let me know!