Choosing a Cell Phone (Mobile)

So here we are – August. I’ve come back from working at a summer stock theatre and it’s time to deal with the minutiae of moving for real now. One of the entries on that endless list is finding a mobile phone carrier so that I can, you know, communicate with the people I need to talk to in the UK.

So, as usual, I took to the internet to find the best fit for me.

My wishlist looked a little something like this:

  • SIM only – I’m happy with my iPhone and have no desire for a new one. Or to have to pay for one. It’s also important to note here that you need to know what size SIM card your phone takes – iPhone 5c/s and above take nano SIMs.
  • 5+ GB of data
  • Unlimited texting

Bear in mind, I know less than nothing about UK mobile phone plans or service areas. I was going in blind and have spent this entire process self-educating. Much like the Tube, most of the guides I found were geared towards people who didn’t have even a basic understanding of how mobile phone companies work.

Resources:

Sensorly – This website, which works for both the US and the UK, will show you 3G or 4G coverage as well as upload and download speeds for whatever network you choose overlaid onto a geographical area. It was incredibly helpful for finding out which networks had the best coverage where I needed it most.

USwitch – This site has a lot of great deals. They do other products and services, but I only used their SIM-only mobile plan search option. I relied pretty heavily on this service.

 

 

Not to be misconstrued as an endorsement, but I’ve pretty much decided I’m going with a giffgaff £20 goody bag, which is basically a monthly plan. It has unlimited text, calls, and data (after 6GB of usage, though, they slow your data speed).

Advertisements

The Housing Application Process, King’s College London

Be advised: This is just for King’s, and it is their first year doing it this way, so some things may change by 2017.

The housing application is the first real interaction I’ve had with King’s in the mindset that I’ll be thereIn September. But before we get into the actual application process, let’s talk about on campus vs. private housing.

I made the choice to use on campus accommodations because:

  • I honestly can’t imagine finding a place with cheaper rent anywhere near the Strand
  • If I have problems, my landlord has a stronger-than-usual obligation to me
  • I am prioritized for housing at King’s because of my status as an international postgraduate student
  • It’s fairly near campus
  • I don’t need someone to cosign or serve as an agent for me, although King’s has a service where they will cosign with international students for a percentage of their rent
  • My lease with King’s lasts exactly as long as I am sure about where I am going to live
  • I obviously can’t tour any flats before I sign a lease, and I feel much more comfortable moving into school housing sight unseen than I do some rando’s flat for lease – I have at least been able to do a decent amount of exploration on the housing web pages

The Actual Housing Process

Step One: Accept Your Offer

You can’t really do anything until you’ve done this part. In my case, this step also involved paying my deposit. It appears from some correspondence I’ve gotten that you don’t receive your housing email until you’ve paid a deposit, but this could also be school- or program-specific, or just outdated.

Step Two: Wait

I accepted my offer in early January. And then… nothing happened. Mostly because, in January, everything at King’s is still geared towards the process of starting the term then and there, not the term that will begin in September, even to a larger extent than I am accustomed to at American universities.

Step Two B: Email people at King’s with questions way more often than they want to hear from you.

Step Three: The Email

I received an email April 4th from KCL Accommodations with what I’m sure they thought were fool-proof instructions for logging in. They linked to the accommodations portal and told me what my login credentials were. Unfortunately for me, I can’t log in. Of course, they have anticipated this, and the rejection screen contains a redirect to email the accommodations team if you have trouble gaining access to the portal. It would happen to me.

Once I finally managed to get in (a simple reset of the form on their end did the trick), the process was very simple. I checked a few characteristics that I was looking for, indicated my interest in an orientation week, and submitted. A note of caution: once I submitted, I couldn’t access the portal again, so all the helpful information within the portal (dates, etc.) was no longer accessible to me. I would write this stuff down, if you’re worried. I wish I had, for reference purposes.

The plan is that after the housing portal’s open period ends, they begin to sort people into actual housing assignments based on what we indicated as being important on our application. Sometime in mid- to late June, my housing assignment will appear in my inbox. I then have five days to accept or decline. If someone were to miss the portal’s open period, they have a wait list of sorts that you can be added to, which fills out the remaining slots for housing in August, mostly.

Step Four: Wait. Again.

Now I wait until this summer.

Also, I wait because I need to know if they can accommodate my early arrival; planes were filling up fast and I bought my ticket a couple of weeks before the housing portal opened, foolishly believing the “two week early” move-in figure I had seen on the site. I have now come to believe that it was inaccurate, unclear and therefore misunderstood, or my math was faulty. Reality probably looks like some mixture of the three.

Step Five: Receive and Accept Your Offer

In late June, I received my offer – actually, a day earlier than I had been told to anticipate it. You are not placed in order of your registration in the housing portal, so I’m not entirely sure why I was so near the top of the offer list, but I’ll take it. After thoroughly reading everything, I accepted. You view and sign your contract and the housing policy online in the portal. I did email them because the dates displayed on my contract did not include early move-in for international orientation, but they corrected it quickly. They also said that even if it wasn’t displayed, it was reflected in their system, but I must admit to a lack of confidence in that. I wanted to see it.

I’ll be living in Angel Lane in an ensuite room. This means I’ll have my own bedroom and attached bathroom, but share a kitchen and general living space with the other people in my apartment, which is co-ed. (How progressive!)

Unfortunately, the FAQ says that I won’t know who I am living with until I arrive to move in. I would have liked to be able to coordinate with them about what to bring to stock the kitchen, but it’s not the worst thing to ever happen. I’m already starting to dread paring things down.

I had sort of known this was where I’d be placed. On their accommodations FAQ, King’s provides a flow chart of sorts that can tell you which handful of housing options you’re most likely to be assigned based on what preferences you ticked. Because I opted for a price under their £189/week threshold and also for an ensuite, more or less the only place I could live was Angel Lane. I’m less than 20 minutes by Tube from both campuses where my classes are held, and I’m next door to another King’s housing unit. On a map of KCL housing, we do look sort of far away and isolated, but I’m not really bothered by it. It’ll give me the option of experiencing a different part of London.

They did let me down on one front, however – they won’t let me move in four days early.

Optional Step 6: Book an airbnb

Since I generally enjoy having a place to store my baggage, lay my head at night, and shower, I have decided to get an airbnb for the four nights between my flight landing and my move-in date. I initially considered two other options: a hostel and King’s summer accommodations. I rejected the hostel idea because, while very inexpensive, I didn’t love the idea of sharing a room with a bunch of youth and lugging around big bags, or storing my luggage someplace I couldn’t immediately access it, especially if they were going to surprise me with a fee for it. King’s uses their housing in the summer a bit like a hotel, and so I could have rented a room for four nights for £40 a night, but that’s more expensive than an airbnb would be. Besides that, something in me rebelled at moving into another KCL housing unit before I moved into mine. I’m a bit weird like that.

As a result, I made my first foray into booking an airbnb. I actually had to make three attempts at booking, once I settled on a place I wanted to stay. As a very basic explanation, airbnb operates by letting you send a request to book, which the host has the option of accepting or declining within 24 hours – your card is not charged until they accept. Two of the places I wanted to stay were booked or otherwise became unavailable between my request for the booking and the response from the host.  However, the third time was the charm and I landed in a nice flat in Zone 1 for four nights.

The verification process I as a guest had to go through makes me feel pretty positive about the safety of staying with these people. I did try to find places with just women hosts, but ultimately I had to opt for a male/female couple. Of course, once this actually goes down, I’ll let you know what I thought about it (as though there was any doubt). For now, though, I’ll close out this post that has been six months in the making. This move is finally starting to feel real, and I’m starting to let myself get excited. Even the miles-long to-do list is sort of exciting. T-minus 69 days to London!

The 1st Purge of Everything I Own

I have done it! I am home! I graduated college! And now, because I lack anything resembling an instinct for self-preservation, I’m going to grad school.

But before I do that, I’m working at a summer-stock theatre in Indiana for 9 weeks over the summer. For the two weeks I’m home from school before leaving for Indiana, most of what I own is in my mom’s living room. As I moved out of the dorm, I performed the first great big purge of the sum total of my earthly possessions.

Throughout the last semester, I’ve been slowly pulling things out of my closet and putting them into a bag. These are things I don’t enjoy wearing anymore, haven’t worn in ages, that sort of thing, but that I’m a bit wary of absolutely getting rid of quite yet. They’re things I’m pretty sure I’ll never want again, but they’re still within reach, just in case. That particular cleaning-out has been happening since January. I finally consigned them to my mother to donate or give to my younger sister a few weeks ago. However, now, moving out of my on-campus apartment for the last time, I’m doing a real purge.

Some of you may be acquainted with the KonMari method of de-cluttering. To summarize her entire book in a sentence, “if it doesn’t give you joy, toss it.” So, piece by piece, I’ll be going through every. single. thing. in this apartment and deciding, based on usefulness (sorry, Marie Kondo) and whether I still like it, to keep or toss it. I’ll probably actually do this full-scale in August, but I’ve started sorting through things using this method now.

To elaborate on the destination for these items:
There are four general categories. Number 1 is “get rid of it entirely”. Whether this is being donated to my little sister or the local Goodwill, it’s no longer my problem if it lands in this pile. Some of what’s in this pile is being sold; for instance, my TV. Plenty of college kids would be happy with a 3-year-old TV for much less than sticker price, and I’m certainly not carting it across the Atlantic.
Number 2 is “store at home”. I’m not getting rid of it, but I’m not packing it either. It’s things like PJs, non-essential but much-loved books, and a smattering of home furnishings and accessories.
Number 3 is “I need it for this summer”. These are things I will need for my summer job/furnishing housing there, whose fate won’t be relevant until August. I suppose, technically, there are three subcategories here: “Definitely Keeping It”, “Definitely Getting Rid of It in August”, and “TBD”.
Number 4 is “taking it to London”. These are the things that are for sure, absolutely, no doubt about it, coming with me.

Group Number 1

Included in this group are the contents of that bag I told you about earlier. This bag holds a lot of dresses I wasn’t quite ready to admit I’d outgrown, some pieces that no longer mesh with the rest of my closet, and a handful of bras that I should have gotten rid of a year or two ago.I threw away a lot of school supplies that weren’t worth the space to store them, some old binders, a lot of paper or scribbled notes from classes that I took three years ago. I also sold my microwave, TV, a bookshelf, some rugs, and a lamp, along with a handful of other odd dorm furnishings I’ve purchased over the last four years. Luckily for me, I don’t own a lot of the furniture that I was using – the school does – so that was left at the dorm.

Group Number 2

As mentioned, many of my beloved books are included here. I can’t justify shipping them but I can’t bare to get rid of them. I also have more t-shirts than a single human being needs, so most of those will live at home. Some other articles of clothing will also be permanently housed at my parents’. A lot of this stuff is not necessarily always banished to my parents’ house, but it will stay here until I know with some certainty what my postgrad plans are. For instance, I might ship some more kitchen stuff or some things with sentimental value if I end up in the UK permanently.

Group Number 3

This includes my rolling laundry hamper, a lot of kitchen stuff, and an assortment of furniture. I don’t plan to take a lot of my kitchen stuff to London – most of it can be replaced for cheaper than shipping it. In addition, I’ll sort through most of this clothing when I get back and probably end up getting rid of some of it and storing some of it here for me to pick up when I come back at Christmas. London is far milder in September than north Arkansas is, so a lot of my “summer” clothing that I usually think of as being needed in September and October can wait to make it over.

Group Number 4

Things in this group that aren’t also going to Indiana with me include a lot of fall/winter clothing and my full-sized bedding. According to the accommodations website, the beds in on-campus housing are some in-between size between full and twin, so I’m taking my full bedding with me, or at least that’s the plan right now.

All that being said, I have survived and made it out with a few tips:

  • The more you can get rid of before you have to move it, the better. Getting rid of stuff as I encountered it was a good idea – I felt less frantic and I had time to consider each item individually instead of feeling like I was throwing things out willy-nilly.
  • Try to consolidate boxes and sort them by their contents to make finding stuff easier on the other end. I still haven’t found my eye cream.
  • No matter how packed you are the night before, you still have so much to do the next morning. I recommend laying out exactly what you’ll need for the next day at the end of the night before and packing literally everything else.
  • There is a sweet spot in terms of having help. I find that more than two people helping becomes more of a stressor than a help. Think about how many people you can fit in your living space comfortably, and then remember it’s full of boxes.
  • Always plan as though you won’t have as much time as you think you’ll have. You won’t. Inevitably there will be traffic, someone will oversleep, a whole box of stuff you forgot to pack appears.
  • It’s probably not worth keeping most of what’s in your pantry. Throw it out, replace it later.
  • Sometimes throwing things away can feel really cleansing. Don’t underestimate that feeling.

Also, you guys, SPACE BAGS. Ziploc makes some great ones but pretty much Space Bags in general. They will save your life. So much fits. We live in the future.

I haven’t moved terribly many times in my life; I do a lot of back and forth between my parents’ house and my dorm. Do you have any advice for moving? Leave it in the comments!

Getting There, Part I

As I am leaving the US to go to London, the only practical avenue by which to travel is air. For those of you seeking a boat, perhaps, or a subterranean train, or the world’s longest (maybe soon to be less impossible than you think?) road trip – this is not the post for you.

I booked my plane ticket on March 12th – a Saturday, for those of you who subscribe to the arcane witchcraft of buying tickets on certain days. This was a few days less than six months before departure.

I watched prices using Kayak, which I don’t regret as of yet. Kayak offers a lot of useful flight price tracking options, including periodic emails with price tracking. The site is easy to use, pretty intuitive, and displays a lot of information really comprehensively. You can save flights to watch to a “Trip”, so you can come back and check the same flights every time. Kayak will also offer up a comparison of what the other sites like them are quoting. Probably my favorite feature is that I never got annoying, unsolicited email from Kayak. I got the fare tracking emails I asked for and nothing else. Personally, I didn’t see a huge shift in the price like I have with some other international fares; I attribute this to it being LHR, but it could be anything. Honestly, I don’t think there’s any certain time to buy with this one, other than “soon” – flights were selling out pretty fast, even in March. They seemed to have the best prices on offer. They don’t serve as a booking agent, and I was referred to vayama – I don’t know if that’s because of the flight I booked or if that’s who does all of their booking.

I definitely did not use the “Trips” feature to its fullest extent – it also has hotel and car rental functions.

I was trying to watch for a major drop in prices – when I was looking to buy a ticket to go to Dublin, about eight months out there was a sharp drop of about $200, after a slow descent that totaled about another $150-200. I’ve decided, though, that no such precipice exists for London Heathrow. There was a slow downward trickle, and a few days of the price bouncing back up again, but honestly the total difference wasn’t more than $200. There is a very real risk of all the flights being booked, however, if you wait too long. Flights were filling up seven months out as I was waiting to book my ticket.

Look for updates from the airport when I actually leave to find out how it all works out.

Theoretically, the Tube is easy to navigate (Pt. 1)

Because I am, by all accounts, entirely unused to metropolitan living, I thought I had better do some research with regard to navigating the Tube – especially since I may not have a functional smartphone immediately upon my arrival (also known as “the period of time in which I will be most confused about public transportation”).

After searching the internet for all the best tips and tricks and listicles, this is what I’ve come up with. Think of it as a Greatest Hits lists of advice about the Tube, accompanied by some truly awful or amusing articles for counterpoint.

This listicle was nicely comprehensive, written such that I wasn’t bored stiff reading it, and actually informative. It’s not just basic “this is how to get on a train” but also provides instruction on cultural norms, AKA how not to be the least-liked person in your carriage.

My main issue with most advice was that it assumed a basic level of knowledge I cannot claim. I’m looking for whatever comes before 101 here, folks. This article was a particularly heinous offender.

Here is a handy little modified Tube map showing which stations are actually faster to walk between rather than taking the Tube. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned about London today, it’s that nothing is logical.

Somewhere along the way, I began to wonder if perhaps my problem was not that they all started at too advanced a level, but that they were all too basic – that my particular questions and confusion were beyond what is reasonably expected of a tourist (clearly the intended audience of most of these resources). After all, that’s not entirely implausible – I am, after all, not a tourist by the general definition.

There are a variety of YouTube videos, if the idea of reading article after countless article threatens a headache. This one is perfect for “I’ve never in my life partaken in the joys of any form of public transport”. Unfortunately, I went to NYC a few years ago with a school group, so it was a little simplistic for my tastes.

This is by far the best video I found. It was explanatory, answered questions it seemed like no one else had even considered, and kind of adorable. Also, the only time anyone has ever even attempted to tell me why Oyster cards are called Oyster cards. Still not sure I believe him, but.

After being sidetracked by a couple of Bustle listicles about good boyfriends and several snarky comment threads on Tube articles, I stumbled upon It. The One. The Tube 101 to end all my desperate researching.  It not only tells you the things all these other sites informed you about, but also how to tell where you can switch lines! How to identify a baggage entrance! How to estimate travel time!

Something else I’ve learned today is that there’s nothing quite as unintelligible as people familiar with an area giving platform- and architecturally-specific directions to those who have no idea what they’re referencing. I’m sure all your amazing tips and tricks for saving five minutes are perfectly functional, but you could be making all this up for all I know. I certainly can’t assign any meaning to the series of letters and phrases you seem so attached to.

A surprising amount of people warned me not to masturbate or grope people on the Tube.

Sorry, is this an especially big issue?

One article featured a television ad on reporting sexual harassment on the Tube. I’m a little torn. I mean, great that I can text you about a guy harassing, groping, or photographing me, but meh that it’s such a big problem there’s a line dedicated solely to that.

On handpicked.org I found the single most informative piece of information in this entire search: “on the platform, look for where the yellow paint is most worn – this is where the doors open.”

Honorable mention:

Honestly, this one‘s just really funny. Zero percent helpful, 100% hilarious.

Look for part II of this post after I’ve actually had to put this hard-won knowledge to use.