What it’s really like living in London in your 20s

***SPOILER ALERT: London is fucking expensive.***

 

My London life began about 3 and a half years ago when I started university. As a young naive teenager, London held so much promise, so much excitement, and so much opportunity. I suddenly had so much freedom, an incredible capital at my fingertips and an overwhelming optimism for my life in this historical, cultural and forward-thinking city.

London is like nowhere else. I think anyone who’s spent any real time here would tell you that. Nowhere else combines history, culture and modernism quite like London does.  From the quirky streets of Camden to the swimming pool at the top of The Shard, every corner of London holds something different.

As a young teen, I spent every holiday I could in London. I would spend days over summer walking around narrow backstreets and saving every penny to finally blow it on Oxford Street. It helped, I guess, because when I moved here it already felt like home.

Living as a student in London is one of the most valuable and educational experiences I have ever had. It taught me so much about people. Different types of people, the same kind of people, the amount of people, how to live in a city full of people but hardly even notice it. That’s the thing about London, it’s a busy place, but it’s definitely a lonely one.

My first year of uni in London taught me that I could be in the busiest place in the world but still feel like I was on my own.

My second year of uni in London taught me that I needed to be here in order to get the experience I wanted.

My third year in London taught me that if I hadn’t already lived here, I probably wouldn’t have been able to stay.

Throughout my degree, I tried my best make use of my biggest asset: living in my capital. I did numerous internships, went to galleries, exhibitions, events, studied in some of the most beautiful and interesting places. And it worked out, because it meant that when university came to an end, I had what I needed to stay: experience, contacts and perseverance.

London is for people that succeed; it doesn’t have space, nor does it cater for, those that can’t be bothered.

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while, but I’ve never quite known how I wanted to do it. The way I see it, there are three important parts to London life: Money, Work, and Dating; so let’s go from there.

Money.

In London, you’ve either grown up with it, earned it, dated it, or you have none of it. The city is swimming in money; everywhere you look you see it, whether that’s on the arm of a Chelsea girl, a suit of a city boy or the members club so exclusive you’re not even sure it exists. London is a place for people with money.

The trouble is, unless you’ve landed the big time, grown up in a townhouse in Notting Hill or flown in from overseas, no one really has it.

Drinks are expensive, food is expensive, travel is expensive, rent is EXPENSIVE.

I’m in a fortunate position where my starting salary has far exceeded my expectations; but even being far beyond the average graduate salary, I’m still struggling to save and still be able to afford the ‘London lifestyle’ I’ve always wanted. Being a student in the city has taught me how to be frugal, but that’s not what I wanted in my adult life too.

I’ve known so many friends, or friends of friends who have tried to make London work, but in the end it just cripples them. It almost always comes down to money. They aren’t earning enough, they can’t get a job, they can’t afford their rent; they’ve realised it’s just not worth it.

London has the money, and you’ll probably still never get any of it.

Work

London has the highest wages in the country, and understandably so, it pioneers in tech, finance, fashion, industry and it’s more bloody expensive. Higher wages are necessary for people to live here. But the city pays for what it wants to pay for.

Your bankers, consultants, and creative directors are laughing; while the charity workers, fashion interns and writing wannabes are being almost entirely funded by their second job or their parents support.

Done a good degree? Even done an internship or two? Great, so has everyone! Now, I know you’ve only just graduated, but I’m going to need three years experience from you and a further x, y, z before I can even think about offering you PAID work. The salary? Oh, £22k. Lol.

Oxford degree? You went to Eton? Oh, I think I went to school with your dad. How about you start on £50k plus bonuses and we’ll go from there.

I can wholeheartedly say it’s 98% all about who you know and not what you know.

Dating

If you’re not dating, what are you doing? First dates, second dates, millionth dates or no dates. Everyone wants to know what your dating life is like. Whatever your channel, tinder, bumble, ‘we met at a bar’, in London it seems as if it’s one of the first questions you’re asked. The city thrives off of it, it’s the one ‘must-do’ activity. You go to Mayfair for your anniversary, you go to Soho to let loose, you go to Shoreditch to ‘find someone different’ and you go to Clapham to see every boy you went to uni with.

London is a dating city; it determines your social life, your social circle and where you go. In a city that wakes with the gym at 5am, works until 7pm and then goes out for dinner, you’re the odd one out as a single if you haven’t got at least 6 online dates lined up for the 5 day work week.

It’s a fast-paced city and the dating is just as fast. Do it quick, do it strategically and don’t waste your time. There are nearly 9 million people in this city, and there’s always someone better.

 

I’m coming across like I hate London, and if I’m honest, a lot of the time I do. I hate the pressure it makes me feel and I hate how I always feel like I’m not achieving as much as everyone else. I hate the tube and how long the bus takes to get me home during rush hour. I hate how many people there are, and the constant fight for space. I hate how expensive it is and how it’s become a rich man’s city.

But

I love how it makes me strive to do more, to do better. I love the tube and how fast and convenient it is. I even love the bus, when I can sit on the top deck and see the most incredible city beneath me that I get to call home. I love how many people there are, how multicultural London is, and I love seeing people go about their day.

I love how much there is to do, even though I can’t always afford to do it. I love the history, the culture, the architecture. I love the parks, I love the shopping, I love the markets and I love the restaurants. I love how it’s so many different places combined into one, and I love that everyone can make a home here.

Sometimes, when it’s dark and I’ve had a couple of drinks, I put my earphones in and play my favourite music and just walk around the city. I walk and I realise how lucky I am to live here, in a place so vibrant and so full of life.

Living in London in your 20s is hard. You’re trying to succeed in your career and do all the things you’ve always wanted to do. You’re trying to save for a house and find a partner – but also still go out at the weekend and enjoy yourself. You’re trying to go to all the cool bars, but not spend your entirely weekly budget. You’re trying to balance it all at once and it’s impossible to get the balance right.

But it’s worth it.

It might not be forever, but for now, London is the best place to spend my 20s.

 

Billie x

 

 

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