Perspective | How I Tried to Work Remotely in London on a $100 Budget – The Washington Post | Gmx Pharm

Can you still save when visiting one of the most expensive cities in Europe? I found out.

(Alan Berry Rhys/for the Washington Post)


Our new journal series explores remote work on a budget in big cities. Read our first entry from New York.

Exchange rate: 1 pound = about $1.30 while driving

The budget challenge: $100 per day without accommodation

What it covered: Meals, a few pints, necessary – and unnecessary – transportation

The workrooms: An industrial-chic brunch spot and a dark hostel room

The last time I was in London I was 23, fresh out of college, and what little money I had didn’t do well with the exchange rate. I overcame the challenge of seeing Europe’s most expensive city by staying in a hostel and doing as much as I could, like going to the Tate Modern Museum or standing in front of Buckingham Palace.

So much has changed in the world since then, including Brexit and the European Union and a global pandemic, but London remains incredibly expensive despite the dollar going further than it used to. Still, at 31, I emulated that frugal travel style on a recent visit by staying in a hostel and trying to stick to a budget. Also, I have a full-time job to juggle this time. I documented the first two days of my trip as I managed my work and travel (mostly food and drink) inclinations. Working five hours ahead of my team should give me some time to explore the city – as budget allows.

11:08 a.m., a subway error

I traveled to London with Play Airlines, a new Icelandic low-cost airline. After leaving Baltimore with a stopover in Reykjavík, I arrive in London on the Stansted Express Airport Train ($27.06). I’m sleep deprived and I’m texting a friend who lives here with a breakfast recommendation. He suggests Half Cup, a place with something called “Nude Espresso” that’s a short subway ride away.

Before my trip I was recommended the Oyster card, the city pass for public transport, while others have warned against it. I juggled this information in my head as I stared blearily at the subway ticket machines. The train is in three minutes, so I frantically buy a day pass instead of the Oyster card. As soon as I do that, I realize I’ve got Big Goofed™. It’s $18.83; a single ride would have cost about $3.

To add insult to injury, google maps says my hostel is walking distance from the cafe.

Takeaway: Do not buy the daily menu.

Try Play Airlines, a new “budget” option for flights to Europe

12:27 p.m., beans for breakfast

I come to the Half Cup, which has free wifi, carafes of mint water, and other people on laptops, so I’m comfortable getting mine out. I order a cortado and a full English breakfast, a hearty meal I always look forward to in the UK

There isn’t an outlet nearby, but other than that, it’s a perfect spot for remote work. In my jetlag madness I order a second Cortado. I don’t have the energy to estimate how this indulgence — and my humiliating subway ticket purchase — will affect my daily budget.

3:30 p.m., hostel reality

I walk to Generator London, the police station youth hostel I’ve booked, which is described online as ‘chic’ and ‘modern’.

On my walk, I stop in a grassy park to google something. I love public baths like Korean spas and Russian banyans and wanted to sweat out my jet lag.

The prices aren’t in my budget (nearly $70 for the basics), so I try Wowcher, a UK version of Groupon. There were discounts, but seats were either far away, expensive, or unavailable during my time in London. No hammam for me.

When I get to my accommodation, the “Poshtel” is not advertised. The room is painted in bright geometric designs, but there’s a warning about the fire hazard heater coming off the wall, and my bunk bed has sheets that feel like a shower curtain. There is no time to indulge; I have to start working again. I stand at the table facing the window – and the old sink is installed in the middle of the window.

7:56 pm, shower with hand soap

Somehow it’s already night and I need a change of scenery. I jog through Regent’s Park – something I would do whether I was here for work or on vacation. It’s a delight to see the couples out for a walk, teams playing cricket and even a fox. I take a quick shower in the shared bathroom; There’s no shampoo or soap, so I use a handful of hand soap from the kitchen sink dispenser. I have to find food.

11 p.m., dinner after a lunch with Cheez-Its

The only thing I’ve eaten since brunch was the residue from a bag of Cheez-Its crackers left over from my flight. So it’s off to Dishoom, a restaurant that pays homage to Mumbai’s Iranian cafes (which I learned from reading our local London travel guide). In a rush to eat before the place closed, I went with the server’s suggestion of their famous Black Dal (lived up to the hype), Prawn Koliwada (spicy and fun) and an India Gimlet (so good I got a second one ). It’s more than enough food for one but I’m stressed out from the busy day.

Bring away: My travel instinct is to always reach for the ATM, but I didn’t need any of the cash I withdrew. London is largely cashless these days.

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12:50 p.m., cycling “across the street”.

I wake up around lunchtime from jet lag, write some emails from my bunk bed, and head off to meet up with a friend near London Bridge. For the 3-mile ride, I get one of the Santander Cycles bikes — better known as “Boris Bikes” — which cost $2.62 for unlimited rides of up to 30 minutes in any 24-hour period. There are great bike lanes and although traffic is on the “other side” of the road, it’s easy to get around.

4:30 p.m., oysters on an empty stomach

My friend buys me a cappuccino (okay, a pint was included). We part and on the way to the nearest Boris Cycle Station I stumble across Borough Market, another gem featured in the London Travel Guide. There are flower shops, food trucks, food vendors and a Parma ham and mozzarella stand.

I stand in line for Richard Haward’s Oyster, a no-frills stand run by seventh-generation oyster farmers. For $11.13 I get three oysters shelled on the spot and half a glass of crisp white wine. It’s not what I had in mind for my first meal of the day; it’s much better.

Before I bike home, I buy some souvenir stationery by British artist Richard Bramble — three cards for $6.18 — and a $6.22 warm, flaky sausage roll from Ginger Pig.

Conclusion: Download the Santander Cycles apartment at home before your trip to save time (or valuable international data). Lime and Uber are also good for bike or scooter rentals.

5:45 pm Working from a dark cave

The downside of working from your room in a hostel (or hotel or Airbnb) is that it’s isolated and without the culture you traveled for. In the café, between emails, I could people-watch and overhear work gossip. Now there was only one bunk bed to keep me company. The advantage is that I have already paid for the room.

Midnight, a shockingly expensive cab ride

There’s no good in working six hours in a dark hostel. One of the two lights in my room is out, and my morale is just as grim. I didn’t feel like a productive worker. I blame jet lag – my brain is muddy.

Earlier in the day I decided I had aged out of hostels – at least that kind of hostel – and wanted to move to a hotel. After I’m done with work, I pack my travel bag and say goodbye to my cave.

Listen to your dad: get up early on vacation

I take a black cab to East London, which I know will be expensive – but I didn’t know how much. The driver turns out to be nice; Our conversation alone was worth the $35.80 fare and I got a dinner recommendation.

12:31 am, the cab driver’s favorite kebab spot

After dropping off my luggage, I head to the Lahore Kebab House, a Pakistani restaurant that the taxi driver called “an institution.” The waiter suggests the dal chicken. With my bottle of water, some roti, and a complimentary plate of salad and raw onions, the slightly spicy and deeply comforting dinner comes in at about $13.

1am, hunting for a real pub

I’m determined to end the night in a pub and cycle to Brick Lane ($0 because I’m still within my 24 hour Boris bike rental window). My Lahore leftovers fly off the front of the bike.

When I’m traveling alone, I like to find bars and restaurants where I can feel inconspicuous. Casa Blue wasn’t that place. A waiter puts a stool in the middle of the bar, away from other people; most of them are sitting in groups at small tables in the much too bright room. I sip most of my pint ($8.48) on my little island of awkward solitude.

It’s 2am when I pass the castle on my way home. Inside, it’s crowded and dark, two details that make a good bar for solo travelers. I order a half pint that I don’t need for $7.43, talk to a few people, and go home feeling like I’ve caught up on my hostel days as a recluse.

Doing London on a budget takes planning and compromise. You might want to treat yourself to some great experiences – like watching a Premier League game or sipping a martini at the Connaught Bar – but there are also plenty of affordable (standing room at Shakespeare’s Globe) or free (the National Gallery Museum) ways to doing so enjoy the city.

My biggest lesson had nothing to do with finances: Landing the minute I landed wasn’t the right move. I was on a roller coaster for the first 48 hours trying to balance my work schedule, budget, and travel destinations. If you’re planning on working remotely while traveling internationally, allow a few days in the beginning to allow your body to process some of the jet lag. You will be more productive and less prone to making wrong decisions (e.g. on subway fares).

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