Usually, our memories of the best moments in our life are tied to people, not places. But should you meet those people in a spot of land that captures your mind like a photograph, then this place might just become as unforgettable as the faces belonging in that photograph.
Luckily, the south coast of England is such a place.
I’m not talking pure unadulterated kitsch that is frequently mediated through television including some Cornish family drama in Pilcher style. I’m talking about fireworks every Saturday on the beach where every face seems familiar, about meeting in a pub straight after work and about not having a care in the world.
So, it doesn’t always have to be Work & Travel Australia…
Ok, so I would have run out of money, before I even made it Down Under, but I would definitely be sorry if I had missed my Work & Travel UK. It’s not just the infamous black humour that drew me, it’s the music, the way people call you darling, even though they don’t know your last name, and yes, the food. I swear, since the era of Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay has begun, the traditional British cuisine has undergone a supersized change. However, you’ll probably still end up with beans and sausages for breakfast 🙂
Back then, when I started to plan my trip, there weren’t many blogs around that could have given me resourceful tips for surviving in a country where everything seems reversed. So I opted for an agency that provided me with useful information regarding national insurance, jobs and applications. Plus, they also gave me a place to crash for the first two weeks (which actually felt a bit like a reception camp…). Looking back, I probably could have organised a lot of those things by myself and saved some money, but this feeling of temporary security was still nice.
Part II: Point me at the sea
I had planned to stay in London only for a month or so, but here’s the catch: If you choose an agency for your work & travel experience UK, then the resources they provide you with are most likely limited to Greater London. Move beyond that line and you’re basically on your own again. Definitely not what I’d expected!
While the agency office was filled with information about how to get by in London, it merely held one folder with tips for housing and job-inquiries in destinations outside that city – or so it seemed to me.
If you’ve never been to England’s capital before, you cannot grasp how money-consuming London really is. Don’t get me wrong – it’s my favourite metropolis in the world, but…. Well, if I had planned to stay in London for the year I might as well have gone all the way to Australia with more money left upon my return.
So, once my free weeks of sleeping in the hostel were over, I left London. Headed towards the west and had no idea where I would be staying for the night. So, this is how they “prepared” me for my “UK” work and travel experience. Damn advertising promises.
I eventually ended up in Bournemouth [pronounced ‘burnmith’ for those who did not know – like me :], a cute city right at the south coast near Southampton and Portsmouth that had all but one little hostel. A boy from Australia (ha!) was waiting with me for the owner to get home from work that day, so he could check us in, but for some reason, Lawrence only accepted me as a new tenant and God knows where that Aussie had to spend the night.
Bournemouth is famous for its long golden beaches. In fact, if you prefer sandy beaches over rocky ones, you should definitely head west, for sandy beaches are supposed to be rather scarce at the east coast.
Originally I’d planned to move on to another city after two months or so, but I was simply stuck. First of all, in a tightly structured country like the UK, you cannot simply buy a car and get hired at the next cherry orchard. Everything is much too bureaucratic for that. The most ridiculous of all is the thing with the national insurance number. You cannot get one unless you’re employed, but you cannot get employed unless you have a national insurance number. Ridiculous, right?
The agency back in London could merely encourage us to try hard and do our best to convince the people in charge. And so I smiled, looked a bit forlorn and handed them two fake dates for a promising job interview. A week later I got my number, delivered to the German girl, whose main residence was a hostel. Perfect.
However, the job hunt did not go quite as smoothly. Of course I didn’t tell people that I’d only be there for a mere 2 months, but November was approaching fast, the season was low and my amount of hope and money disastrously shrinking. But just before I hit rock bottom, I found a job in a department store. The specific franchised department I worked in had German roots. Lucky me, most of the goods were still labelled in German so they needed someone who could grab a product from the stockroom in less than 20 minutes. It’d been great fun, that job!
But it wasn’t only the job situation that held me in that town, it was the people I’d met in the meanwhile, friends that I’m still in contact with, and, as I said in the beginning, it was also the place that got me stuck in a positive way. I loved everything about Bournemouth: The atmosphere, the location and even the smell, which was always a bit salty.
Yet the best thing about Bournemouth (well besides the great pubs and bars) is its characteristic layout. If you walk into town from the North, you cross the city centre until you hit the square which is really one great mosaic. From there, it’s just a stone’s throw to the park, or Bournemouth Gardens, which is extraordinary opalescent in the spring and frequently honoured. If you go further downhill, past the (weather) balloon and gallery, you’ll soon see the flourishing promenade and arcades. And then there it is: the sea and the beach and the pier! And all within a ten minute walk.
Anyway, I evidently got the work thing down, but I still wanted to travel. Which is surprisingly uncomplicated in the UK, thanks to the excellent rail network and cheap rental cars. So, over the weekends and bank holidays we often visited nearby destinations like Bristol, Cardiff etc., but eventually ended up in Cornwall – the cool surfer part of it, of course.
So there it was, my work and travel experience UK 🙂
Thanks for reading! Cheerio,
P.S.: For the sake of the good old times: Here’s a playlist with all the songs that officially hit no 1 in the charts while I was living in the UK. There’s surely something for everyone, but since I’d skip most songs, here’s my personal backpacker-soundtrack from that miraculous year. Enjoy