Apparently when you tire of London you tire of life. Samuel Johnson’s iconic aphorism is plastered all over this dusty city, covering postcards and ancient buildings until you feel that life is in on it as well, trying to convince you that living in an overpopulated city no one can actually afford to live in is not just normal, but wonderful.


I’m here to prove that freelancing and travel are compatible and lovely together, like wine and cheese or chips and gravy, but at the moment I’m not so sure.

“So how long are you in London for?”

“A couple of weeks. The aim is to travel around Europe.”

“How long for?”

“As long as we can. Until the money runs out. Hopefully a year. I don’t have a working visa. I wish I hadn’t lost my job after booking the tickets,” I laugh, nervously and then with a bit of a hiccup.

“Are you taking the EuroStar over to Paris?”

“Bit pricey. Might get a bus.”

“Will you get a Eurail pass?”

Will I pay US$543 for a measly ten days of travel in two months? HAHAHAHA.


One of the trickiest things about freelancing seems to be finding a place to work. In a foreign country, this becomes a bit of a quest.

“Let’s fill this city with startups!” cries the website for Google-run Campus London, a ‘unique co-working space’ in East London that promises entrepreneurs the space, free WiFi and mentoring to succeed. Clearly, this is just the spot for depressed freelancers.

After weeks of failed sightseeing and fluctuating daily budgets my manfriend and I decide to check it out. Maybe we’ll get lucky. Maybe we’ll even get some work done.

I’m here to prove that freelancing and travel are compatible and lovely together, like wine and cheese or chips and gravy, but at the moment I’m not so sure.

We’re milling around Earl’s Court station where people are fat with coats, squeezing determinedly through the Tube gates. I halt the lot of them with a swipe of my ‘Oyster’ card – snotty letters screaming ‘SEEK ASSISTANCE’ flash onscreen. It takes a while, but eventually I realise I’m waving my Melburnian Myki card on the reader like a maniac.

Once through, we get a phone call.

“Free tickets to the London Eye. Want them?”

So much for Campus London.

Let’s face it: that the London Eye survives at all is a mystery. It’s hard to fathom the popularity of such a big, blobby thing when it was probably only built from necessity, when all the Londoners, sick of dodging cameras, joined arms and came up with the idea to chuck tourists in a giant Ferris wheel and spin them around at a dismal 0.9 kilometres per hour.

“That’ll keep ‘em busy,” they probably chuckled over tea and scones.

Inexplicably, the London Eye is hideously popular, attracting over 3.5 million visitors a year. Forget Buckingham Palace, Tintern Abbey or Loch Ness: when tourists come to the UK they want to pay £20 (AU$36) to spin around for thirty minutes extremely slowly. The wheel is actually the UK’s biggest paid attraction.

An hour and a train later we approach the Eye, a name surely testament to London’s mighty surveillance powers. School kids seem to multiply in primary colours. A busker catches their attention and mistakenly urges them to ‘help themselves’ to promotional flyers. Mite-sized limbs tumble towards the diminutive singer in squeals and flashes of cobalt.

It takes a fifty pence toilet trip, several queues and frisk searches before we’re in our ‘pod’, where we begin our snail-paced climb through the London sky. Everyone starts clicking frantically, trying to cram as many crap photos of the skyline in as possible. Surely but slowly, we topple over London.

Things start to get quite good on the way down, with the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben sparkling next to the Thames like they’re carved from glittering caramel or something, but then a hairy arm protrudes over my head and starts snapping. I wouldn’t say it ruined the moment but it wasn’t particularly sexy, either.

“Get ready to smile!” we’re suddenly instructed. As the pod swings down, an oversized camera clicks from its post, capturing our horror-struck faces for purchase below.

By this stage I’m practically frantic with work guilt, and in my madness rush to the nearest Starbucks. Now you can stiffen your noses all you like, but the truth is with London coffee so appalling this ubiquitous chain (so unimaginable to enter in café-spoiled Melbourne) is a dream come true for the unprepared and ill-equipped travellancer: on top of free WiFi, Starbucks’ modestly priced, average quality filter comes with a free refill, so you can couple a solid three hours work with steady caffeination and cinnamon dustings.

London Campus can wait another day. Starbucks is closer (don’t judge me).

Pros of working in London:

  • Lots of old things to look at.
  • There are some excellent parks, which are perfect for lunches.
  • Sometimes you can get away with fare-evading on buses. (Sometimes.)
  • Galleries are free, placid (when not flooded by school groups) and usually inspiring. Perfect for those mid-afternoon moments of disillusionment or depression.

Cons of working in London:

  • ‘Hard’ water does nothing for the hair.
  • Any kind of human right seems to require proof of address (unlocking phones, setting up bank accounts, health care etc.).
  • Pub prices are only slightly less than Melbourne (aka. AUD$8-$10 a pint).
  • Everything is expensive: including pies, transport, entering old buildings and god-awful coffee.
  • Very difficult to walk down a street without crashing into a block of people (usually tourists).

Megan Anderson is Going Down Swinging’s online editor.