Things I would recommend in London: shopping in covent garden, partaking in high-tea, picnicking in Hyde Park, and going to see a show in West End.
Things I wouldn’t recommend in London: traveling on the tube at peak hour, forgetting an umbrella, and sleeping on the street.
Needless to say, I did all three of those not-recommended activities on my last trip to London. The worst of which was definitely the events leading to me slumbering al fresco on the mean streets of London. With learning (and laughter) in mind, here is an exploration of the unfortunate events that lead me to sleep in a London park.
Unfortunate event number one: A last minute decision and an unclear text message.
After a four day stint at a music festival on the Isle of Wight, I was keen to have a decent shower and wash the glitter out of my every crevice. This need, coupled with the horrific rumors at it would take five hours to get a ferry back to the mainland, led me to pack up my camp and jump a late night ferry and train back to London.
On my way to the train, I hurriedly sent a text to the friend who was expecting me at his house in London. It read something a little like this “I might be back tonight instead!”. In my rush, I failed to actually confirm that I was definitely coming back that night.
Unfortunate event number two: Falling asleep on the train.
In retrospect this may have been the fatal mistake. The mistake that was to lead to all the other crap things that were to happen that night.
Having lept on the last train to London (departure time: 11:00pm), I thought I could rest my tired, glitter-encrusted eyes for a couple of seconds. Two hours later, I awoke with a start,and looked out the window to see the train arriving at Vauxhall station. Three stops past my destination. In a blind panic, I grabbed my four bags and bustled out the door with the help of a cute boy who held the doors open for me. After checking the timetables, I found out that there were no trains back he other way until 5 AM. With no other options, I hailed a cab and was soon on my way to a friends place where I would spend the night.
Unfortunate event number three: My friend was dead asleep.
Having successfully made it to the place where I would sleep, I knocked sharply on the door to be let in and…. Nothing. I knocked a little more frantically. Again there was no response. Growing a little bit panicked and feeling incredibly tired, I knocked louder and louder. After knocking for an hour, I came to be conclusion that my friend had seen the “might” in my text message, waited up for a couple of hours and then (rightly so) gone to bed. With this realization, I hopped in an Uber and directed the driver to the nearest hostel.
Unfortunate event number four: Losing my wallet.
I arrived at the hostel (The London Eye Hostel), walked in and instantly got creeped out. Despite being 2am, the hostel lobby was full of men watching a movie. Not a single woman in sight. None of these men looked friendly and every single one of them ignored me as I walked in. Nevertheless I was desperate so I asked for a bed and reached into my bag for my wallet to pay. I knew instantly that it was gone. That didn’t stop me from desperately tearing apart my bags. Despite every person in that lobby knowing exactly what was wrong, not a single person offered to help. They were all quite happy to watch a girl in tears head out onto the streets again at 2am.
Unfortunate event number five: Not having any backup money.
With no backup money (huge mistake) and no way to pay for a bed, I made the decision to go back to my friends house and really let loose on the door. It was growing increasingly cold, it had started to drizzle, and I was reaching a new level of exhaustion. I hopped an Uber and made my way back to the house.
Unfortunate event number six: My friend still doesn’t wake up.
Heading back to the house, I made the conscious decision to do everything I could to be let in. I knocked on that stupid door for TWO HOURS. I rang the doorbell, I yelled, and I made my knuckles red from knocking and… Nothing. Not a peep.
At this point I was shivering with the cold and desperately exhausted. I was also dirty, dehydrated, and very close to completely losing it. With no other options I came up with a new plan. I would sleep in the little park near my friends house. Luckily, I had my sleeping bag and a camping mat from the festival or else I might have gotten hypothermia.
After climbing into my sleeping bag and getting (relatively) comfortable, a really strong feeling of vulnerability washed over me. I could be assualted, raped or seriously hurt all because I had slept through my train stop? I’m not pretending to even slightly comprehend the horrors of homelessness but in that moment I felt for all the people on the streets. The girls who face humiliation, danger, and sexual predation because they made a few bad calls at life. It instantly made me never want to make snap judgements about homeless people ever again.
Despite the cold I managed to fall asleep for two hours. Waking up at 5:30 am, I felt like I was being watched and when I looked around I saw a bunch of inquisitive neighborhood cats watching me as I slept. Less pleasantly, I also saw a number of early-rising business men avet my gaze as they bustled off to their city jobs.
Ten minutes later, my friend finally answered the door. I was inside with access to a warm bed, a clean bathroom, and a big glass of water. Nothing has ever felt so good and I slept until mid-afternoon.
I had survived multiple unfortunate events and a night on the streets and on the process learnt two very important lessons. Always, always have a back-up source of money and always try judgement. That scruffy guy sleeping in the doorway might have just slept through his train stop.
Have you had any horrible travelling experiences like this one? Let me know in the comments below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org