This traveling couple from Portland, Maine left their American lives behind to make the full transition to expat life in London. Through their blog, Drive on the Left, they share their experiences with readers as they navigate their new lives around London; as well as the ups and downs of expat life. Meet Drew & Julie!
Tell us a little bit about yourselves and how Drive on the Left came to be.
We are Drew and Julie, married for eight years and living in London for the past eighteen months as US expats. Our site developed out of our desire to share our experiences and adventures with our friends and family after we relocated from NYC to London. It was a way to keep in touch and let people know what we were up to. Now we speak to a broader audience, but our moms are still loyal readers.
What brought you to London and how are you enjoying the expat life?
We moved her for Julie’s work. She is in market research and was asked to manage a client relationship for a company based in the UK. The whole process was quick. We decided in July 2013 to accept the overseas assignment and we were living in London in September.
So far our experience has been fantastic. Becoming expats was one of the best decisions we’ve made. We have meet great people, both locals and fellow expats. We love living in London and have taken full advantage of the ease of travel around Europe. We have been to sixteen new countries in the past eighteen months. We can walk to St. Pancras, hop on a train and be in Paris in two hours. We have five major airports to fly from with a dozen or so low fare airlines. Hard to beat that.
The two of you write a lot about travel planning. If you could give one important tip to a person planning a trip, what would it be and why?
Plan in advance. Not something crazy like a year, but we typically are planning roughly three months out at any given time. We like having lots of options, so we avoid booking last minute. There are also varying strategies to save money by booking far out or last minute, but we find it stressful to not just book it already! And don’t be afraid of low-fare European airlines. Just know the baggage rules and add-on costs BEFORE going to the airport. They can be a fantastic deal.
While living in London, you have had a bit of time to get out and explore. What has surprised you about London, and what has been just as you expected?
The sheer amount of green space in London was surprising. Coming from Manhattan, the difference is very noticeable. We brought our beagle Basil with us from the States, and we can walk him off leash in about four different parks within a ten minute walk of our flat. He’s a big fan of London so far!
The food scene in London is also vastly underrated. The food markets are top notch, the meat and seasonal vegetables are staggeringly good and the restaurant scene is improving literally everyday. The days of the boring British food are gone.
In terms of meeting our expectations, the prevalence of pub culture was just as we expected. There are pubs literally everywhere. Everyone has their “local” and almost all serve the very traditional and iconic British food, like fish and chips and meat pies.
Lastly, we knew coming to London that the city was expensive and, unfortunately, it has lived up to its billing. The cost of living is quite high. The only benefit is that when we travel, no matter where we go, it’s less expensive.
You have done quiet a bit of traveling around the world. Is there one place that exceeded your expectations in a good (or bad) way, and why?
The Baltics. We spent a week exploring Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia and were blown away. None of our friends had ever traveled there before, so we had a very open mind and no expectations. The cities were fascinating and beautiful. The people were really friendly and engaging. We would highly recommend the Baltics to anyone.
You have a lot of posts about adjusting to expat life. We too have had to go through adjustments as we settle into life in China. For you in London, what has been the most difficult adjustment you have had to make?
The most difficult for me personally has been my career. I worked in restaurant management for the past ten years and wanted to use our move abroad as a catalyst to find a new career path. So far, things haven’t exactly worked out as planned. That is the challenge of being the trailing spouse in an expat situation. But lucky, Julie has been super supportive and still likes having me around the house, which is nice! Plus, I have been able to put a lot of time into developing Drive on the Left.
For us as a couple, the hardest adjustment was getting over the early frustrations in getting settled into London. Even the basic things like getting our cable and electricity set up took almost six weeks. The concept of customer service is slightly different than the US. Instead of toll free 1-800 numbers for customer service centers, in the UK they charge you for calling customer service lines, even from a mobile phone. It’s a different mentality.
Can you share some advice for other people who are thinking about becoming an expat in another country?
Make the leap. The opportunity to live and work abroad is an enlightening experience. No matter where you go, there will be both challenges and wonderful moments. Just ride out the initial wave of frustrations as you adjust and go with the local flow. Remember, you have to adapt to the local culture, not vice versa. We felt ‘at home’ after about 6 months, and ours was a relatively easy move (both English speaking, both major cities). A year might be a more realistic adjustment period in other parts of the world.
** All photos were kindly provided by Drew & Julie of DriveontheLeft.com