My infected foot was not getting any better which seemed almost impossible to do in the dirty and humid air of Indonesia.
Like a purple puff adder, it had swollen to double its size. Inflamed skin surrounded the open festering wound the size of a penny on the top of my foot. Walking on it was almost impossible due to the pain.
What happened to it?
I can’t really say. I had fallen down thousands of times on my Sumatran jungle treks and scraped myself against coral whilst snorkeling, so it could have been a simple scratch gone pear-shaped.
I woke up one morning with this small sore on my foot weeping. It doesn’t take much for small hurts to fester and get infected quickly when you are backpacking near the equator.
It was during the last few days partying with our friends in Bali, that my foot began to fester, and no amount of antibiotics or doctor visits seemed to help it heal.
After great deliberation, I decided it was time for me to leave the girls, skip out on Thailand and head to England a month earlier to get my foot seen to, allowing it time to heal away from the humidity of Indonesia.
My bank balance was really low anyway, so I needed to start earning some travel money again.
Saying an indefinite goodbye to my mates and cutting my adventure short was devastating to me. My friends had left me to continue their journey the night before I was due to fly to London on my own.
I was bitterly disappointed, and in my own quiet space the tears would not stop falling.
I felt as Peekay did in my favourite book “The Power of One” by Bryce Courtenay when he says,
“I felt the loneliness birds enter once more and settle in my soul.”
I hoped the birds would soon fly away, and leave with me instead some courage and strength to pick myself up, move on, and live the life I had always dreamed of.
No friends, No Money, Infected Foot, Strange city
I was so terrified to be going to London on my own. I had only just moved out of my parents home 3 months earlier when we departed for the beginning of our adventure in Indonesia. And as daunting as that was at least I had two girlfriends for support and strength.
This was the first time I would ever be doing something so life-defining on my own. The first time living out of home, the first full time job that I had yet to find, the first time without any friends or family for support.
I was turning up unannounced to this thriving metropolis, with no job, no friends, little money, and an infected foot.
In my journal I wrote my thoughts as we began to near London airport for landing.
“The flight has been a rather long one but manageable. I was able to sleep for most of the way, thank goodness. A couple of friendly people on the plane helped me to relax and let go of the fear and loneliness. Maybe England wouldn’t be so intimidating after all.
My foot blew up again due to the air pressure. It’s the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen and embarrasses me a little. I can see people sneaking peaks at it from behind their airline magazines.
I am starting to feel a little less scared and my excitement is growing as we begin our descent into London. I can’t believe that my dream is now becoming a reality. Dreams really can come true if you want it bad enough and work hard to get it. I was now going to be living all those stories I had heard from other’s lives that inspired me to move here and live the dream.
I can now decide how to think, feel, and be. The exquisite taste of freedom burns within me just thinking about the joy of living life on my terms. I don’t feel so overwhelmed with fear anymore, more like I am now ready for my destiny.”
Exchange Rate sucks up my Money
My Mum had managed to chase down Doreen, a family contact in Wigan, although a stranger to me, who said I could recuperate in their home before moving to London. Knowing there would be someone to take me in helped ease my mind.
All I had to do was to find my way from Heathrow airport to Wigan. Where was Wigan anyway?
Upon arrival in Heathrow, my first stop was to change my money into British pounds.
I went straight to the exchange counter and handed over my cash. I sucked in my breath sharply when she handed me, not the thick wad of notes I had envisaged, but only two bills and a couple of coins.
“Excuse me? I think there’s been a mistake, I gave you a hundred.”
“That’s right, love and I gave you £33, look on your receipt, you’ll see the exchange rate quite clearly.”
I looked down, and clearly did see, that I was in a whole world of trouble.
An international border had just sucked up two thirds of my money.
Why didn’t anyone tell me London would steal what little I had left of my travel money on arrival?
I felt a sickening fear and dread in the pit of my stomach. As if I already didn’t have enough to try to come to terms with on my own.
Feeling the loneliness birds fluttering madly within me, I picked up my heavy bag, and with head down and eyes brimming over, hobbled off on my infected foot.
My whole £33 was soon swallowed up by my train fare to Wigan via central London.
The frantic pace of the city left no one willing to put their head up to help me or smile even. My bag continued to weigh me down as I went from one tube station to the next, lost as to how to get to King’s Cross Station.
I didn’t even know how much to put in the payphone to call Doreen and ask for advice.
After traipsing across most of underground London and popping up in strange streets in places like Euston and Green Square, I finally figured out the tube map and pushed my way to a seat on the blue line to King’s Cross.
Not far into the journey an announcement came over which snapped me out of my reverie,
“Attention, ladies and gentleman. Green Park station is currently closed due to a security alert. London underground apologizes for any inconvenience caused.”
I knew about the issues with England and the IRA but really didn’t think it was much of a problem anymore. My heart began to pound and I glanced around nervously at the faces on the train, expecting to see mirrored looks of terror, but their faces remained expressionless and slightly cast down avoiding all eye contact.
Hmmm, bomb scares must just be a natural occurrence in the city.
Had I made the worst decision of my life coming here alone?
Strangers become friends
I was glad to finally get off the suffocating tube and onto the train pulling out of London. The bustle of the city soon gave way to rolling, green countryside and I began to breathe again, delighting in the small villages of English country cottages.
The Doherty family was exactly what I needed to transition me into life in England. They welcomed me in their home and showered me with warmth, kindness, and attention.
After 3 months of a rough backpacking lifestyle, this was heaven. I was given a comfortable bed and home cooked meals, taken on trips around the village, invited to a wedding, and welcomed in by the whole town.
I was the Aussie newcomer, the celebrity on the block. Everyone wanted to talk to me and discover my story. Wigan was an unexpected gift giving me the boost of courage and confidence I needed to move forward.
Mum had sent me some survival funds via an international money transfer, but still, even after staying with the Doherty’s my balance was really low. It was time for me to move to London so I could start working.
An acquaintance from my hometown was living in London. I did not know her all that well, and being so insecure, I felt a little uncomfortable and apprehensive about asking to stay on her couch until I found a job and place of my own.
I had no other choice but to swallow my fear, call her, and ask if I could come down from Wigan to stay with her.
“Yes of course!” she exclaimed. soon learned how instantly you can become close friends with someone just by having a small connection, and an open mind of acceptance and gratitude.
Check out our other posts on London:
22 years of global travel in podcast
- Episode 1: Solo Travel and Working Abroad before we met
- Episode 2: Our 5 year honeymoon living and traveling the world
- Episode 3: The Dark times and Birth of the girls and travel blog
- Episode 4: Embracing Family Travel and our 18 month Australian road trip
- Episode 5: Getting a green card and traveling the US (our dream realized)
Have you arrived in a foreign country on your own without any money before? How did you cope?