All’s Quiet on the Western Front: 28 Things I’ve Learned About Living/Being Stationed in England
All’s been quiet on the Western front…but that’s because More Than a Mrs. has made it to England (and is getting ready to make some noise over here🤪).
Here’s a quick, bulleted synopsis of what I’ve learned about being stationed in Europe thus far (some are things I already knew, but they might still be helpful if you’re headed this way and apply to AD and milspouses):
- All the research in the world can never properly prepare you for the reality of a new base – especially an overseas base.
- Number 1 doesn’t necessarily negate the fact that research is vital
- Piggybacking off of Number 2, make sure to join as many Q&A spouses groups as possible before you arrive. You’re sure to find an answer to the myriad of questions you’ll have in one of them.
- Do not, I repeat do not, over inundate yourself with the aforementioned information. You’ll wear yourself out before the PCS process even begins.
- If you’re not confused enough by Numbers 1-4, just wait until you arrive.
- Plan ahead. We knew where we staying and how we were getting to base before we ever set foot on an airplane.
- Things won’t quite go as planned, no matter how much you plan, and that okay.
- Study the rules of the road before you attend newcomer’s class. The driver’s test is the second day and you’ll pass with flying colors.
- Don’t be afraid to get on the road. I refuse to be a prisoner of my own making because I’m too afraid to drive on the left side of the road. My husband drove on day two (out of necessity, but that’s another story). I drove on Day 3 (around base first then ventured out) and it was loads of fun. Mind your speed, know the signs, control your breathing (😂) and you’ll be fine.
- All those houses you saved on Rightmove? Yeah…they’ll be gone by the time you arrive. It’s still a good idea to look, but wait until you arrive and can actually view properties before committing yourself. Photos can be deceiving. In the United States, we like everything to be BIG – it’s the opposite here. Rooms are made for double beds, not queens and not kings (unless you’re really lucky like we were).
- The area closest to base will NOT look like you imagined. It doesn’t even resemble what you see in London (if you’ve visited before like I had). The villages are spread out, the roads are super narrow in spots (they have A, B and C roads – which tells you the condition) and yes, it does indeed rain. A LOT.
- There’s no air conditioning. Buy fans. Lots of fans.
- Also buy heaters. Lots of heaters (especially if you’re from the South, like I am).
- Argos, Sainsbury’s and Tesco’s are your friend.
- USAA and Navy cards are great here. Visa cards are widely accepted.
- Get ready for a reality when you see the pound-to-dollar conversion.
- Get connected before you arrive. There’s nothing like seeing friendly faces your recognize when you touch ground. Even if they are from social media.
- If you have to conduct business in the United States once you arrive, just know you’ll be making those calls when you’d like to be going to bed, due to time difference.
- You can buy a SIM card from the airport (or wherever) when you arrive, but I’d suggest going with an international plan for the first few days (like ATT’s Passport) so you can still make calls to the US. Most sims bar calls to 1800 numbers.
- Make sure to let all financial institutions know about your move before you arrive and update your address to your APO box (your sponsor can help with this once you have hard orders). If you don’t, you may find that you’re not allowed to log in and see your online accounts.
- Have a bomb sponsor. Seriously. Ours were amazing. (Hey Buschs!)
- Save. Now. Lots of money. Lots. Of. Money. A deposit on a home plus a month’s rent will likely come due before you’re paid and before your OHA starts. This is thousands of dollars. Avoid having to take out a loan.
- Imported vehicles have to be brought up to U.K. specs.
- There are all kinds of taxes. Some you’re excluded from (council tax), some you’re not (road tax, tv tax). Don’t skip newcomers meeting.
- The food trucks on base ROCK. Seasoning is scarce here, but the food trucks and cultural stops are not lacking. Don’t trust vendors to make pound to dollar conversions in their heads or you’ll lose money lol. Download a money converter mobile app. Also, pubs are your friend. Bird in Hand (right outside the gate at RAF Mildenhall) has delicious chicken wings. Oh, and Nando’s (cue drool)
- Travel is king. And cheap. Therefore, we’re already planning trips. 🤣
- It’s handy that we speak the same language, but the Queen’s (or King’s) English is also a bit different. I’ve been on the receiving and giving end of quizzical stares during conversations.
- Customer service is different. Generally, you seat yourself at restaurants and aren’t really checked on by servers. So if you need something, speak up. Because of this (and also because servers are paid and treated better here than they are in the U.S.) tips aren’t always required and if they are 10-15 percent is adequate.
There’s more. So much more. But I’m exhausted. I’ll delve more into these topics as we get settled. Wish us the best.