Late salary or BOA (broke on arrival)
Journey out and first days
If your total savings amount to your last JSA payment, unless you can get an advance then you’ll need to think of survival tactics. Take up the challenge! You will not get paid for at least a month, or worse the salary may be late.
On the flight out, be mindful that cash haemorrhages at airports. Keep a tight grip. Avoid the duty-free and enjoy strictly window shopping only. With night stopovers, crash at the airport. If you have a long wait, buy a packet of cheap biscuits, some fruit from WH Smith’s or similar. Better still bring nuts, raisins, energy bars. Do not head for Starbucks or Costas. Get a paper cup from one of the cafes and fill up at the water fountain. Help yourself to any freebies. On the flight, store dry food to eat later. Ask if there are any extra meals and eat your fill. You can go on a long haul including stops without spending a cent. Hungry or proud, it’s your choice.
When you arrive unless there is someone to meet you, take the shuttle bus. Pay with money you have changed at home but keep most of it to change when you arrive. Money-changers give a better rate than banks. Do not overburden yourself with tons of luggage. If you have to do a runner and can’t afford a taxi, you need to be able to carry it on public transport. You should have an address of the school, telephone number, some kind of contact. Search the net or Lonely Planet to find a place to stay. A youth hostel with lockers is a good bet. Or free couch surfing if you have a profile. There are always cheap dives with bedbugs and rooms rented by the hour. Remember it is only temporary. If you have a tent, try the campsites but stay safe.
Get a sim card for your mobile phone and give the number to the school, family , friends.
The more likely scenario is that you will be met and either taken to your allocated accommodation and left or entertained. Again ask for a loan to buy food and water. I was robbed on the Paris to Bologna train and got caught up in a one-day train strike. There was just enough in travellers cheques to pay for a pensione and a shower at the public ‘diurnale’.
Often it is cheaper to rent a room or live in a guesthouse. If you can’t bear the idea of sharing, the hotel idea is more private. Ask your colleagues or check out ads in other language schools, the British Council, University etc. I lived in 40 different guesthouses in Sri Lanka. If you find yourself in a flat of party animals, not your scene, grin and bear it. Arm yourself with an MP3 player and go out all day looking for an alternative.
Post ads in the university or British Council if they exist, or local shops offering private lessons. Charge below the going rate or make offers like a discounted first lesson.
Avoid expensive restaurants and eat street food, even cheaper if served off a cart. If it is hot you are unlikely to get poisoned. Don’t eat meat, fish, or chicken. Each country has its own ‘peasant’ food. Pasta in Italy, Indian dhal and chapatis, samosas, Arab beans, foules, bread, Thai noodles, Asian chicken rice and so on. Crowded workers caffs are the best and cheapest. Have one decent meal a day and buy bread and cheese, salami, tomatoes whatever for snacks. If you are the only women in the cafe, get a takeaway. Hungry or self-conscious, it’s your choice.
Go to the market at the end of the day to get bargain fruit and veg.
If you are in a room with no cooking facilities, a camping gas is sufficient for making tea, coffee or boiling eggs. You can heat a can of beans.
No point in buying expensive olive oil,or cooking essentials and utensils. A milk pan, mug, bowl, penknife and spoon is adequate.
Accept any invitations to eat out on the school tab. Take a discreet doggy bag or make a joke of it like there are starving cats in your street.
This may be a good time to give up smoking and drinking.
Drink plenty of water, bottled if necessary. It’s important not to get ill.
You may be given an unfurnished place or with minimal filthy furniture. It’s unrealistic to transform it into a spotless Ikea pad. Buy a mop, brush and bleach. It’s a good idea to bring a sleeping bag to put on a dubious mattress and use clothes as a pillow. The mattress can double as a sofa. If there is none, lie on cardboard, or buy a foam one.
Choose between a shoe-box in the centre, a bigger place further out of town or in a downmarket area. Factor in transport costs and security. Imagine walking there in the dark after evening classes.
Clothes for work
It’s a good idea to bring in your minimal luggage, one decent work outfit and a pair of shoes/black trainers. What goes in the UK might not acceptable elsewhere. Depending on the climate, bring a decent warm coat or scarves to act as cover-ups. Most cities have second-hand shops. You can wash clothes in the handbasin. Tweak them when drying so you don’t need to iron. You can also hang them in a steamy bathroom to get rid of creases.
Explore your new city/town/village on foot and enjoy the sights and smells. Talk to as many people as possible to get a feel for the culture.
Bring your laptop and don’t let it out of your sight.
You only have to live like this until you get paid. For many people, their permanent lifestyle is more frugal and difficult.