• Shan

How many beds maketh a nomad?


London Graffiti: Brick Lane

23. This is the number of beds we slept in between June 2018 and February 2019. And that’s not counting a couple of couches we crashed on after big nights. We never consciously set out to become gypsies. We just randomly booked an AirBnb in East London for the first 10 days when we arrived in London and decided we’d figure it as we went. But, after a while, even our families gave up trying to figure out where we were from day to day.


When that first week starting drawing to a close, we needed to make a decision. The city was rapt in a World Cup Soccer frenzy amid a 35 degree heatwave when we came across an affordable AirBnb in the middle of Brick Lane – one of my favourite areas stacked with cool bars, vintage shops and legendary graffiti art - so we decided to live there for a week. We immersed ourselves in the summer mayhem, drank cold beers in almost every park in East London and rediscovered some old haunts from my previous London life.


Around this time we made contact with some friends who kindly offered their studio apartment to us for a month while they were traveling. (Again, the universe came through). This took us to Hornsey, a quaint and classy suburb of North London that gave us a chance to explore this hilly area and enjoy some great restaurants and bars. From there we skipped a little way down the road to Highgate where we sublet an apartment from a couple who had gone on honeymoon. It was lush and green and peaceful and I loved watching the squirrels play in the giant trees from the 7th floor window.


Next, we ended up even farther north in Golders Green, a historic Jewish neighbourhood where we stayed for a month with a man in the midst of an existential crisis. While his home was not quite as described on AirBnb (the kitchen was in the midst of an ongoing renovation and had no flooring and the lounge was cluttered with buddhas and crystals and wellness books) our host was exceptionally kind. Even though it was inconveniently located, a bit cramped and old, was next to a loud highway and smelled strongly of cleaning products, it was strangely the most peaceful space I have ever encountered. While our poor host was plumbing the depths of his soul trying to realign his chakras, I seemed to reap all the benefits of his crystals and calming mantras.


After a brief sojourn to Norway where we stayed with our dearest friends in a cabin in the fjords, we were back in North London. This time my cousin kindly hosted us in his gorgeous basement apartment in Primrose Hill. It was a quick stroll from Camden market and came with a kitten. Who could resist? My highlight was walking along the canals every week to do my grocery shopping, or stopping in at a legendary rock bar on the way home from a night out. Camden is my rock n roll soul. While it’s not quite the same punk mecca it was in the 90’s, it is still vibrant, unique and well stocked with crazy characters.


After being evacuated from the Primrose Hill flat due to a gas leak, we booked an Airbnb in Peckham for a week. I’d heard that it was the new hipster haven and believed we should check it out. When we arrived that evening in the dark our Uber driver didn’t want to leave us! Peckham is traditionally an Afro-Caribbean neighbourhood and has a reputation for being a bit ‘ghetto’ but I fell in love with its colourful culure. We stayed in a council flat with the sweetest man who was so passionate about the area and its history. I spent time exploring some of the hipster hideouts including a converted parking garage that now houses bespoke stores, restaurants, bars and advertising agencies and we sipped beers at a killer rooftop bar.


Next we forged South. Really South. As the very last stop on the tube, Morden has the hilarious reputation as the place you end up in when you get drunk and fall asleep on the train. So, we were as surprised as anyone else to end up staying there. At the time we were a little bit homeless and the universe came to our rescue when some very kind friends lent us their home for a couple weeks over Christmas. It was the perfect refuge after a busy end of year period and gave us some space to breathe.


Soon, Christmas was over and we wanted to escape the city. Some friends were in Scotland so we decided to head up there for New Year and experience the legendary Edinburgh Hogmanay. Evan seemed to really enjoy it. I was listening to the fireworks from my bed with a raging fever and the worst flu of my life. But even my nasty cold couldn’t stop me from enjoying the chilly and magical, medieval scenery of Scotland. I love a good castle. And we got to stay in a real one.


Before we headed back to London we were in desperate need of a regroup. Evan needed the ocean and I needed any place that wasn’t the city. We found another little Airbnb gem - a converted barn in a tiny seaside village near Scarborough on the Yorkshire coast. It was the perfect retreat and gave us the calm we needed to get moving again.

From there we finally gave in and headed to the South African stronghold of South West London. The sense of community was instantly comforting after the long months of traveling. We moved around a bit before we found our long-term room on the 11th floor of an old but interesting council flat block in South Wimbledon, where we now enjoy a gorgeous view over the area.


And so for now we sleep in one bed. And we enjoy the benefits that come with that.

One thing we really learned during this experience was to appreciate the good in every space. Uncomfortable bed? At least we have a great view. Shitty apartment. At least it’s a cool area. Tiny room? At least we have good wifi.


Our nomadic adventure had its ups and downs but we can honestly say that we have seen more of London than most people who have lived here all their lives. It’s something that has enriched us. It’s given us perspective. And it’s made us really, really appreciate a good bed.

Written by Shan. London, UK. shannyblues@gmail.com. 

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