Living in a Backpackers Hostel
If you're a new arrival to London and aren't lucky enough to have friends here already with a crusty couch for you to sleep on then you'll have to come up with some other plan. Finding a house before you arrive is pretty much impossible since any decent potential housemates will want to meet you before committing to living with you. Anyone who plans to take you on site unseen are probably dodgy.
So you'll need to find somewhere to lay your weary, unemployed head for awhile while you sort yourself out. If you're on a budget then that's where backpacker's hostels come in. In London and many cities around the world where people come to stay for awhile, hostels aren't just for tourists passing through for a few nights. They also cater for long-term residents and many in London will offer a discounted weekly rate. Some hostels will even have more long stayers than backpackers.
There are lots of different types of hostels to choose from in areas all over the city. They range in price from about GBP15-25/night but many will do weekly rates that can be as cheap as GBP60 and as much as GBP100 for a bed in a dorm room. Look out for 'youth hostels' - they are often the cheapest and most sociable option, and if you're looking for a centrally located youth hostel London is full of them.
You can expect to be sharing a room with 3 to 7 other people so expect for things to get a little cozy. Try to make sure to find a hostel with a kitchen (and a good amount of fridge space!) as eating out every night will kill your budget fast. You should also look for a place with sturdy bunks and some personal storage space in the dorms, an outside area with BBQ for the summer, a decent common area to chat to people or watch TV, decent security without going overboard, and a good mix of other long term stayers.
Earl's Court is a popular place for newly arrived backpackers and is the location of my favourite London hostel, the Barmy Badger. This place is small, homely, clean, and central. I stayed at the Barmy Badger for my first five months in London and had a great time. At GBP85/week for a bed in a six-bed dorm room it was far from cheap, but it's in zone one and I found it very easy to meet people here. If you want a large place, try either St. Christopher's Inn, the Generator, or Piccadilly Hotel. These places are all very central but there will be a lot more tourists passing through and, as a result, they'll feel less like a temporary home and more like a proper hostel.
Compared to getting a room in a sharehouse, living in a hostel will tend to be more expensive. In some cases you will be paying twice as much in rent and won’t be getting any privacy. Plus you have to consider that hostels charge by the week and most houses/flats charge by the month and many jobs pay by the month so during those dreaded 5 week months, you'll be out of pocket. Don't get all excited before you arrive and book a hostel for weeks in advance. Just book your first night or two at a London hotel or first choice of hostels and then if you're not happy you can shop around for a new place to stay without the hassle of trying to get your money back.
If you come over alone and don't have any friends in London already, a stay at a hostel is a good way to meet lots of people in a short amount of time. There are usually plenty of people who are in the same boat as you who will also be looking to meet a group of people. You might even end up finding people to lease a house or share a room with.
MONEY & COSTS