Our Expat Costs and Observations of Manchester, England

Ian Curtis mural, Northern Quarter, Manchester, England

“We’re not arrogant, we just believe we’re the best band in the world.”
–Noel Gallagher

We recently spent 32 days in Manchester, England, covering the entire month of August. We had no real expectations of the city when we arrived, but were utterly amazed at how much character and life it has, and we wound up falling in love with the city. It is now one of the cities that we will have on our short list of places that we’d like to return to and spend more time in.

Our Activities in Manchester

Just like with all of the other cities we have visited, we started out with a free walking tour of Manchester (#aff). We had one of the best guides we’ve ever had in Mike, whom we wound up bumping into several times after our tour in different parts of Manchester.

I don’t want to spoil the tour, so I will just point out that there are a couple of major timeframes in Manchester’s history that affects its character and makes it the city that it is today.

Manchester is the second city of England, meaning that it’s the second largest, and often, is an afterthought to London. However, it was the heart of the Industrial Revolution, and, at one point, it produced 80% of the world’s textiles. In the 1860s, it was the biggest importer of cotton from the confederate states of America, and in 1863, they made the decision not to import from the CSA because of slavery, causing a nearly ruinous economic imptact. However, despite the depravation, most all of the people of the city supported the reasoning, and that economic hit was one of the driving, if undercovered, reasons that the confederacy lost the war.

Because of its roots in the Industrial Revolution, Manchester has always been focused on workers and their rights, which affects how they think about their people, which you can see in the People’s Museum, as one example. Another example is their exceptional Science and Industry Museum.

The next major theme of Manchester is its musical roots, often called MADchester. Mike, our guide, played music from Manchester throughout the tour, and being the 80s music geeks that we are (my wife more than me), we recognized almost all of the songs. From the Sex Pistols to Joy Division/New Order to Oasis, Manchester has punched way above its weight class when it comes to famous rock music, which also signified a turnaround from difficult times in the 70s into a more modern city.


We took this picture of the Ian Curtis mural a mere few days before it was painted over (accidentally) by the rapper Aitch

The last major time period is the modern Manchester. This period began with the detonation of a 3,300 pound bomb by the IRA in the center of Manchester. The IRA phoned in a warning 90 minutes before the explosion, and authorities managed to evacuate 75,000 people in that time, with an incredible zero fatalities. A huge swath of downtown Manchester was destroyed from the explosion, and rebuilding took three years. The authorities used the opportunity to modernize downtown, making it a place where people wanted to come and spend time. We certainly spent a lot of time there, as we found the central part of Manchester one of the most appealing city centers that we’ve visited in our travels.


To get a sense of the destruction, check out this video about the postbox itself.

Where We Stayed

We stayed in an excellent Airbnb in Harbour Centre, just one stop on the tram away from MediaCity UK. The apartment is technically in Salford, which is a lower income area of Manchester, but it’s in a very different area than downtown Salford itself. Because it was right on the tram line, it was exceptionally easy for us to get wherever we wanted to go conveniently, and reasonably quickly. We were also just a few minutes’ walk from MediaCity UK, which was where BBC Sport and ITV have their headquarters. Rumor has it that when the BBC moved their sports department to Salford, the former footballers who worked as pundits asked for bodyguards, such was their fear of Salford. However, that is as far from the truth as possible. The area is quite pleasant, with a large outdoor area with lots of food and gin trucks that sell on the weekends. We spent several evenings enjoying the weather and having gin and tonics in the MediaCity UK area. We would absolutely stay in this area again, although we’d also consider staying in places like Chorlton or East Didsbury. The key, for us, is staying near the tram line, as it takes you to most of the places that you would want to go in Manchester.

Sports

I played a lot of sports in my youth and in college, so I’ve always been a sports fan. I played soccer growing up, so I’m a huge fan, which explains why I went to a Hadjuk Split game in Split, Croatia. On my first visit to London, when I was stationed in the Army in Germany, my friends and I stumbled into a bar that was packed with people who were intently watching a strange game that looked kind of like baseball. In our ignorance, we asked what was on all of the televisions, and we were informed (sort of brusquely, I may add), that this was The Ashes, one of the most important matches in cricket. I was fascinated, but never got to really follow up on the fascination until my wife and I wandered into a club game in the Bahamas. As a US person, it’s tough to follow cricket, but it was quite easy in Manchester!

First, the day after we arrived, the England women’s football team was playing for the Euro 2022 title at Wembley, in England. The tournament was hugely popular, particularly since the host nation (and the birthplace of soccer) had made it to the final. We had hoped to go to a raucous pub to watch the game along with mad, frothing English fans. Little did we realize that there was also a Manchester United friendly being played at Old Trafford, which was very close to where we were staying, so, for the first half of the game, the pub was amazingly quiet. Then, the Man U fans started streaming in, and it got fairly raucous, but nothing like we were hoping for or expecting. Still, England won, thanks to that Chloe Kelly Brandi Chastain imitation, which made a great way to start our trip.

Since 1998, I’ve been a Colchester United fan (it’s a long story; don’t ask). Needless to say, an American who’s a fan of a lower division English team is quite a rarity and an object of curiosity in England. I wear a Colchester United hat to keep my head from burning, so, I do get the look of cognitive dissonance when they hear the American accent and realize I’m wearing a Colchester hat. So, when the League Two schedule came out, I was overjoyed to see that Colchester was playing at Stockport County, which is a suburb of Manchester, while we were there. We got supporters’ tickets, hopped on the train, and went to see the game.

I’d tried on Twitter to see if there was a supporters’ pub to go to before the game. Someone told us about one, and we showed up there, an hour before the game. When we got to the bar, we tried to order a couple of beers, only to be told by the bartender that they didn’t serve away fans (I was wearing a Colchester jersey and my wife had a scarf), and to go to a bar about a half a kilometer away. So, we went there, ordered a beer, sat with a bunch of Stockport fans and chatted, and waited for the game to start. The last Stockport fan there turned out to be a huge Tucker Carlson fan, so that was quite the awkward conversation, as we’re firm believers in things like a) Biden won the election (bigly) fair and square, and b) Russia should have never invaded Ukraine.

We walked to the stadium and went in the away supporters’ section. The section was cordoned off by a fence from the Stockport supporters, and it even had its own bar, which ran out of water before halftime (conveniently allowing them to upsell gin and tonic to us).

We watched one of the most lopsided 1-0 thrashings I’ve ever seen. 99 times out of 100, Colchester loses that game 4 or 5-0 instead of just 1-0.

On the way out, the segregation ends. We had heard one of the locals say to avoid a certain area because people get really drunk and rowdy, so we decided to head straight to the train station to get out of town and lick our wounds. As we’re going to the station, a group of Stockport fans hears us and inquires about being American Colchester fans. They are super friendly and invite us to go to have a drink with them at a bar right next to the station.

The bar is very nice, and there’s a bouncer outside. I overheard one of the guys saying “they’re with us; they’re cool” to the bouncer but didn’t really make anything of it. We grab a beer, and the guys introduce us to a bunch of their friends. We all have a wonderful time and conversation. They had to leave to go to a friend’s birthday party, and as soon as they’re gone, the bouncer comes up to us and asks us if we’re planning on staying. My wife hadn’t finished her drink, so we said we were just going to finish the drink and then head to the station. The bouncer says that we should go ahead and leave now since we’re away fans.

So, we took off our Colchester garb, wrapped it in a rain jacket so nobody could see, and went to the station. We caught a train and didn’t put our stuff back on until a couple of stops down the line.

The lesson we learned: NEVER go to a lower league game as an away fan unless you enjoy very awkward moments.

Interestingly, when we got to Manchester to change to our tram to head back home, we wound up standing next to someone in a Stockport kit. I congratulated him on the win and was discussing my notes about our team’s shortcomings and told him that if their strikers were more clinical, they could have won 4 or 5 to nothing. He introduced himself, and as he was introducing himself, I noticed that he had his initials on his shirt. He was the head coach. We chatted for several minutes, and he was a very friendly guy. That was a good way to put a coda on a not-so-great sports day!

Unperturbed, we bought tickets for the opening day of the England vs South Africa test cricket match. One day, we saw a place called Sixes Cricket and popped in to see what it was about. It was a bar that had a bunch of cricket and football simulators. Since my wife didn’t know much about the game, and it looked like fun, we reserved slots for bowling and then batting (pro tip: book on a Sunday, when everything is half priced).

It was a blast. We left there sweaty, tired, and happy, and my wife had a ball pointing out how she trounced me in the simulator.

Armed with the knowledge that we could stand in for Jimmy Anderson and Joe Root if needed, we headed later that week to the first day of the second Test match between England and South Africa. We had tried to purchase the tickets online earlier, and were a little confused as to which section was the best, so, one day, we decided to go to the Old Trafford cricket ground to see about buying tickets. At the gate, the guards were befuddled as to why we were trying to go to a ticket office, and, after a long conversation on their radios, they finally let us in and pointed us in the right direction. Fortunately, at the actual ticket office, the people there were quite friendly and helpful. Our concern was not sitting in the sun all day long, so they advised us where to sit and also how to avoid the section where the Barmy Army was where everyone would get crazy drunk.

We had heard that there were problems for people trying to get in at the previous test at Lord’s, as there was some sort of new ticketing system, so we decided to get to the ground as early as possible and just hang out. The planners at Old Trafford Cricket Ground had planned on this, and, once we got in (with almost no wait), there were plenty of vendors open as well as two different areas where musicians were playing live music. The weather was very chilly and cloudy, obviating our concerns about getting sunburned from sitting out in the sun all day long, so we grabbed coffees and watched some of the concerts. Finally, a few minutes before the start, with Proseccos in hand, we went to watch the national anthems and the first ball being bowled. Soon thereafter, we were rewarded with a wicket for England!

We had a blast, although it remained cloudly and chilly for most of the day (great for bowlers, bad for fans except for the ones who got sauced). The fans were much friendlier than they were in the Stockport game.

However, I did have one observation about England and cricket fans:


Museums, Libraries, and Culture

Manchester is chock full of free libraries and museums, and we tried to take advantage of as many of them as we could.

One of our favorites was the Rylands Museum. It was built by the wife of an industrial tycoon after he passed because he wanted to create a library that was free to all. The building itself is beautiful and looks very Harry Potter-esque (we noticed that theme quite a bit during our travels in Manchester). When we went the first time, there were also two special exhibits. The first exhibit was on the printing and artwork associated with Dante’s Divine Comedy. The second exhibit was on the music from Manchester mostly from the 70s and 80s. We didn’t really realize who the players and their impact were until we later went to Liverpool on a day trip and went to the British Music Experience (something we highly recommend if you are a music fan).

As a result, my wife requested that we return later in our trip so that she could look again at the music exhibit. I, being the ever loving and accommodating husband, assented to her request. While we were there, one of the librarians came up to us and started chatting about how she used to go to the early live shows of some of the bands and had a lot of buttons and records. Next thing we know, we’re in the bowels of her office looking at her record and memorabilia collection and listening to music. Another librarian suggested that she go to the main entrance and play some of the records and have a little dance party for the people who were coming in. Next thing we know, we’re listening to The Skids’ Working for the Yankee Dollar

Two other favorite places of mine were the Salford Lads Club and the Manchester Art Gallery.

The Salford Lads Club is the last of its kind in England. It is similar to a Boys and Girls Club in the United States, whose mission is to provide structure and support for local children who come from underprivileged homes. As I mentioned earlier, Salford itself is a low-income area, and this club provides a couple hundred boys and girls an opportunity to have a meal, play games, and learn life lessons. They organize a trip every year to go camping, and, for many of the children, it is the first time that they are able to go into the woods and to do a lot of structured, organized outdoor activities.

The Lads Club was made famous by The Smiths photo shoot for their album The Queen is Dead, and later filmed in Coronation Street (the Salford Lads Club is on the original Coronation Street, which is supposedly the inspiration for the series) as well as Peaky Blinders.

To me, what was incredible was how much they were able to do on a shoestring budget. Yes, it gets a lot of visitors, but it doesn’t really get any funding. As a result, they rely on donations for most of their operating budget. We were happy to pitch in, and now, my wife proudly wears a SLC t-shirt.

My other favorite museum was the Manchester Gallery of Art. What I really appreciated about the museum was that it was organized by theme and topic rather than by time period or type of art. Many art galleries are chronological in nature rather than telling stories about art and the observations art is making about society in general. This one was very unapologetic about its views (particularly about how men were the ones telling the stories in the art until, for the most part, the 1900s) and organized in a clear, coherent, and engaging manner. There were plenty of explanations alongside most of the artwork to enable the art ignorant (yours truly) to understand what the artists were saying as well as the context around which they were making their statements. Yes, sometimes art is just art to be pretty, but oftentimes, art is a way for the artist to convey a message, and this gallery was excellent in helping the viewer understand the messages that the artists were trying to convey. Also, it was free (my favorite price), although, as we did with almost all of the museums and libraries that we visited, we made a donation.

Below are a few of my favorite photos from the gallery:

An aside: one thing that we noticed is that Manchester seemed to be pretty advanced with regard to contactless technologies. We were able to use our phone wallets for almost all transactions, and we noticed almost all of the locals doing the same. I’m sure that’s like so last decade in places like South Korea and Japan, but it’s the first widespread adoption we’ve seen in our travels.

The aforementioned Rylands Library wasn’t the only library that we adored. The Manchester Central Library was also excellent, providing a great music room (which made my 80s music loving wife happy), and with some exhibits about both the history of Manchester as well as the different dialects and their interpretations within the greater Manchester area. For example, I learned about the impression of poshness concerning Wigan accents. I won’t spoil the surprise. We also visited Chetham’s Library, which has a long history as well as a pair of historically very important researchers: Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (isn’t it ironic that Engels’s first name has rich in it? Rich, huh?). The library seems to be suffering from funding problems, so you may want to visit it sooner rather than later.

There are also other museums which were worth visiting. The Imperial War Museum North was very detailed and comprehensive; however, I felt like it sort of glorified war too much. There were a lot of advertisements about taking the kids for a fun day at the museum, and that just didn’t strike the right tone with me, particularly given how they covered the subject matter in the museum itself. War is hell.

Another interesting museum that we visited was the People’s History Museum. It’s definitely a very left-leaning museum, so it was interesting to see the perspective. We definitely agreed with almost all of the goals that the museum was espousing to support, although we didn’t always agree with the methods to get there. Still, who could disagree with voting rights for women and minorities or safe and respectful working conditions for employees? Well, I could probably name one, but this is a travel article, not a political article. Still, it was thought-provoking and I’m glad that we went.

We also took a day trip to Liverpool, where we wandered around the waterfront, went to the British Music Experience (maybe the highlight of our travels so far for my wife!), and had a drink at Liverpool’s oldest pub.

We met new friends and reconnected with old ones while in Manchester. We spent a lot of time with our new friends Phil and Joy, who were gracious enough to take us on a day trip through the Peak District National Park. We also hung out with Ville and Ana and their friend Sam. Finally, we took a day trip to York to meet up with our friends Anthony and Linda, whom we had previously met during our last trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

General Observations About Long-Term Travel

  • Black t-shirts are cool if you want to look like Steve Jobs, but they’re very inconvenient as a traveler. A lot of my t-shirt collection is comprised of black t-shirts. In the US, that’s fine. I would wear something like that when meetings friends or family, and we’d invariably be going inside. However, as travelers, we spend most of our days outdoors and outside. When the weather gets up into the lower 90s, as it did a few days in Manchester, dark colored shirts are just an invitation to sweat. I now have a bunch of white t-shirts that I accumulated in Istanbul and in Manchester.
  • Ask your Airbnb host if they actually have whatever amenity you’re looking for. We really liked our Airbnb, but it was advertised as having air conditioning. Yes, I realize that 99% of homes in England don’t have air conditioning, but we were looking specifically for air conditioning, because we were there in August. So, we were very surprised to learn that our Airbnb had neither air conditioning nor fans. This was an issue in the four days when the temperatures were in the low 90s, as the windows open slammed shut at any sort of a breeze, meaning there was very little airflow in the apartment. We seriously thought about invoking the guest guarantee, but didn’t want to wind up with no place and a refund of money. So, we sweated through the uncomfortable days.
  • It’s nice to occasionally go to a place where you speak the language. Yes, a lot of people spoke English in Split, Istanbul, and many of the international destinations where we’ve traveled, but it’s nice to not have to do the mental work to speak another language or try to use Google Translate to communicate. Yes, it keeps you on your toes mentally, but going somewhere that speaks the language that you speak natively opens up a bunch of new and different opportunities to connect. For example, we went to a Beat the Frog night at the Frog and Bucket Comedy Club and wound up befriending one of the comedians, Jake Steers. That would be much more different in another country, even if we speak the language secondarily. As an example, when I lived in Germany, we went to a Weiberfasching celebration in the little town where I lived, Wisselsheim. My friends wanted me to translate the jokes. The problem was that, while the main part of the joke was told in high German, and I could translate that, the punch line was always in Hessisch, a dialect I did not understand. I’m not saying the barriers are insurmountable, but it was nice to have a month to mentally relax because everything was in a language you could understand.
  • Google Fi (#aff) finally figured out we were traveling internationally. Early into our stay in Manchester, I received a nastygram from Google saying that we needed to connect back in the United States over the next 30 days, or we would lose our international cell data coverage. To be fair, Google Fi was pretty much an easy button for our previous travels and had worked great. I’d read on Reddit that this might happen, and it did. Fortunately, they gave us plenty of warning, so we were able to sign up for Airalo (if you use #aff code JASON8859, we both get $3 off our purchases). We’re using the 20 GB for 180 day Discover Global plan for $89 per person, and it’s worked fine so far.

Costs for Travel in Manchester

Manchester, England is not a budget expat destination. We went there for three main benefits:

  1. It was outside of the Schengen Zone. Given that our travels to Europe this year will be extensive, we need to make sure that we are adhering to the rules of the Schengen Visa area. Thanks, Brexit! Sorry, Phil!
  2. The weather was more temperate. The average high in Manchester for August is 68 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s also supposedly “rainy Manchester,” although we only got rained on once in Manchester and once in Liverpool. There were a few quite warm days, as I mentioned before, and a few chilly days in the lower 60s, but, generally, it was shirt sleeve weather or maybe a long-sleeved t-shirt. We’ve discovered in our times in Puerto Vallarta, Split, Croatia, and that climate is very important to us. We’re quickly determining that we’re the traveling version of the Princess and the Pea in that we want the temperatures to be just right.
  3. They speak English there. I know. That sounds like a copout, particularly for someone who was a language major in college. However, it is quite nice just to be able to live in a place where you’re able to passively understand the world around you, particularly the signs and the communication. Our friends Theo and Ellen from Earth Vagabonds made a similar observation about their arrival in Mumbai, India.

We were looking for a place that wasn’t as expensive as London but still had plenty of size and things to do. We looked at Leeds, Birmingham, and Liverpool before landing on Manchester, and we were thrilled with our choice. We loved all of the character and the things to do in Manchester, and we would certainly be happy to return there.

However, that did come at a cost. Manchester was easily our most expensive destination to date.

We stayed for 32 nights, and, including the amortization of the costs traveling on a transatlantic cruise ship, we spent $7,329 during that time. That converts to a monthly cost of $6,983 for a long-term traveling couple to spend a month in Manchester, England.

Here’s how it broke down.

Total Spending

Spending Category Amount Spent
Total cash and credit card spending $3,099
Airbnb $2,874
Flight $327
Amortized Costs of Travel to Europe $1,029
Total Spending $7,329

Monthly Spending

Spending Category Amount Spent
Total cash and credit card spending $2,946
Airbnb $2,731
Flight $327
Amortized Costs of Travel to Europe $979
Total Spending $6,983

Final Thoughts

I’m a nerd at heart. I like, for example, to build spreadsheets and models. While we were in Manchester, I started to try to build the one model to rule them all to figure out a long-term travel schedule that would fit within our current budget, taking into account costs of living in each location, costs of travel from one location to another, and visa requirements. I also have a section for maximum amount of time to spend in a location (Izmir has a 0 in that cell) as well as a minimum amount of time to spend in a location.

Manchester, so far, is the only place that we’ve visited that has a positive number in the minimum number of months to spend in the location column (I’ve hard coded home for the holidays, so that doesn’t count). When we’ve finished exploring places and are ready to get into a regular routine of travel and staying, Manchester is the first (and so far, only) city that is in the must-visit list. We’ve both been to London before (sorry, Anthony and Linda), and we prefer Manchester.

If Manchester hasn’t been on your radar before, think about checking it out. Hopefully, you’ll love it like we do.

Published by

Jason Hull was the co-founder of Broadtree Partners, a firm that acquires $1-5MM EBITDA companies. He also was the co-founder of open source search consultancy OpenSource Connections, a premier Solr and ElasticSearch firm. He and his wife FIREd (financial independence retire early) at 46 and 45, respectively. He has a BS from the United States Military Academy at West Point and a MBA from the University of Virginia Darden Graduate School of Business. He held a CFP certification from 2015 - 2021. You can read more about him in the About Page. If you live in Johnson County, Texas or the surrounding areas, he and his wife are cash buyers of Johnson County, Texas houses.

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