Natalie is a student in the MatadorU Travel Writing course.

RIDING THE LONDON TUBE during rush hour is like being devoured by an angry beast, thrashed around its insides, and then spat out disheveled, disoriented, and distraught. Follow this guide if you want to come out the other end with relatively the same levels of sanity you went in with:

Know when it’s rush hour: Rush hour is approximately 7am to 10am & 4pm to 7pm weekdays; 10am to 8pm weekends and holidays. So, pretty much all the bloody time.

Buy an Oyster: You can buy an Oyster Card at most railway stations, at Gatwick and Heathrow Airports, many shops in London, or online from the Visit Britain Shop. They’re returnable at the end of your trip, or you can take them home and pass them off as a souvenir for your least favourite relative.

Load your Oyster: For up to 3 days’ travel, it’s wise to load your Oyster with £25, because you’re capped at £8.40 per day for unlimited train travel. For more than 3 days, get a weekly Travelcard on your Oyster, which at £30.40 is much cheaper than 7 x £8.40.

Plan your route: And always have a secondary option. The TFL Journey Planner is great for telling you how to get to your destination, but often it’s not updated quickly enough to tell you about new delays or cancellations, so make sure you know an alternative route. If you’re super paranoid like me, it’s always good to know which buses will get you where you need to go, too. Whatever you do, avoid the Circle and Hammersmith & City lines during busy times.

Don’t block traffic: Quite often, your Oyster won’t work at the initial barriers. Go ahead and try it a second time, then get the hell out of the way or face the rolling eyes, tutting tongues, and collective groans behind you. As you walk through the underground, know if you’re going north, south, east, or west, because that’s how the train lines will be signposted. If you hesitate at a turnoff, you’re likely to be swept up with a swarming wave of bodies and end up in Shepherd’s Bush when you really wanted to be in Shoreditch.

Stay with the crowd: Only a handful of people will manage to squeeze on at each Tube stop during rush hour. Londoners know this, and they post themselves on the platform exactly where a door will be when the train stops. Find them, stand right behind them, or be left on the platform while trains pass you by.

Clear away from the doorway: Once on the train, move to the middle, even if that means putting your crotch in front of a stranger’s face.

Shut up: Don’t talk, don’t make eye contact, and don’t smile at strangers, unless you’re offering an elderly passenger a seat. Mobile phones, however, may be used, especially when engaging in an argument with the person on the other end.

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