How to Survive New York City (a.k.a. my NYC Anniversary)

Exactly one year ago, I moved to New York city with two suitcases. And five winter coats.

New York City is one of the most written-, sung-, and cried-about places in this world. Poets,  writers, actors, and dancers have come here for inspiration, and they leave to be able to live. It serves as inspiration and simultaneous downfall. It’s everyone’s greatest love and most epic heartbreak in one throbbing city.

I wasn’t exactly delusional about it. I knew it would be difficult, and I knew it wouldn’t be pretty. I knew it would be cold (as previously mentioned, I had purchased not one but five different jackets made by a Canadian brand because I figure Canadians are experts on cold). Armed with winter coats and knowledge from prior visits and dreams, I figured I was somewhat prepared.

Yet, of course, it was even harder than I thought it would be. It’s been quite a journey, and somehow I am still here. I could get sentimental about it, but that’s usually not as useful.

There are tons of articles on this, but here’s my take on:

How to Survive Your First Year in NYC

(all opinions are my own and none of the links are sponsored, I just thought they would be helpful references). Note that this is more on the “survival” side- to live, now that is a different story!

Dress right.

I’m going to confess that as a lifelong tomboy who counts gym clothes and yoga pants as proper restaurant attire, I was pretty anxious that I’d have to transform into Carrie Bradshaw. Not true. Elim Chu did a Wunder Under Challenge a few years ago where she fashioned each day’s outfit from a base of yoga tights, and I admit that this is pretty much what I do almost every day. I realize that many people hate the yoga-tights-as-acceptable-pants trend, but NYC is actually one of the most casual places and generally it will be pretty obvious if a situation calls for putting on a nice dress (a.k.a. going to 3 Michelin star restaurants or bars to try to find an investment banker boyfriend, which I touch upon later).

Also, it’s true- when in doubt, wear black.

…so, the real question is, how does a Texan (or anyone) survive NYC winter?

Besides having really good friends who are willing to listen to you complain a lot, I found the following to be the most helpful items:

  • Fleece-lined tights. I read a blog post by a Minnesotan on how to dress warmly. Let’s be real, they are pretty much the experts. I bought two pairs of these, but Target has some cheap ones.
  • Merino Wool baselayer tights. Trust me, you don’t want to wear jeans as your only layer in negative 11 degree weather. I bought Lole’s super thin Finesse leggings (discontinued), but any thin merino wool layer will do. If you like jeggings, make sure they are thin enough to fit under jeans.
  • Really awesome outerwear. Not lying, I bought those 5 Canadian down jackets out of fear. I use all 5 of them frequently. No, I don’t look cute in puffy jackets, but yes, I am truly a Texan and I’d much rather be warm. If you can afford it, buy something cute and svelte that Olivia Pope would wear.
  • Touchscreen gloves. For when you are standing outside the subway station trying to send drunken and romantic text responses in freezing weather. Wirecutter has an article on which pair is the best, but in the end because of how small my hands are I prefer North Face’s E-Tip glove.
  • A go-to warm hat. Yeah, sure, I’m super vain about my hair looking okay, but seriously, find a cute slouchy hat that you can wear during the coldest days. Your ears will thank you.
  • Rainboots. Don’t compromise. Get nice ones. These can double as your snowboots if you buy some insulated socks. I have the Hunter Regent Savoys in black, but you know, Hunters are good all around. Don’t panic if they spring a leak, get some Shoe Goo to fix them right up (also sold at REI).

Aside from clothing, try the following:

  • Drink great tea. A friend helped me discover Aveda’s comforting tea, which pretty much always fits my tea mood, but find what works for you. There are amazing tea places all around the city, like Harney & Sons, Miansai, Bosie Tea Parlor, Tea and Sympathy, Cha-an, Podunk, Alice’s Tea Cup, and on and on.
  • Visit somewhere colder first. If possible, visit really cold places like Canada or Wyoming before winter hits in NYC. Once you have perspective on what negative 35 degrees Fahrenheit feels like, February in NYC will feel like the Caribbean. I’m actually not kidding about this.

Shop smartly for household goods. 

NYC. It ain’t cheap. And if you just bought 5 winter coats, it’s probably a good idea to try to save a little money by knowing where to get cheap household goods.

  • Grocery stores. Okay, are you ready for my frugal nerdiness? I keep grocery store receipts. I’m not kidding. I save them and then compare them to see what items are cheapest at which grocery stores. (Let me know if you want to know where to find the cheapest green chilies or Asian pears or broccoli, and I’ll collect data for you).
    So far, my favorite places to go for groceries: Chinatown and Trader Joe’s. Not much of a surprise. I frequent Hong Kong Supermarket on Hester because it’s big and takes credit cards- but there are lots of cheap options in Flushing, too.
  • Toilet paper, soap, and paper towels. No joke. It’s cheaper than Amazon for most household things.

Figure out transportation.

  • Subway. Get a subway map on your iPhone. (Apps are especially useful, see section on Apps and hacks). I know there are a lot of “routing” apps you can use, like HopStop and Google Maps, but make sure you also have a subway map app handy for offline use. I use this MTA NYC subway app just because it was the first I downloaded, but there are many versions out there. Learn which lines take you where, and what lines are the fastest versus most prone to being under repair. Learn the route to your office or gym. This will also dictate where you might want to live.
  • Also, know which end of the platform to exit. Look on the map for the closest cross streets to where you are going. To save time, try to get on the train towards the end that will be closest to your destination.
  • Uber. Self-explanatory.
  • Friends who have cars or get a ZipCar.  Carpooling with friends is super amazing if you want to go camping or to the cheap Asian grocery stores in Queens. If someone offers to drive you somewhere, may you can offer foot massages or home-cooked meals in return. Or, you know, whatever other skills you have up for barter…
  • Walk. Seriously, you will discover so much when you are willing to walk a little further rather than always relying on the train or car. Also, you save money and get exercise. Both good things.
  • Don’t always be in a rush. Slow down. Know your route well enough to leave yourself time to love the city. Listen to and watch subway performers. Study the graffiti in alleyways. Read the poetry on subways. Discover commissioned portraits in bathrooms.
    This is one of the few places left where you can encounter art everywhere. In fact, it would be difficult to avoid it. You don’t have to spend a cent to immerse yourself in the art of the city. Sometimes it’s not pretty and packaged in museums or theatres, but that’s what makes it so alive.

Find a place to live.

  • Learn New York. NYC is always, always changing. The hottest, hippest neighborhoods change, and gentrification is rampant of course. People used to scoff at the idea that Williamsburg would become the next SoHo, and that Bushwick would be touted as almost-the-next-Williamsburg! (See articles here, here, and here).
    That being said, learn New York. Go to Brooklyn, visit (gasp) Queens, and have a lot of conversations about what people do and do not like about where they live. Narrow it down. It will become much easier when you have it narrowed it down to two or three neighborhoods. Here’s a neighborhood map for reference.
  • Make a list of your non-negotiables. After deciding to move out of the tiny, lovely but insanely noisy apartment on Bleecker street, my list looked like this:
      – Close to as many subway lines as possible
      – Washer/Dryer
      – Elevator
      – Rent maximum is _____

    I know, that’s like asking to live in Houston again. And yet, I found the holy grail! I used Craigslist and I’m very happy with my living situation. If you already know something will make you miserable (like walking 25 minutes just to get to the subway station, and then riding the subway for an hour to get to the office), then don’t even consider it. I promise that Manhattan isn’t the only livable, likeable place in New York City.

Discover apps and hacks.

I’m planning to write a more detailed post about my most-used iPhone apps, but I would say that getting the right apps to figure out NYC helped immensely. I love Lifehacker’s How I Work series and while I take everyone’s advice with a grain of salt, I really enjoy reading about how other people ensure productivity in their lives.

Also, Time Out New York has great articles about the best NYC hacks. Here’s the latest one.

A sampling of my most-used:

  • Transportation apps: I use Google Maps constantly, and the NYC Subway map I mentioned.
  • Weather app: Aside from my subway app, I use my Yahoo weather app CONSTANTLY to make sure I dress appropriately and take an umbrella when needed.
  • Restaurant/Food app: I Yelp a lot.
  • Note-taking app: Simplenote is my favorite go-to for note-taking, and per the advice of Steven Johnson I keep several pinned notes as my version of a spark file.
  • To-do list app: Wunderlist + Trello is my winning combination.
  • Calendar app: After much experimentation, Sunrise won. But Microsoft just bought them, so we’ll see.

Listen to music. 

I am almost always listening to music while in transit or at work.

Create Spotify playlists and curate them to be relevant to your moods. One of my tricks is to have at least one playlist that contains all the songs you love at the moment (no matter how cheesy or embarrassing) –  keep it updated and make sure to have it “available offline.” Mine is called subway listening. Creative, I know.

Create a bag system to to carry your stuff in, and carry good stuff.

Unless you’re Matt Mullenweg and have things handed to you upon your arrival, you’ll need to have a great bag/purse/things-you-always-carry routine.

I tend to carry EVERYTHING with me for the day so that I can just stop by the gym on the way home: laptop, work materials, gym clothes and/or yoga equipment.

After trying all sorts of purse and gym duffel combinations, I end up using my Longchamp black Le Pliage bag the most. It’s waterproof and lightweight, so I can use it for work and for the gym if I need to. If I need more capacity, I add another tote on the other shoulder and I’m good to go. I also love my Lululemon Cruiser backpack for when I need to carry a yoga mat all day. The things I always have with me:

  • iPhone and headphones (I just use the Apple earbuds)
  • Metro card
  • Credit Cards
  • ID
  • Pack of gum
  • KIND bar if I get hungry before a workout
  • Water bottle (Usually my Hydroflask or Klean Kanteen)
  • Moleskine (currently red and with lots of stickers)
  • Pen
  • Kindle
  • External battery and charging cords
  • Lip balm

Work towards finding a job where you can work towards your dreams.

If you came to NYC to chase dreams and to be happy, I have some suggestions on how to find a job. If you came to make money, disregard pretty much my entire blog. Notice I didn’t say find the “job of your dreams,” because in my opinion it’s more important to find one that allows you to work towards your dreams. For example, if time is what you need, find a job that allows you time to pursue what you want to do. If money is what you need, well, good luck.

Here’s what I did:

  • Write. Don’t start with writing down jobs or roles you want to find (yet). First, write down what you’re passionate about. I kept it very high level- something to the effect of:
    1. Technology
    2. Community
    3. Movement/Exercise/Health/Nutrition
    4. Travel
    5. Writing
    6. Photography
    You get the picture. You might even learn something about yourself.I am specific about writing it down, because if you just think about it things will seem less concrete and you’ll be less likely to follow through. I speak from experience. Also, try not to write like your tiger parents or judgmental boyfriend or investment banker friends are reading over your shoulders. Just write from the heart, and figure out what you really want. Ask yourself what it would take to make you look back on your life and feel successful and fulfilled.
  • Network. I know, I hate the term, but networking is great. Don’t just exchange business cards- actually set up meetings and talk to people. Pick their brains. Become best friends with your Facebook friend list. Figure out which friends and acquaintances live in the city and have some inkling of an idea of what you want to do. I visited tech accelerators and co-working spaces and attended events just to meet and talk to people.
  • Be open-minded. I know you deserve the best, but try not to limit yourself too much- respond and go to the interview even if you’re not sure if you fit the role description. Interview for things that seem out of your league, or that you are overqualified for. You learn a lot during interviews. And who knows, a company may offer you a different position that fits you well! The key is getting your foot in the door. So take the call, dress up for the interview, be honest, and remember that you can learn from every experience.

Treat your body well.

  • Drink a lot of water. I am fully aware of how much alcohol you’re drinking to “cope,” so please drink a lot of water, too. All the kale in the world can’t take the place of water.
  • Learn how to cook, even if it’s just simple stuff. And maybe bake cakes.
  • Carry lip balm in all of your pockets. Coming from the most humid city ever (Houston), I was in shock about how dry my lips would get.
  • Get a gym/yoga/cycle membership. You’ll need to work out to stave off the weekend boozy brunch calories – no, just because the girls on SATC did it, I guarantee you that going to happy hour in heels doesn’t count. If you tell yourself it will be fine, you’re going to go running all year long- you’ll face the harsh truth that yes, it is too cold to run in -11 icy weather. NYC is awash in fitness options for every budget and body type. Make sure to do research and figure out what you’ll actually use. There are great services like ClassPass that allow you to try different classes at different studios every month.
  • Go to the park. Washington Square Park saved my life. Don’t discount what fresh air can do for you, even in the winter time when you least want to go outside.
  • Go to the restroom when one is available. Ladies, if you have to ask yourself “should I hold it or go now?” seriously, the answer is GO NOW.

Go on dates.

Uh, so, I haven’t figured this one out yet.
If anyone has any advice that doesn’t include Tinder, please privately email me about it.

As a side note, I did figure out some of the wine bars where investment bankers hang out, so if you want someone to offer you glasses of wine all night long just dress in a sexy skirt and high heels and go hang out there with some girlfriends on a Friday night.

Just kidding. Sort of. Basically, go have fun.

Develop a sense of humor.

Make jokes. Laugh. Be funny and seek funny. Surround yourself with people who make you laugh. Accept that nothing is so serious or urgent that you can’t take a little time and smile about it. Humor changed my life, and it will help you survive anything. Even moving to New York City.

Most of all, keep in touch with good friends and family. Life is short, and time passes quickly in NYC. Make time for the important people in your life. Don’t forget to be yourself. Be ready to throw advice out the door (including anything I just wrote above) if it doesn’t apply to you and your particular situation.

Even with all of the ups and downs, I find myself still madly in love with this city. Here’s to another year of living in the best city in the world.

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