50 Tips for Surviving Your First Year in NYC

Posted May 14, 2017 by Elena in New York City / 0 Comments

I celebrated my one-year anniversary of moving to New York City on April 29, 2017, and all I can say is holy s**t, that was the fastest year of my life. I’ve never learned so much in such a short amount of time – so much so that I decided to compile all of it into a monster list of 50 tips for this blog. Enjoy!

Click to jump:

The Move
Getting Around
Food Shopping
Meeting People
Things to Do
Spring & Summer
Fall & Winter
Must-Have Purchases


receipts, laptop

If you’re relocating for a specific job you’ve accepted, keep your receipts for all of your moving expenses. Your employer may reimburse you for these expenses, but if not, you can write them off on your taxes.

Use Facebook groups to find an apartment. Gypsy Housing is a cool group for finding affordable places, primarily in Brooklyn. It’s mostly sublets, so keep that in mind if you’re looking to get your own place or sign a lease. 

Avoid sleeping on the floor your first night by having your mattress delivered. I have a Casper mattress, and have been very happy with the product and customer service. You can choose a delivery window, so schedule it to arrive just before you do. You can also pay for it in installments. There are several other “sleep startups” who follow a similar business model – mattress ships in a compact box, free returns after 100 days, etc. Add a mattress frame with under-bed storage, and you’ve got a bed!

Order furniture online that’s able to be assembled. It’s much easier than finding and transporting assembled furniture into your unit. Good old Ikea is a safe choice, as is Amazon Prime.

Bring as much with you as possible on the plane, and ship the rest. Stuff all the luggage you own with your clothes and essential items that you’ll need immediately, and ship the less urgent items. The $20 per checked bag fee is less than shipping the items.


easypayxpress, metro card

Consider getting an unlimited Metro Card rather than paying per ride. A monthly unlimited card costs $121, which may sound like a lot, but it pays for itself in 47 rides. So if you take more than 47 subway rides a month, go for the monthly unlimited.

If you’re all about convenience, get the EasyPayXpress card, which automatically refills itself every month. You have to order it online and wait about a week for it to arrive in the mail, but you’ll never wait in line to buy a new card again.

Google/Apple Maps are your friend. Both now have public transit directions, and they’re easy to follow.

Use Uber sparingly, but if you do, use Uber Pool. Uber is pricier in New York than it is in other cities. Uber Pool will cost you a little less, and there are often special promotions running. You can also chat and make friends with your fellow riders!

Cabs are best reserved for emergencies or inclement weather. I’m a subway girl, but if you can afford it and don’t mind getting stuck in traffic, by all means take cabs. Otherwise, they’re best for when you need a ride immediately, like when you’re running late for a job interview or it’s pouring rain and you have no umbrella.

Follow @NYCTSubway on Twitter. They post 24/7, up-to-the-minute updates on subway service changes. Also, if you tweet a question at them, they actually respond! It may not be right away, but it’s impressive considering the volume of tweets they receive.


Get used to buying less groceries at a time, but more frequently. One of the most common questions New Yorkers get asked by non-residents is “How do you do your grocery shopping?” For the 56% of us who don’t own a car, the answer is you only buy what you can carry. Unless you’re The Hulk, that translates to buying less groceries more often.

grocery basket

Use a basket instead of a shopping cart. It will keep you from buying more than you can carry. 

amazon fresh

Consider having your groceries delivered. It may be a little pricier, but 1) it saves you loads of time and hassle, 2) you can order more at a time because there’s no need to carry it home, and 3) you can see your total before checking out, allowing you to budget better. FreshDirect, Peapod, Amazon Fresh and Instacart are popular options.


When in doubt, wear black. Want to dress like a New Yorker? Wear black. A lot. I’m not saying you should look like you’re headed to a funeral every day, but a good hard-and-fast New York style rule is that you can never wear too much black. Even in the summer! It’s a slimming color and it matches with everything, so why the hell not?

It’s not so much about what you wear, but how you style it. The simplest, most basic items from H&M, Zara or Topshop can be turned into a stylish outfit when they’re worn in the right combination and well-accessorized.  

Go thrifting – but don’t expect it to be dirt cheap. You can find some pretty amazing designer items from thrift shops in expensive neighborhoods, but don’t be surprised if it’s more than you’re used to paying at a secondhand store. It’s still a bargain by New York standards. Plus vintage never goes out of style. 


purse items
Image via Flickr

Get in the habit of packing for the whole day. Depending on where you live in relation to where you work, it can be difficult and time-consuming to go home after work and then head back out. It’s much more efficient to go straight from work to wherever you’re headed next.

When you leave your apartment in the morning, make sure you’re packed for the day, which may mean bringing snacks, workout clothes, evening clothes, makeup, medications, etc. A phone charger or any other power cords you might need for your devices is also a must. Even if you don’t have any after-work plans, you never know when something will pop up.

cash, currency, money, US dollars

Always carry cash. Repeat after me: always.carry.cash. A lot of bodegas, small delis that sell food, booze and essentials, do not accept cards or require a minimum purchase of around $10 to use one. Same goes for food carts, bars, some restaurants and other small establishments. There’s nothing worse than having to buy random stuff to meet the credit card minimum when all you need is a toothbrush.

food cart, new york food cart, new york street cart, hot dog stand
Image via Flickr

Don’t be afraid to eat food from a cart. Transplants are sometimes leery of New York food carts, but it’s cheap, fast, delicious and, yes, completely safe and hygienic food. It’s one of the best ways to get acquainted with New York’s food culture.

Meeting people

Don’t be shy about the fact that you’re new to the city. When the subject comes up, mention your status as a new transplant. It may get annoying to you, but it’s a great conversation starter. In my experience, people love to chat about how you’re liking it so far and give you tips and recommendations. 

The wonderful Pac-12 Alumni Group after softball in Central Park.

Get involved with your local alumni group. If your alma matter has a strong alumni network, see if there is an NYC-area group. Mine holds happy hours and game viewing parties year round, plus pickup sports leagues in the summer.

Use dating apps. Be sure to put in your bio that you’re new to New York. Even if you’re not looking for anything serious, going on dates is a fun way to explore the city and discover new spots. 

wine tasting

Join groups and attend events focused on things that interest you. Think book clubs, political discussions, cooking classes, wine tastings, etc. Eventually you’ll start running into familiar faces.

Join a sports league. These are a big deal in New York. NYC Social and Zog Sports are two popular ones.

Finnerty’s in the East Village, a local gathering place for Bay Area sports fans to watch their teams.

Cheer on your home team. Find out if there’s a bar where fans of your home team like to hang out to watch the games. Mine even hosts organized bus trips to games whenever the San Francisco Giants (my team!) are playing the Yankees or Mets.


time out new york, gothamist

Follow local publications to find things to do. My favorites are Time Out New York and Gothamist. They share local news as well as the latest events and attractions. Follow them on Facebook or Twitter, if you’re into that, or subscribe to their newsletters. Follow your local neighborhood publications, too!

Browse the Events tab on Facebook. I know Facebook is considered out of style by us millennials, but other platforms aren’t exactly known for their event promotion capabilities. Keep an eye out in your newsfeed for events your NY friends and acquaintances are attending, or just go directly to the Events tab for suggested events near you.


sheep's meadow, central park
Sheep’s Meadow in Central Park, a popular spot when the weather is nice

Prepare to be much busier socially and recreationally when the weather gets warm. New York comes alive in spring and summer. If you’re like me and you moved from a consistently warm part of California, it’s a phenomenon you’ve probably never witnessed before. That’s because other cities have something called “seasons”.

New Yorkers cherish the warm, sunny weather, and they take advantage by cramming as much activity as possible into spring and summer. Be prepared for lots of rooftops, outdoor happy hours, picnics, sports, barbecues, beach days and weekend getaways. 

If you’re a mosquito magnet, use bug repellant. My first summer here, I consistently had anywhere from 5 to 20 mosquito bites all over my body at a time. I had never been bitten so much by mosquitos before in my life. I know, bug repellant doesn’t smell great and it’s not sexy, but neither is being covered in red welts all summer.

rockaway beach

See if your employer offers Summer Fridays. If they do, take advantage! Many New York-based companies offer what are called Summer Fridays, where employees can take a half day on Fridays between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

If you’re blessed with this glorious privilege, resist the urge to go home and take a nap with the AC blasting. Lounge on the grass in Central Park, go for a run, shop at the farmer’s market or hit the beach. If you’re heading out of town, get on the road early and beat the rest of the weekender crowd. 

Carry your makeup with you. There’s a good chance it’ll melt off your face before you even get to the subway station. It’s gross, but it’s true.


(See Must-Have Purchases for recommended winter gear.)

bow bridge, central park, fall

Visit Central Park in fall, when it’s at the peak of its beauty. “I recall, Central Park in fall…”

hygge, cozy

Get your hygge on. Hygge is a Danish word and concept that translates roughly to “coziness”, with a focus on comfort, connection with others and taking pleasure in the little things. It took off in the United States in 2016, quickly becoming a buzzword and trendy lifestyle movement.

Ways of practicing hygge include having friends over during a snowstorm, drinking warm beverages by the fire, wearing comfy socks, taking a break from technology, treating yourself with sweets, lighting candles and taking plenty of breaks. It’s a fun way to maintain your physical and mental health in the dead of winter.

hat, scarf, snow

Focus on protecting your head, ears, back of neck, and feet. If any of these parts of your body aren’t warm enough, your whole body can feel cold. Make sure you’re wearing a hat that partially or fully covers your ears, scarves for your neck, and warm socks and boots. 

You can never have too many hats and scarves. You can wear the same sweater and pants for a week straight, but change up your hats and scarves and it’s like a new outfit every day. 


If possible, find a gym that has overnight lockers. It’s a huge advantage over having to lug your gym stuff with you on the subway to work. Even if the gym doesn’t publicly say that they offer it, ask a staff member if it’s allowed.

bryant park yoga, free yoga class

Attend free or donation-based yoga classes. There are a ton of them throughout the city all year round. Google “NYC free yoga classes” and see what’s offered near you. The free classes held from May to September at Bryant Park are a local favorite.

Take advantage of a program that rewards you for meeting daily step goals. You walk A LOT in New York. Why not get paid for it? These programs reward you with money or gift cards whenever you hit a step goal, like 10,000 steps in a day. The one I use, which comes with my Oscar health insurance plan, gives you $1 towards an Amazon gift card each time you meet a step goal, and you can cash out when you hit $20. Your employer or health insurance provider may have one, and the Fitbit has a bunch


no is a complete sentence

Learn how to say no. New York is a work hard, play hard city. Especially in spring and summer, don’t be surprised if you’re invited to parties, events and happy hours every single day of the week. If you say yes to everything, you will get burnt out. A lot of it will involve alcohol, which will eventually take a toll on your sleep, bank account and waistline.

You don’t have to go to every event, and even if you do, you don’t have to drink at all of them! Learn to say no when you need to, whether that means you stay home completely, show up for a little bit or forgo the booze for a night. There will always be another happy hour.


Have a sanctuary. New York is busy, crowded and noisy. Just because your apartment is tiny doesn’t mean it can’t be your sanctuary. Do your best to make it feel welcoming, serene and comfortable. It should be your escape and a place where you want to spend time.

Go easy on the social media. There is so much to do in New York, and if you scroll through Instagram too much, you can easily get a bad case of FOMO. Sure, most of us know that no one really lives the life they claim to live on social media, but it can still make you feel pressured to be out and about and live a perfect yuppie life 24/7. Experience the city in your own way and at your own pace. Don’t let social media dictate that for you. 


productive commute
Image via Flickr

Have a productive commute. Taking public transportation frees up your hands (or at least one of them) and attention. Take advantage by having a productive commute. That means different things to different people, so don’t be afraid to define “productivity” for yourself. Some ideas:

  • Read books. This one is obvious, but know that you can get a lot of reading done on the subway. I do two books at a time: one that I read during my morning commute, and one for my commute home. See my Reads page for recommendations!
  • Read articles. Do you tend to bookmark articles to read and then never end up reading them? Read them on the subway! I like the Pocket app for saving articles. It has a browser plugin you can install to easily bookmark pages, and a smartphone app where you can access and read your saved articles.
  • Sleep. Who says sleep isn’t a productive activity? It may be the city that never sleeps, but New Yorkers definitely sleep on the subway. 
  • Do your makeup. It may take a little practice, but in no time you’ll be a pro at it.
  • Write. If your train is crowded and pen and paper isn’t practical, write on a tablet or your phone. 
  • Brainstorm. Some of my best ideas come to me while I’m riding the subway.


mophie, battery case

External phone battery or charger case. Big cities are battery killers. You’ll be using your phone on the train, to Google Map which public transit route to take or find that restaurant that doesn’t have a sign, to Instagram your morning bagel, Snapchat the Showtime Kids on the subway or angrily tweet at the MTA. Your phone battery will eventually tap out and say “no more!”, and it may not even be your lunch hour yet. I highly recommend the Mophie case. It’s compact, gives you twice as much battery life and protects your phone while at it.

sperry, winter boots, duck boots

Duck boots. The famous L.L. Bean duck boots are highly sought-after, but they tend to go out of stock. If you’re dead-set on having these ones, order them well before the cold weather sets in. Sperry makes comparable ones, as well as similar ones in different styles. Go for the ones with Thinsulate™ insulation, a special material made by 3M that keeps your feat extra toasty in the snow. Sorel also makes quality winter boots that are a bit more stylish and feminine. 

Hunter wellies. I’m such a dork for these shoes that I actually get excited for it to rain, because it means I get to wear them. The socks that accompany them are also a must-have, not to mention cute AF.

The boots are made in European sizes, so it can take a few tries to find the right fit and style. Because of this, if you’re buying them online, make sure it’s from Nordstrom, Zappos or another outlet that offers free return shipping.

I recommend going one size up so you have room for the Hunter socks. If you find that the calves are a bit snug, get the adjustable calf ones, which I personally own. Kelly in the City has a fantastic guide to buying Hunters, which I used to find my perfect pair. 

uniqlo heattech

Uniqlo HEATTECH basics. If you’re someone like me who’s always cold, this line will change your LIFE. It uses a special material that uses your body’s moisture to create and trap warmth. Get the basics, like camisoles, long-sleeve shirts, socks, hats, gloves and scarves, and absolutely get the leggings and tights. They’re thin enough to wear under jeans or even a pair of really stretchy yoga pants. 

kindle, e-reader

Kindle or other e-reader. If you’re loyal to physical books or don’t like reading from a screen, I get it. You do you. If not, you can’t beat the portability and small size of an e-reader for reading during your commute.

tote bag, h&m, shopper bag

Large tote bag. I mentioned that you should learn to pack for the whole day, which requires a tote bag to fit everything. H&M has a great line of Shopper bags that are inexpensive and fit a TON of stuff.

h&m parka

Jackets and coats for different temperature ranges. I have three jackets I wear throughout most of the winter: one for sorta cold days (40-50 degrees) (I love this one from Uniqlo, or anything from their Ultra Light Down collection), one for pretty cold days (30-40 degrees) (this amazing parka from H&M is only $60 and even kept me warm through snowstorms!), and one for “holy s**t it’s cold” days (0-30 degrees) (I have a North Face one, but check out this guide from Time Out New York).

To be suitable for the snow, make sure your jacket is long, waterproof and has a hood. It also doesn’t hurt to go a size up so you can layer up underneath it. 

clothing rack, ikea, mulig

Clothing rack. I guarantee you that your tiny New York closet won’t fit all of your clothes, no matter how many storage-maximizing contraptions you use. I have the MULIG clothes rack from Ikea, which is only $10, sturdy and easy to assemble.

This list is by no means comprehensive, and I still have a lot to learn about New York living. If you have other tips I didn’t mention in this blog, share them in the comments below!

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