5 practical tips to get by in New York from a born and bred New Yorker

It’s raw. It’s real. It’s New York City. Definitely not for the faint of heart, this city can eat you up and spit you out. Whether you are here for a few days, or a few years, these are a few tips that can help you get by in the concrete jungle.

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My New York

I have spent about 24 years of my life in New York. That’s my whole life minus 4 years of undergrad life, and about 4 years of PhD life. There are ways that I know New York really well, and some ways that I’m only just starting to crack into.

For example, I’ve never lived on my own in New York. I’ve only ever lived at home. It’s been a great boon I know, but it’s time for me to strike out on my own. Starting this summer, I’ll be living nearby with friends in a nice apartment! More details to come soon.

But I also know New York in a way that only people who spent their childhood here would know it. I know New York in a way that only people who have lived here for decades would know it. It’s the pride of having your ‘hood.

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Getting by in New York, New York

Besides the baseline Maslow-type worries of paying your rent and feeding yourself, there are other challenges to staying or living in New York. Some of these you may not notice after a few days, but after a few weeks or months you may need to start paying attention to these. It’s a lot of little things. But the little things can add up!

1. Beware of dog (poop)

In lots neighborhoods, you’ll want to check the ground for dog poop as you are walking.

I’m not joking.

I would try to get a photo of it, but it’s kinda gross, ya know?

If you see someone let their dog poop, pretend they didn’t see it and walk away, grab them and shout “What is wrong with you!”

Of course, some neighborhoods will be worse than others. But even ones that you think are nice will have this problem. (Maybe people who despise the richer people walk their dogs on the nice streets and purposefully leave dog turds? Could be!)

Maybe next after this would be the people who let their dogs pee on your doorstep. There are some dog owners on my block that allow their dogs to pee on our front step to our building. We’re on the side of a hill, so it always trickles down across half of the area in front of the steps. Gah! People are the worst sometimes!

2. Have cash, will live

This is especially important if you are going to Chinatown to eat and shop. Most establishments are cash only, or cash preferably (meaning they may charge you more to use a card).

Also, for those who are not yet on the Venmo wagon like me (anyone?), splitting the cost of a meal with friends may be easier with cash.

Sometimes you will come across street performers who really entertain you, and for that you will need dollar bills. (But beware of scammers! See below.)

3. Be prepared for street harassment

OK, time to get real for a second. If you are a woman, you may get harassed on the street at some point. Living abroad the last 4 years, it was nice not to worry about catcalling in Singapore (or London) at all.

Steel yourself.

I read recently that the best strategy may be to agree with your complimenter.

I don’t get catcalled often, but I will try to remember this tip next time.

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4. Dinner plans for the win!

If you can make a reservation for dinner, do it.

Don’t be that person who shows up hoping to get a table but then has to wait an hour because it’s super busy. Yelp now has a function where you can book tables. There are also other methods that have been around for a while like Open Tables. Check the restaurant’s website before you go!

Of course there are places that are popular but don’t take reservations, in that case you can’t help it if there is a wait. Try to get there early, or at slightly off times just before major times (for example, 10:45 for brunch to beat the 11 AM rush!). Check the Google page for the restaurant to find out when are the busiest times for that restaurant. For dinner, it’ll most likely be around 8 PM. Go for lunch if you don’t want to wait during the dinner rush.

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5. Don’t give the fake homeless people money

Remember that cash I told you to keep on you? Well, don’t just give it out willy nilly.

There are lots of homeless people in New York City, possibly the most of any city I’ve been in. Some of these homeless people will ask for money on the subway trains. Some of these people are not really homeless.

By giving money to the people who aren’t really homeless (or even if they are), you are wasting your money and perpetuating the social structure that allows for this.

People are very creative when it comes to making up stories and scamming people in New York. Tourists especially are easy marks.

If you genuinely feel bad for someone, you can give them a dollar if you feel like it. If you think they might be faking, take a closer look at their clothes (especially shoes). Another way to gauge is how much they smell. If they really smell like urine and filth, they are probably not faking it.

Another option is to give them food. (Sidebar, my sister offered a banana to someone once and they declined it! Maybe he didn’t like bananas.)

Don’t feel obligated to give anyone any money, though. You don’t have to do it. Feeling bad about it all the time will wear you down mentally.

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Not as bad as you may think

There’s a reason why millions move to New York and never leave. But there are also people who do leave. Don’t be afraid to admit that it isn’t for you long term, but also give it a real chance!

As much as New York has a rep, it’s not a cold and heartless city.

It’s a learning process to thrive in New York. You constantly have to adapt, and being more aware will help with that.

It truly is the place where dreams are made of!

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5 tips for NY-min

  • Hi Chewy,

    Ah, you’re making me want to return! 🙂 I first visited in September 2000 and again in 2013. I was so young in 2000 that I don’t remember much from my first visit other than how difficult it was to get a bed in a youth hostel. I ended up sleeping on a mattress in the corridor of the hostel for a couple of nights – not something I’d do these days! 🙂

    What has changed the most for you over the years? Did you grow up in Brooklyn?

    • Hey Kati!!

      You should come back!! I know it’s a long way from where you are, but anyway, if you ever do, please let me know!! I don’t know that many hostels, but I do know there is a big one on the Upper West Side. Sounds like a terrifying but interesting experience to sleep on a mattress in a corridor!

      I grew up in Harlem in upper Manhattan. I think the things that have changed the most are the different stores and restaurants that are popping up here. I’m working on a post specifically about my neighborhood has changed, but in short, gentrification has made its mark around here and will only continue to do so.

      Hope you are doing well!!

      • Would love to come back at some stage! 🙂 The last time I was there we had a week but still, I feel like I saw nothing, such a big city with so much to see and do!

        Wasn’t so scary staying in the hostel. I was young, had no idea and was invincible back then, haha. 🙂 And at least I had somewhere to sleep indoors as compared to camping in a park. 🙂

        Looking forward to the post on how your neighbourhood has changed over the years, sounds interesting!!

        • I agree, a week in the city is too short!!!

          I wish I had some old photos of my neighborhood, but unfortunately I don’t. It hasn’t changed too much physically yet though, besides new restaurants. 🙂