I’m not sure there’s a city in the world that is as dynamic as New York City. With a population of 8.3 million, around 100 colleges/universities, and its status as the leading metropolitan gateway into the United States, it’s no surprise that so many transplants call New York City “home” each year. It’s also no surprise that for many of these new inhabitants, the City can be quite an adjustment, if not a complete shock to the system.
If you’re wondering why I was picked to write this post, it’s because I’m a transplant myself! Yes, I’ve had my fair share of “I can’t find it,” “What is that?” and “Does this train go there?” moments…and all with a less than appropriate amount of grace at times. I hail from Alabama, and arrived to NYC via St. Louis, Mumbai, Singapore City, and Hong Kong. I’ve moved around a lot over the past few years and I have to say that I saw similarities and parallels between many of the cities I lived in. None, however, compared to NYC. For me and plenty of others, there’s just really no other city like it.
While I don’t think even the most seasoned New Yorker could fully prepare a newcomer for the first few weeks in this crazy city, there are a few things that have helped me in the year that I’ve called New York home so far. Hopefully the following tips can help you as you get settled in, too!
1) New York is a walking town – rain or shine: Invest in some shoes that make your commute comfortable, no matter the weather. For me, good winter/rainy weather boots, some comfortable flats for commuting to/from work, and some tiny fold-up flats for nights out are essential!
2) But the trains are usually faster: Hopstop (www.hopstop.com) is like GoogleMaps for the subway. It quickly became something I checked every time I left my apartment or work to move to a new destination. Type in your starting and ending addresses, locales, or intersections, and whether you prefer to take public transportation or walk, and Hopstop quickly routes this for you. You’ll get step-by-step directions from your door to your place of destination, including which subway lines to take which directions, AND it accounts for any subway line changes that are otherwise unadvertised.
3) If you still can’t find it, taxis can be your friend: Learn how the taxis work. When a taxi is available for hire, the middle light (the numbers) will be the only section lit up. When it’s already carrying passengers, no lights will be lit up. When it’s off-duty, the numbers and the two smaller sections on either side will be lit up. You can typically only hail a cab that is available for hire, so skip all of the others and concentrate on spotting the one that will actually pick you up.
4) Prepare for the weather: A strong, solid umbrella also became crucial. NYC becomes an umbrella graveyard during a windy rainstorm; Inside-out and broken umbrellas will litter the streets after even a mild storm. I bought a bubble umbrella and can’t count the number of times I’ve tucked my friends up under it with me when their umbrellas refused to stay right-side out.
5) Almost ANYTHING can be delivered in NYC: Most stores and businesses know residents don’t have cars in which to carry big items, so will offer a delivery service at a nominal fee. This goes for furniture, appliances, dry-cleaning, groceries, etc. Do internet searches for the things that are important to have delivered, and you’ll probably find plenty of options.
6) But you’re still going to have to carry some things some times: Since most city-dwellers don’t have the ability to toss all of their belongings into a car, a comfortable-fitting bag is key for weekend errands and long days out in the city. I picked one that was big enough to fit my essentials, but not big enough to fit so much that my bag would become too heavy to carry.
7) Make an effort to find the hidden gems: Use www.yelp.com liberally to find interesting spots in the city, check out restaurants before you visit, and read reviews for hairdressers, dry cleaners, etc. The great thing about Yelp’s NYC version is that the vast amount of information available allows you to type in pretty much anything and get an array of choices sorted by location. Want a bar that hosts underground indie singers on weekdays? Want a coffee shop that’s located next door to a tucked-away book store? Yelp can help!
8) Know your local geography: For example, in Manhattan, 5th Avenue divides the city between the east and west sides. If you’re at 38th and 5th (between 5th and 6th), you’re on the west side. If you’re at 38th and 5th (between 5th and Madison), you’re on the east side. So don’t immediately panic if you’re supposed to be on the west side while you’re on Madison and seeing streets signs announcing you’re on the east side. Simply cross over 5th towards 6th, and you’re suddenly on the west side! For most parts of Manhattan, the street numbers increase as you move north, and the avenue numbers increase as you move west. I still get confused when the streets and avenues become names rather than numbers, but luckily, that’s not representative of the majority of Manhattan.
9) New York has something for everyone – get involved! Whatever you are into, what ever your passion, there is bound to be a group of people in New York who feel just like you do. Find them (Google and meetup.com are both fantastic places to start), get to know them, and get involved in the community. The people are what make New York great and you’ll be doing yourself a huge favor if you take the time and effort to become a part of the tapestry.
I hope these tips can help some of you newcomers! It was only a year ago that I moved to this city, and these are some things that have really stuck with me. People told me about some of them, and some I figured out myself along the way.
For every “new New Yorker,” there’s a point in time when you no longer feel like you’re on the outside looking in EVERY day. I knew I was making my way when people started stopping ME on the street to ask for directions or the nearest subway station. Since that was me not long ago, I smile and try to offer help in any way that I can.
So take comfort in the fact that you’re definitely not the only one hyperventilating because you’re on 42nd and 7th and need to be on the EAST side, attempting to hail off-duty cabs to GET you to the east side (ehh.. 2 blocks away), all the while struggling with an inside-out umbrella while water soaks through your tennis shoes. Before long, YOU’LL be the one tourists stop to ask “which way to Times Square?”