City Guides

Here’s How I Survive Living in a City

I’ve been in New York City for three years now, but if you were to count the years I lived in Chicago, I’ve been a city slicker for almost eight years come September. That’s a lot of years to be away from a small beach town, which is the absolute polar opposite of living in a bustling city full of millions of people. 

kiersten hickman in new york with modern picnic luncher how to survive new york city

In those eight years, I’ve learned more survival skills than I thought I would learn. Like how you can’t leave a bag of trash outside of your apartment’s back door before walking down the three flights of stairs because the rats will find it quickly. Or how subways cars that are completely empty compared to other cars usually mean something is smelling up the whole car, and yes, sometimes to the city slickers delight (horror?) it’s freshly laid human feces. 

But it’s not all poop and rats. Sometimes it’s bottles of wine broken on the sidewalk whilst walking to a dinner party, or losing your subway car on the tracks. And if you’re especially lucky, it’s being delayed in a tunnel on a train for hours on end when it was supposed to be your turn to get the bagels for Bagel Thursday. And worse, the CEO was going to be there this time.

Yep, the city is as lovely as it sounds. Yet, somehow, our minds are twisted enough to think that living in a city is a beautiful thing. I do hate to admit it, but after eight years of dealing with all of the crap (pun literally intended), I’ll admit publicly on the Internet that I do really enjoy it. Living in a city opens up so many doors to new cultures, new people, new art, new career paths. You can do anything in a place like New York—if you have the money to do it, of course. And while my budget is small, and I live far enough into Brooklyn for rent to at least be half the price of the average Manhattan pad, I can safely say that I’m starting to like it. Even when I’m crying over a bottle of wine shattered outside of Barclays Center on a Thursday night.

With my years of experience living in a city, I have tricks up my sleeve that I have officially dubbed my Slicker Survival Skills. Here’s what I’ve learned about living in Chicago and New York, and how to survive living in a city if you plan on moving to one yourself.

reading a book in central park

Always carry a book with you

You never know if the train is going to be delayed or if you’re going to be stuck waiting for some appointment or some interview. Plus, if you have a longer commute like me, a book just makes it fly by. I love taking the train because it’s the “me” time that I get for reading. Seriously, I tell people I like my commute, simply because I have buyer time to read my book every day. Since living in NYC I’ve devoured almost 100 books (literally read 52 books in a year).

So even if the train’s delayed and I’m stuck waiting to get bagels for the entire company I work for, I at least can read and enjoy my book. 

Check the weather before you leave the apartment

There’s no car to block the sudden down pours that occur in the afternoon! And I promise you’re not going to want to snag an Uber or Lyft when it starts raining because the prices spike. Before leaving the apartment, make sure to check the weather for that day. If there’s even the slightest chance of rain, just pack a small umbrella in your bag. Or, if you’re lucky enough, forget the umbrella and just walk home in the pouring rain completely barefoot because you wore wedges like an absolute dumb-dumb.

sandals next to heart on the sidewalk in new york city

Wear appropriate shoes—or at least keep a pair at work

Speaking of shoes, wear shoes you are comfortable walking in. I sure would love to rock some heels on a regular basis, but with all of the walking and subway traveling I’m doing, it’s just not feasible. Get yourself some good quality shoes that you can actually walk in. Or, do the good ol’ travel to work in some sneakers and change your shoes at work. This is honestly what I do during those snowy days so I didn’t have to try and dress up my honker snow boots with my business casual.

Get your shoes repaired

I know I talk a lot about shoes in this, but walking is such a huge part of living in a city. If you’re going to walk all the time, you need to keep your shoes in good condition. Otherwise you’ll be spending money on shoes more often than you truly want to. Find somewhere you can get your shoes resoled or fixed, usually for a much cheaper price than buying a new pair. Plus, if you treat yourself to good quality shoes, they’re going to be worth bringing to someone.

how to survive living in a city buy some pizza

Don’t be afraid of $0.99 pizza

Guys, eat the dang pizza. I know we all are foodie snobs and want to eat at the best places, but I’m telling you right now, sometimes you just need to hit up the janky joints around the corner. I have found some of the most satisfying pizza slices at these generic $0.99 cent pizza joints in New York City. When we were in Chicago, I used to love going to Art of Pizza and literally getting a slice of deep dish for $3.50. It’s not the snobby places that are written about again and again by news outlets, but it will do when you forgot to bring your lunch or need something quick before heading somewhere for the evening.

Just say you’re sorry

You’re going to bump into someone, it’s inevitable. Even if you are extra cautious about bumping into people, someone will still bump into you and scream at you that it was all your fault and then push you down to the ground of the subway with two hands. So even if that person is, you know, wrong, save yourself and just apologize. It will make the ride pleasant for you, for them, and for everyone else staring at you.


Have any of you heard of Subway Creatures? Well, if you don’t feel like getting completely grossed out, it may not be best to follow. But if you are genuinely curious of who puts their bare naked butt on subway seats, or licks subway poles before getting off, this is your kind of Instagram to follow. 

Long story short, clean your hands as soon as you get somewhere, you have no idea who (or what) touched it. You don’t want to get sick with some kind of stomach virus or pink eye simply because you didn’t keep your hands clean. Or better yet, carry some hand sanitizer with you, just in case where you’re going has a bathroom with zero soap.

iced coffee shop sign outside of shop in brooklyn

Find a local watering hole

There’s so much unfamiliarity in huge cities like Chicago and New York. I have found it helpful to set a few watering holes close to the apartments I live in that I can always turn to when I simply want a drink. Right now, my husband and I like to go to 773 and get wings from Buffalo’s Famous. We also love the Ox Tavern around the corner, and if we’re up for the walk, we’ll head to Hinterlands near our old studio. 

It’s just nice to recognize a familiar face behind the bar, have a drink order you know (alcohol or coffee), and a place you genuinely feel comfortable with. If I’m being honest, this is probably my key points in how to survive living in a city.

Keep some nights open

Don’t burn yourself out! Seriously, the city isn’t going anywhere, and you have time to explore. Give yourself time to rest, say no to things, even when it’s really hard. But hey, you’re going to spend less money by not going out all the time, and you can even make some healthier meals at home. It saves you the budget capacity to do other fun things, especially if you’re looking for ways to save extra money.

black and white cookie in central park

Take a day to yourself

This is probably one of my most favorite things to do since moving to a city. Every now and then, I like to plan out a day to completely be by myself in the city. Sometimes I even take vacation days, or dedicate my Summer Fridays, to this endeavor. I’ll set some places to explore—museums, coffee shops, parks—and simply have a day to myself. It’s fun to go to the places I’ve been wanting to go to, and simply reaping the benefits of working hard in such a challenging place to live. Last year, I even documented a video about my day.

I admit, my days of solace in the city are the true reason why I deal with the rats, the feces, and even the screaming lady who pushes me down in a subway car. It’s in these moments that I become one of those suckers that say things like “New York City is magical” or “this city has a heartbeat” or “I honestly don’t think I ever want to leave.” 

I feel like I could go on and on with all of the lessons I’ve learned on how to survive living in a city, but for now, I’ll leave you with this: Be kind to yourself. 

Don’t beat yourself up if you physically can’t handle it all. Say no sometimes. Rest. Don’t blow all of your money. Say kind words to yourself in the mirror every morning before you go to work, stuff like “you’ve got this” and “you are a responsible young woman who will not lose her MTA card today.” Living in a city is tough enough. The last thing you need is to be tough on yourself, too.

Have more questions about how to survive living in a city? Click here and shoot me an email! I’d love to answer anything you’re wondering about taking the leap.

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