Whenever we go to a new place for a longer duration, the first thing we want to do upon arrival is to settle down quickly in that city. We are excited to meet new people, see new places, experience new adventures, learn new things and we are in a hurry to do almost everything in our first few days. Along with being super excited, we are also a bit nervous because we need to figure out a lot of things, like housing, travel, budgeting, work, food, bank account, new workplace, new people etc.
Now in this situation, where we are excited and nervous at the same time, we do some stupid mistakes like hurrying the process to settle down and rushing through the breaking ice period. The result of which is, we end up making a lot of wrong decisions and regret them 1 month after, for example:
- A better housing deal that we could not take because we signed the lease for 6 months.
- Spent too much money in the initial days.
- Got the wrong internet & mobile connection.
- Have been taking the wrong commute way for work.
- Bought a useless commute card which could have been skipped etc.
There can be a big list of things that we could have avoided, done differently or at least would have taken more time before finalizing, if only, we knew the drill or there was someone to guide us well.
Why do we rush to settle down?
We rush through things because we are in a new place, in a new environment and we want to feel at home, feel the sense of safety and familiarity, so in order to to do that, we end up finalizing things and taking fast decision. We think once the major things like house, transportation, mobile etc. are sorted than we are sorted as well but we do not realize all these important things need more attention and time then we devote finalizing them. We tend to not think, nor take our time to look at different options, which is a big mistake especially in a new place.
Solution to not feel bad after 1 month – There is someone to guide you 🙂
Now, here is how you can reduce your frustration and make the most out of your breaking Ice period in a new place.
- Do not rush things, take your time, take it slow, observe, explore, understand and note down your points.
- Relax and enjoy the new things rather than finalizing the most important things immediately.
- Research – do it online, talk to people, find out as much as you can about a topic before finalizing anything around it.
- Take advice from the points that I have broken down for you for “what we call settling down”.
1. Housing – If you have already fixed the housing before your arrival, good for you! But if you have not done that, then don’t worry and no need to hurry. You have to start with weighing all the points starting from the distance from the work place, mode of transportation you want to use, money spent on commute, your budget for housing, nearby grocery stores for shopping, safety of the neighborhood etc. Once you have weighed all the points, you will be able to look for the house in your budget, in your desired neighborhood and you would know how far it is from your workplace and what method of commute is most economical for you. For instance, my house is 2.1 miles away from my office and I have a bus that stops right outside my house, which is super convenient for me, my house is in my budget, the neighborhood is good and I have good grocery stores around me, so overall I am good.
In order to do the above, you will have to sit down and do your research, weigh all your options and it will take time, so you can’t do this quickly and it will require you to put in some amount of effort. You have to start talking to local people, other senior fellows and your colleagues who have been here for a while and they will help you along with other resources online. See below:
- Craigslist: According to me, craigslist is the best place to find rooms in our budgets, it is a little annoying as there are a lot of fake ads but you have to be persistent, filter the ads, contact the person and keep looking for a room. It will take some time but you will find what you are looking for soon. http://www.craigslist.org/
- Google Maps: Use google maps to figure out how far is your housing option from your work place, you can also see if you have some good grocery stores around you. https://www.google.com/maps
- Local People: Talk to local people and other senior fellows and get to know more about the neighborhood’s safety and best transportation means etc. You can talk to your colleagues and spread the news about you looking for a house and they will also help you find a good place. You can start talking to people before you arrive and start your online research from home, it will save you time.
My personal Recommendation – You can easily find a decent room in DC (Not Virginia or Maryland) between 650 – 800 USD. You just have to look, research hard, be patient and talk to other people you know. On Craig list, there are a lot of Ads for good rooms but they get occupied quickly so you have to be fast and on the look out always.
2. Transportation – DC has a very good transportation system, it has metro trains, metro buses, taxis, cabs and almost everything is accessible by public transportation.
- Metro – Metro Trains and Buses go almost everywhere in DC. You can decide whether you want to take a bus or a train to your work place based on the distance from your house. Sometimes, you will have to use both, a metro train and a bus to get somewhere. In general the buses are cheaper by 50 Cents but they are much slower for longer distances. You will get a Metro Card as soon as you arrive in DC by Atlas Corps, keep it nicely as you will be using it regularly, it works for both buses and train. In case you loose it, you can buy another one, It costs 10 USD for 8 USD value (2 USD is charged for the price of the Card), it is a rechargeable card, and you can keep putting more credit as you run out. You can also register the card online on the official website and the benefit of registering the card online is, in case you lose the card and you had money on it, you can get another card with the balance money on it. There are also weekly bus passes (valid for only metro bus) for 17 USD with unlimited rides, it’s good for people who use buses regularly. DC Metro official Website – for more information – http://www.wmata.com/
- TAXI & CAB – Other means of transport – In case you are in a hurry or its late night you always have taxi services available, the best ones I will recommend are Uber (https://www.uber.com/) and Lyft (https://www.lyft.com/) , they are mobile application for cabs which are used the most in DC.
- Walking or Biking – If you are more sporty, like to take care of your health and your distance from your work place is within few miles, I would suggest you can walk for really small distances or you can also do biking in DC. DC is very bike friendly and you save a lot of money on transportation via bike and keep fit at the same time. There are two options for biking: 1.Buy a Bike – You can either buy a new or used bike. The cost of used bike would be between 50 to 200 USD depending on the kind & condition of the bike. Craigslist is the biggest resource for buying used bikes online or there are also shops in DC for used bikes. For new bike, you can go to Walmart where you can buy the cheapest bike, the range will be between 100 – 500 USD. There are other bike stores as well in DC where you will find very good bikes but they are expensive and the prices will start from 300 to 3000 USD. I recently bought a new bike from Walmart on Black Friday and it cost me just 60 USD ( yes, I am not lying ) and I am saving a lot of money on transportation now, plus I am in love with biking because it makes me workout without having to find time for it. 2. DC Capital bike Share – One of the many nice things in DC is the bike share but this is more for tourists, I don’t really recommend it for fellows as it might be inconvenient and does not give you the freedom of time because you can take the bike only for 30 min. than you have to put it back to the stand before using it again etc. You can read more about bike share here: https://www.capitalbikeshare.com/
- DC street System – DC follows a very easy system for finding directions on streets, you can learn how the system of street numbering and alphabets works, it will be taught to you in the orientation, so do not worry. If you want to learn more on that, here are some resources: 1. http://wikitravel.org/en/Washington,_D.C 2. http://www.thenowpass.com/2010/09/how-to-learn-the-streets-of-washington-dc-like-a-local/
- Google Maps For Directions – And if you are not good with direction than use google maps to figure out where you have to go and which is the fastest way to get it via train, bus, car,biking or walking. Google maps is going to be the most important app you will use throughout your stay here.
My personal Recommendation – One should get a bike if your distance from work place is under 6 miles. It is the best and for the people who cannot bike, second best is the bus and train metro with the smart trip card and always charge your phone so you can use google maps to find your destinations because you can never get lost with google maps.
3. Food – Food is the one of the most important things because it can really affect your health and budget if not taken care of properly. The minimum price of any meal in DC is 6 USD and on an average, a decent meal will cost you between 8 to 14 USD. I will give you the example of some of the cheapest places, you can get a sub in a subway for 6 USD and you can have a meal in Mc Donald’s for 7.50 USD. You will be eating out a lot in your initial days, including breakfast, lunch and dinner and It will make your budget a little crazy. For example, if you spend 8 USD per meal, 24 USD on an average for a day which makes it 720 a month which is a lot of money. Now, I am not saying you will be spending this money on food, but you will end up spending around 400 USD easily, also remember we have not added the cost of drinks, bars, going out to nice places which would be on a weekly or biweekly basis. Here is how to work this out.
- Breakfast – Most Hostel, in case you are staying in a hostel will provide good Breakfast, wake up early and go for it and do not miss it. If you are not at a hostel and staying with a friend or fellow. I would suggest you quickly take a trip to either of the grocery stores – SAFEWAY, WALLMART or GIANT and buy basics like bread, milk, butter, cheese, muesli, eggs, sausage, meat slices, tomatoes, banana and other fruit based on what you like. It makes good, healthy breakfast and for a week it will only cost you less than 30 USD. You anyways will start buying all this for breakfast so might as well start early here. This is a place where you can and should start early.
- Lunch and Dinner – People who can cook – Well, you can just go to the grocery stores – SAFEWAY, WALMART or GIANT and buy your weekly grocery for less than 60 USD and enjoy the rest of the week. I cook almost every day, both lunch and Dinner and it works the best for me, I am healthy and I save on a lot of money, off course there are 3 – 4 times in a week that I eat out when I go out with friends and that is okay. The whole point is to not eat out every day when you are on a tight budget. People who cannot cook – we all understand that not everyone can cook or wants to cook every day. For you guys, I would suggest buy some ready food which is easy to make and you can find them in the mentioned stores or learn how to make quick recipes like boiled chicken/other meat, veggie, sandwiches, noodles, pasta, salad etc. else you will be spending a lot of money eating out.
- Common Mistakes – While buying food in a grocery store, often young people buy the cheapest option possible or sometimes even cut down on essential food and nutrients which should not be done at all. Try to make your list filled with healthy stuff instead of cheap. I would suggest buying the food of good quality even if you have to pay a dollar or two extra. At the end of the purchase buying quality food will make a difference of just 8-12 USD, that’s it.
My personal Recommendation – Living in DC on a tight budget taught me how to be super healthy and cook healthy food in 20 mins as I cook twice a day. I can share what I do with you all, individually if anyone is interested at all. But I suggest buy good food, fruits and meat and cook at home and stay healthy.
4. Mobile Connection – Try not to buy something immediately as soon as you land. First figure out what purpose will you use your connection for? To make only National Calls and text messages or you want to be able to call back to your home country? How much Data do you want for internet? What is your monthly budget for Mobile connection? Now after you have figure out all the above, you are ready to look at different service providers and compare them in order to buy the best suited plan for yourself. For Fellows in DC – the best ones are:
- T mobile family plan – Most fellows share this plan in which one needs to be in a group of 5 people and get a family connection for around 32 – 38 USD per month with unlimited national calls and messages, which is a good deal and good amount of data for internet. A lot of fellows take this option.
- T mobile Individual plan – If you do not want to be part of any family plan then you can also go for individual T mobile plans which is minimum 40 USD per month with unlimited national calls and messages and some data for internet usage.
- Other connection – There are other connections like Verizon, cricket, Sprint, AT&T etc. but most of them are more expensive and I do not have much experience with them. You are more than welcome to go and check out their plans and see if something suits you there.
- Lycamobile – This is the cheapest connection I know in DC starting form 19 USD per month with unlimited national calls and messages and with little data for internet usage. They have various plans at 26 USD per month, 29 USD per month, 39 USD per month, where you can have free national calling and unlimited calling in 90 + countries plus different amount of data for internet. Here is the website – http://www.lycamobile.us/en/. I have been using Lycamobile with a 29 USD plan and I get 500 MB data usage, unlimited national calls and messages and unlimited free calling to 56 countries including my home country India, so I love this plan and it works the best for me.
- Important Note – All houses and workplaces have Wi-Fi internet, so you do not need a lot of internet data, you only need it when you are on road, commuting from one place to another. Do keep this in mind while selecting your plan.
My personal Recommendation – For people who do not want to spend a lot of money and want a decent service provider without being in any family plans and other hassles should go for Lycamobile. You have to order it online, the sim will come to you in 3-4 days and it is very easy to recharge online and so far I did not come across any problem plus it has free international calling in a lot of countries. Some people including myself thought, this service is too good to be true but well, it works and is credible.
5. Budgeting – Budgeting is very important and is a key to make your overall experience a great one. Lots of people have problems in budgeting and keeping a track on how much expenditure they are making. I think the first thing one should do at a new place is to make a basic budget and try to stick to it. It is really easy and all you need is a pen and a notebook or a notepad in your mobile phone (I know there are a lot of budgeting apps but I am trying to be very simple here). In the initial months, when you do not know how much money you are going to spend, you should make a tracker and track your expense. Yes, you only have to track your expense done on a per day basis. If you do that, you will be successful in taking the first step towards budgeting. Second step is, always keep 200-300 USD aside from your monthly income which means you take that amount out and you cannot spend anything from that money. This money will later on serve for you in the times of hunger and emergency 🙂
My personal Recommendation – This is what I do, when I get my monthly stipend which is 1430 USD, I first take out 200-300 USD and keep it aside for emergency/hunger times. Then the actual budget left for expenditure is 1200 USD from which I need to pay rent, food, transportation, mobile and other things. So I keep making a note of everyday expenditure and see which days I spend more and why and this way I know that the coming week I need to look at what I spend as I have only 150 USD left for next 10 days. I have also broken the basic cost for you from my actual budget:
- Emergency money – 250 USD per month (Not to be touched unless hunger time comes or an emergency)
- Accommodation – 690 USD monthly including utility bills
- Transportation – 120 USD monthly on metro [20 USD per week (Just going and coming back from your work place) and 10 USD per weekend] as on weekends you end up spending more if you travel to do sight seeing . Just a note, Last month I spent only 60 USD on Metro as I bought a bike and it saved me a lot of money.
- Food – 240 USD monthly on grocery (60 USD weekly) (240 is the maximum – it is always less than that)
- Mobile – 29 USD per month
Total of all the above is 1329 and I am left with 100 USD which I use for other necessary stuff and I have 250 USD which is my emergency money . I use the 250 USD emergency money sometimes for buying necessary stuff if i run out of money or if their is emergency but most of the times, it serves me in my last week of the month and in some months I am able to save a little and carry it forward to the next month.
Disclaimer **—— The budget broken above is minimum expenditure, not average and definitely not maximum. Our stipend is very little and it just covers basics which is food, accommodation, transportation to our work in most cases and a little for other stuff. So, please have the right expectation in your mind while coming that it will be very tough to fit in all our basic expenditure from the stipend, so be ready for some tough economic times of your life. The budget I broke down above is my personal budget based on my personal needs and I am someone who is very good at saving and at finance, I can even save a little if you give me just 500 USD, that is just a skill I have but it is not applicable to everyone. Everyone has a different budget, expenditure and needs. I have given you my example just to give you an idea on how I live and do my budget and may be some people might find it useful.
Please keep your needs in mind while making your budget, it is not going to be same as mine, it might be less than mine or more than mine, but it will completely depend on your needs and way you spend.
6. Bank Account – As soon as you arrive, you will need to set up a bank account and Atlas Corps will help you set it up, you do not have to worry about that at all, just follow the instructions carefully,carry all the necessary documents that they ask you to and it will be done. You will be given the option of opening 2 accounts, makes sure you open 2 accounts, one is current account and another one is savings account. Although, you always have the access to the money in both the accounts and you can withdraw from any account at any time but getting these 2 accounts just makes it easier for you to divide some money and save a bit in the savings account.
7. Preparation before coming here – If you are coming to DC for more than a year than there is a little preparation you could do back home which will make your first months easier here without a lot of expenditure. For example:
- Cold Weather – DC gets very cold, so please buy a good very warm jacket which works in negative temperature (its called a down jacket – look it up online and do your research). Apart from a good warm jacket you need sweaters to layer up and warm leggings, socks, scarf,caps and gloves. Basically anything to protect you from cold. You also need boots for snow. You will not have to spend money in the US, if you can bring those things from home. Keep one important thing in mind while buying those stuff which is, you need to spend money on buying good quality stuff to protect you from cold so do not go for cheap gloves, socks, jackets etc because the winter stuff that works in your country for 10 degree will not work here in negative temperature.
- Rainy weather – It rains a lot in DC, so you need to bring a good raincoat / windcheater which works well in rainy and windy weather. Also you need an umbrella and rain boots.
- Stationary – It is super expensive to buy stationary in US, if you are creative and like working with different pens, sketch pens, pencils & colors etc. please bring your basic requirements from home.
- Medicines – If you have some prescriptions that you need to take, kindly ensure you buy all of them in the quantities you would need throughout the year. as you might not get the same tablets here. Also keep your first aid kit handy with you at all times.
- Glasses/Lens – It is expensive to buy glasses in the US so bring 2 extra pairs from home and if you use lens than bring your stock from home for the entire duration.
My personal Recommendation – If you buy all the above mentioned things from home, it will be good for you as you will not have the burden of buying it while you are here in a tight budget. But as you know U.S. is Consumer driven economy and you can find good stuff, so if you want then you can bring the money and buy them here. What I personally did was I brought in the basics for cold and rainy weather and I bought some more stuff here for really cold weather.
8. Shopping Stores – We are always very excited in a new place and we want to do new things and off course buy new things. Even though we are on a tight budget, we still will always find money to buy things, some necessary and some not so necessary. Below are the basic stores to go for:
- Target & Walmart – Super markets which have all the things, one stop stores
- Macy’s, Nordstrom – More for clothes and housing and you get all nice brands here ( go at the times of discounts/sale)
- Marshalls, TJ Max, Burlington coat Factory – These are mostly clothing store where you get all the custom branded stuff for cheaper prices.
- Giant, Walmart, Safeway, Trader’s Joe – You can buy all your grocery from here
- DSW, Macy’s, Nordstrom rack – Buy your shoes here.
- CVS – Pharmacy
- Brand stores – The brands you like, you have them all – Zara, gap, Levis, H & M etc.
There are a lot of other regular, stores thrift stores, second hand stores for used items etc. but according to my experience you will mostly be using the above and it will be enough. All these stores are big chains available in mostly all neighborhoods.
My personal Recommendation – For buying stuff like clothes and shoes etc. wait for discounts and sales, major discount happen at the time of thanks giving (3rd week of November), Christmas times and New Year times.Also most store will be on sale all-round the year, so keep on a look out. Shopping is very subjective in the end, its one’s own style and liking towards a brand so one has to choose from what they like.
9. Sightseeing and to do’s in DC – There is so much to see and to do in your free time on weekend or in the evenings after work. Good thing about DC is most places like museums, monument, events, etc are free. And there is always something happening after work for eg. a screening of a movie, a social networking event, a cultural event or some performance of a band etc. You will always have something to do if you want to do something.
My personal Recommendation – My suggestion to you all is to always go out somewhere to explore the city in the weekend and take a walk around to see the old town of the city. There are many websites to find out places to see and events to go and you will be offcourse be told about them in the orientation but just go out always.
10. Workplace – The most important thing of the fellowship which brings us to DC is our Host Organization. We are nervous to start and curious to know our workplace and our supervisor . We want to get started with a lot of work and make our contribution but we do not yet know how. There might be a lot of questions in your head , don’t worry they all will be solved at the time of orientation.
My personal Recommendation – It will be slow in the beginning at your workplace. What I mean by slow is, in the first few weeks, you will just be meeting your supervisor and getting to know the operations of your organization , understanding your role, reading, understanding, observing and doing small tasks. You might not necessarily be given the responsibility right away. Do not panic, because that is how it is supposed to be, its the time to break ice and get used to everything around. I can tell you from my experience, I am someone who works fast and I need a lot of responsibility at all times, it makes me work better and in the first few weeks, I got lost because I did not understand the process of getting integrated and learning slowly about my organization. Now. Its end of my 3rd month and things are on track and I am feeling so much better. So, it will take good 1-2 months to break that ice at your work place, so please take that time to understand, observe and make a plan for your contribution in the organization.
I wrote this blog based on my experience and learning here in DC and it is very different from any other fellow, but I wanted to share and I hope this will be a useful resource for the new fellows. If you have any more questions than I will be more than happy to answer them directly and talk more about any of the topics of your concern, you can contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org