All Posts By

Heidi Liou

What No One Tells You About Living In NYC

NYC skyline

Maybe you hear horror stories of how expensive The Big Apple is, or see photos on Instagram that make this city seem like the best city in the world, but there are some things that are not talked about as much. I moved to New York City about 1 month and a half ago, and here are some thoughts that I have about living in NYC!

It is possible to find an apartment that costs less than $800 per month.

Note that 1. I’m splitting a junior studio (pretty much a one bedroom without a door… if you can picture that) with my friend  2. I knew the girl who lived in the apartment before me, so I knew I wasn’t getting ripped off for anything (I got lucky with that) 3. Personal space is currently not a priority for me, but a lot of people say “Oh, I could never live in a studio with someone. I need my space”. I say it’s what you decide is a priority, and whether or not your financial situation allows you to be picky. 4. I live about a 30-35 minute commute to work.

You can find a plethora of free things in the city.

In terms of physical items, I’ve found a perfectly adequate coffee table, mirror, side table, wine crate, and 2 chairs on the sidewalk, that were going to go to the trash. In terms of things to do in the city, there are tons of free events that you can find on (there weren’t very many in the previous city I lived in),, and by signing up for daily emails about events (The Skint, NonsenseNYC, Pulsd).

Waiting in lines is sometimes unavoidable.

Wanna go to a good restaurant for dinner? Expect to wait at least 30 minutes to get seats. Brunch on a weekend? At a poppin’ spot? 20-40min wait time. Shopping for groceries at Trader Joes (the most bang for your buck, with quality in mind)… that line sometimes wraps around the whole store. I actually have never purchased anything from Trader Joes because I would rather not wait in a line to buy groceries. Of course there are other options, but the locals love Trader Joes.

When Living in NYC, Shipping is a b*tch.

Yeah, my roommate’s brother has Amazon Prime but that’s not very helpful for us because we’ve heard that packages get stolen from the ‘lobby’ sometimes (we don’t have a doorman).

You can actually meet people NOT just through online dating apps.

For those that don’t know me, I am one of those few people who use online dating apps more for the reason of making friends, rather than hooking up or dating. I’ve been pretty successful with making friends through Tinder, Coffee Meets Bagel, and Hinge. In NYC, almost everyone uses online dating apps – there are sooo many (Happn, J Swipe, Ok Cupid, Bumble, and more). However, I forget that by attending random events (like going on Eventbrite to find interesting events) and striking up random conversations… it’s possible to make new connections offline.

And when you get to live here, it’s all totally worth it.

A Travel Story: 12 Countries & 122 Hours on My Butt

bored in an airport terminal

It’s easy to look at someone’s Instagram/social media account who is traveling and just think that they either 1. Travel to places on a whim and 2. Have a ton of money. From someone who has spent the past 4 months traveling, what you may not know is the constant planning that goes on behind the scenes, and the hours that I’ve sat on my butt – currently 122 hours and counting.

Currently as I am typing this, I am sitting at the airport in the city of Manila in the Philippines… I’ve been waiting for 8 hours so far to board my plane for San Francisco. This is the hottest airport I’ve been to because there is almost no AC. Thank goodness there’s wifi, but I still feel like I’m trapped in a box here. The terminal I’m in is pretty small – there’s one duty free shop, and only a couple of plane gates. I couldn’t imagine being here any longer. (On the other hand, the Singapore airport is on point. I watched Inception in a mini movie theatre before boarding the plane.)

I do have long layovers, but at least I am able to get up and walk around the airport. Bus rides are different – I get stiff from the crunched position that I have to hold. The longest bus ride that I was on this past summer was going from Berlin, Germany to Lille, France. It was 14 hours and yes, we had a couple of stops where we had to get off so the bus driver could take a break, but most people called me crazy for taking that bus. The bus went smoothly, and I continued traveling without any hiccups – until I was trying to fly from Europe to Asia.

I had a 7am flight, and I had taken a bus at 4am to London Gatwick so that I would be at the airport early. I was at the gate getting ready to board my EasyJet flight to Moscow (then to Taipei on a separate flight) when the flight attendant checking for visas told me I couldn’t go on the plane. Wait… what visa? I didn’t know I needed a visa. I was only going to be in the airport for 4 hours for a layover.

The EasyJet employee said to me:
Read the fine print. We are a point to point airline, which means you need a transit visa for Russia. Your ticket is nonrefundable. We can’t help you.

I started bawling.

I felt so frustrated with myself – for trying to save money from buying two separate tickets in the beginning, but made a mistake, so ended up having to spend even more. So what did I do? I didn’t want to go to the US embassy and wait a couple of days to get a visa. I just bought a new ticket to go to Taiwan that was 12 hours later at a different airport in London. Pretty expensive, but I was so relieved and thankful that I had the funds to get to where I needed to go.

I felt so homesick that day, and so helpless. Money stresses me out immensely. I guess if I had an unlimited amount of money, I could have hopped on another plane at a better time, but I still tried to find a decent priced ticket (It ended up being $780.) No one could help me, but some strangers did provide some emotional support. They made me laugh and we had a brief conversation. It made me realize that it’s important to take a moment to breathe, when you’re going through a stressful situation.

That incident made me wonder “do other travelers ever experience mess-ups like this?” Probably. But you just never hear about it. Ask those questions, and maybe you’ll be surprised with their responses. It’ll give them a chance to be vulnerable and reflect on their travel experiences. Hey, you might even save yourself from making an expensive travel mistake.

How I Went Around the World for Less Than $3k

cheap way to travel around the world

*Disclaimer: I graduated from college in May 2015, and traveled until September 2015. I had one last “summer break” before starting work, so I spent as much time abroad as I could.

If you look at the places I went to (below) during the past 4 months, they were all very specific and planned out.

I either…

1. Had a friend there

2. Had family there


3. Had a friend who had a friend there

I never just showed up in a city and planned to crash at a hostel or hotel. Instead, I travel for a reason; I’m on a mission, and that mission isn’t to see the Eiffel Tower – that mission is to reunite with my old friends, engage with locals, and of course, eat good food.

And that’s what I did. After 4 months of traveling, I’m ready to say that I want stability again. I haven’t worked out at all (besides walking in the cities that were cold enough to walk in). I haven’t had a healthy diet in a while (I lack vegetables). I didn’t make an income (but that’s ok, because my focus was to just relax.) The travel bug is out of me for now, but who knows when it will strike again!

Below is the money I spent on transportation. My housing costs were $0!

Tip: Before staying at a friend’s house, I would always bring them a gift (usually food) from the country I was in previously! Small gestures like this are always appreciated. 


Transportation Expenses

New York > Boston (bus) ($15)
Boston, Massachusetts > Kefvlak, Iceland (KEF)($149.90) (cheap tickets to Iceland)
Kefvlak, Iceland > Reykjavik, Iceland (bus)($26.09)
Kefvlak, Iceland (KEF) > Hamburg, Germany ($80.69)
Hamburg, Germany > Amsterdam (bus)($10.15)
Amsterdam > Cologne, Germany (bus)($10.15)

…My cousin then bought my train ticket from Cologne to Bremen…

Bremen, Germany > Tallinn, Estonia ($79.84)
Tallinn, Estonia > Hamburg, Germany ($107.15)

… My friend’s mom picked me up when I landed in Hamburg…

Flensburg, Germany to Berlin, Germany (bus)($21.20)
Berlin, Germany to Lille, France (bus)($41.80)
Lille, France to London (bus)($16.94)
London St Pancreas to Kettering day trip (train)($29.84)

Bus to Gatwick ($5.47)
London Gatwick > Moscow, Russia ($150)
Moscow, Russia > Taipei, Taiwan ($239.7)
New ticket from London to Taipei ($780)
London Gatwick to London Heathrow ($15.47 + $9.28)

Taipei, Taiwan > Singapore ($93.28)
Singapore > Bali, Indonesia ($80.37)
Bali, Indonesia > Taipei, Taiwan ($106.06)
Taipei, Taiwan > San Francisco, California ($500)

So if you’re looking to take your travels around the world, I have some final words of advice. Take time to tap into the network of who you know, and travel to the places where you have friends! Not only will you get to explore a new place, you’ll get to create memories with a friend and have a free place to stay. For those who are thinking “I don’t have very many friends around the world”, start making friends today!