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9 Tips for Surviving City Life

9 Tips for Surviving City Life main image

The names at the top of the list in the latest edition of the QS Best Student Cities index all have a few things in common: they’re bustling, they're busy and they're all pretty big. Living in a big city is no mean feat; you’ve got pigeons coming at you any which way you turn and angry commuters expecting you to know all the rules… But don’t let that stop you; city life is also packed full of culture, exciting new experiences, innovation, personal growth and more!

Whether you’re looking to study in London, New York City, Paris, Hong Kong – or any other major metropolis – here are some tips to make city life that little bit easier as soon as you arrive. If you have any more practical tips for living in a big city, let us know in the comments!

1.  Invest in an A-Z map or app

Just a few years ago you wouldn’t go anywhere in a new city without a trusty A-Z. Now, with app technology, getting fast and reliable directions is even easier. Using a map is essential when living in a big city; it doesn’t matter whether it’s on paper or iPhone, you will thank the stars that you’ve bought/downloaded one when you inevitably get lost somewhere!

Scroll to the bottom of this post to find some useful travel apps and other resources for city life.

2.  Avoid rush hour(s)

If you’re travelling using public transport in the morning between 6am and 10am, or at night between 5pm and 8pm, make sure to plan for a train/tram/bus full of people. With a full load, the journey often takes longer and sometimes you might even have to wait for the next service in order to squeeze on. Even at other times in the day, public transport is not always 100% reliable, so make sure to always leave early for lectures and important meetings – after the first few weeks your tutors will probably stop accepting transport issues as a valid excuse for being late to class!

3.  If you are yourself for all weathers

If you’re coming to study in London (like me four years ago), or other cities with a healthy annual precipitation level, you should prepare for rain. Many of the study abroad students I met had invested in wellington boots within the first week of arriving, and I don’t think they wore anything else until around April!

In most big cities, you’re likely to experience variation in the weather, and you may notice this more than usual – mainly just because it’ll be a little different from what you’re used to. It’s essential to bring clothes that will keep you both warm and dry in winter (add another few layers if you’re planning to study in New York City), as well as light cotton clothes to stop you getting too warm in the summer (remove another layer if you’re headed to study in Hong Kong). Basically, be sensible – if you spend a lot of time too cold, damp or heat-exposed, you’re going to end up getting sick!

4.  Spend your money wisely

Anywhere you turn in a city you can spend money. Clothes shops, restaurants, cafés, market stalls, charity salespeople, homeless people, coin fountains – you name it, you’ll be able to hand it your hard-earned money.

To avoid falling victim to crazed consumerism (we’ve all been there), make sure you fix a weekly budget, buy most of your food and drink from a supermarket (cook for yourself as much as possible), and try not to get tempted by all the amazing offers advertised all over town. Do keep an eye out for student discounts – but make sure you’re really getting a bargain, not just being sold something you don’t really need.

5.  Interact with locals

I’m not saying you should start conversing with everyone you meet in the streets, but asking local people for tips on where to go and what to do can result in finding some pretty cool places away from the largest tourist traps. To ensure your safety, only ask people you think you can trust, such as the people at public information desks, shop workers, librarians (they’ve got plenty of time on their hands!), university staff members and fellow students who’ve had more time to get oriented.

6.  Expand your horizons

You’re in a city filled with inspiring and motivated people, with all kinds of interests, talents and hobbies. Now’s your chance to sign up to do something you’ve never done before. Whether that’s attending a laughter yoga class or doing a charity fun run across the city, you’re bound to learn something new about yourself, and meet exciting new people who can help take you out of your comfort zone.

7.  Stay aware and stay safe

Once you’ve been living in a big city for a while, it’s easy to get into a habit of ignoring what’s going on around, immersing yourself in music or a good book. This may help you to stay calm amidst the chaos, but ensure that you have your wits about you when out and about. Theft can be common in certain areas of many cities, so make sure you keep your belongings close by and zipped up and any valuable items out of sight when outside – especially at night. 

8.  Put yourself out there

Choosing to study in London, New York City, Paris, Berlin, or in another big city can be a great decision, but only if you make the most of living at the heart of everything. Culture in these big cities is innovative, diverse and extraordinary, and the people living, studying and working here are even more interesting. If you put yourself out there, attend student events, talk to the people around you and interact with your tutors and fellow students, you’ll soon have a strong network of people to enjoy your beautiful city with!

9.  Leave!

When city life gets too much, leave. Not for good – that would be silly, but leave for a bit. Plan a trip out of the city to coincide with your holidays; you may want to go back home, but if not, there are likely to be plenty of places you can visit on a budget within the local area. If you study in Berlin, go for a quiet beer in Bavaria; if you study in London, go for a traditional afternoon tea in a smaller city like Bath or Brighton; if you study in New York City, go for pancakes on Long Island. You’ll find that once you return, you’ll be a lot less tense!

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Useful resources for study in London:

  • (London Underground and Overground)
  • (taxis)

Useful resources for study in New York City:

  • (subway, buses, rail)
  • (taxis)

Related categories:

Laura Tucker's profile image
Written by Laura Tucker
Laura is a former staff writer for TopUniversities.com, providing advice and guidance for students on a range of topics helping them to choose where to study, get admitted and find funding and scholarships. A graduate of Queen Mary University of London, Laura also blogs about student life.

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3 Comments

It is hard to survive in a big city when you are a student, it is necessary to adapt to new things especially monthly expenses. But if we are not ambitious we fail. I have some tips regarding moving to a big city with different people.
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Important post must useful

Useful tips