Saturday, May 27th, 2017

AK Monthly Recap: January 2016


Kate Couch

Last month, I said that my one and only goal was to find an apartment in New York. So did I succeed?

YES! I GOT A PLACE. I saw five apartments in total and fell in love with the second one on sight. The entire process was difficult and nerve-wracking and I think I gained several gray hairs over the course of the process. But I’m so excited to move in this week!

The rest of the month was very quiet — one of the quietest months I’ve had in the past few years. I went on a photo-taking frenzy in Rockport a few days ago because I had almost zero photos to put into this monthly post!


Destinations Visited

Reading, Lynn, Newburyport, and Rockport, Massachusetts, USA

New York, New York, USA

Favorite Destinations

New York today, New York tomorrow, New York forever.

Chipped Cup


Finding the apartment! I thought apartment-hunting in Boston was difficult; in New York, it’s worse. Tenants in New York have a lot of rights, and for that reason, landlords are very strict in who they allow to live there.

While in Boston a landlord would verify that you have a job and check your credit score, New York landlords do a lot more. Most apartments require you to make an annual salary of 40 times the monthly rent. (That works out to one third of what you make.) And when you’re self-employed, it’s even more complicated and requires years of past tax returns and several bank statements.

But I did my research, searched hard, and it worked! I’m moving to Hamilton Heights, Harlem! A lot of my friends were shocked to hear this; in fact, I was dead set on moving to Brooklyn until recently!

I’ll be writing about my decision to choose Harlem over Brooklyn later on, as it’s a huge topic that deserves a full post. The main reason? My biggest priority was to live alone in a really nice apartment.

While I looked all over Brooklyn, Hamilton Heights has much better value for money. Most rentals here are newly renovated and in excellent condition. Transportation is outstanding. On top of that, rents are lower than most decent Brooklyn neighborhoods, even lower than cheaper neighborhoods like Bushwick, Crown Heights, and Bed-Stuy.

How good is the transit? My sister commutes about 100 blocks from Hamilton Heights to midtown and it literally takes her TWO STOPS on the subway. How crazy is that?!

I like Hamilton Heights a lot, and I’ve spent a lot of time here, as my sister has lived here for the past few years. It’s convenient to several subway lines, the architecture is beautiful, and there are lots of cool bars and restaurants. I’ve walked alone at night here quite often and I feel very safe here. It feels like a comfortable, lived-in neighborhood.

The moment I walked into my apartment, I knew it was the one. It just felt so warm. It’s a roomy one-bedroom apartment in a beautiful, well-maintained brownstone on a gorgeous block. It’s actually the entire second floor of the building (!!).

The living room is big enough for a dining table and a desk as well as a couch. The kitchen is separate and has more counter space than any other unit I saw. The bedroom is on the small side, but it fits a queen bed and has tons of storage shelving built in. There’s a long, gallery-style hallway leading to the bathroom.

Best of all…I have an in-unit washer/dryer. That is the HOLY GRAIL in New York City!

Location-wise, the apartment is within four blocks of all the subways (1, A, B, C, D), multiple grocery stores, my sister’s place, a coworking space, some great bars and restaurants, my favorite coffeeshop in the neighborhood, and more! Walk a few more blocks and you’ll hit multiple gyms and a yoga studio with $5 classes.

So you could say that I chose the neighborhood with my head and the apartment with my heart.

Kim, Kate and Caroline in NYC

While I was too busy waiting to hear from brokers to hit up the New York Times Travel Show, I did make it to one of the post-show parties and got to hang out with lots of my blogger buddies! I always relish every chance to see my friends and it’s been a while since I’ve been at a big blogger event.

Oh, and while apartment-hunting, an adorable little man, the super of one building, asked me if I was a Columbia student. I patted his shoulder. “Sir, you flatter me. I’m neither that young nor that smart!”

Furnishing and decorating! OH MY GOD, YOU GUYS, THIS IS SO MUCH FUN. I’ve always loved art and design and I’m so happy that I finally get to design a place for myself!

You know, I actually never really furnished my post-college apartments in Somerville and Boston. I hung up my diploma — that was it. I knew from the beginning that my dream was to travel the world, and I couldn’t justify spending on money on something I’d be putting into storage before long.

Now, it’s finally time.

Kate, Lisa and Alexa in Rockport

My friends sent me off in style. Lisa and Alexa insisted on giving me a special going-away-day from Massachusetts, and we spent it day-tripping to Rockport, a little seaside town on the North Shore.

Rockport used to be a tiny fishing village; today, it’s popular with artists. It was actually the filming location for the Alaska scenes in the movie The Proposal. The only issue? Most of Rockport shuts down in the winter months! Definitely go in the summer.

We finished at home with a bottle of champagne and an HGTV marathon. I couldn’t have asked for a better day.

Rockport Bearskin Neck


You don’t want to know how much money I spent this month. Moving is expensive, New York is expensive, furnishing a place from scratch is expensive…

Also, I’m growing my eyebrows out. I used to have much thicker, darker brows when I was younger (even when I was in my early twenties) so I’m experimenting to see if I can grow them back. It’s not a great look so far — pretty much the only thing more awkward than growing out your bangs.

SNOW! COLD! It’s hard enough living in the suburbs without a car of your own. Add freezing cold weather and snow and it’s no surprise I became a virtual hermit this month.

Other than these little peccadilloes, it was an easy January, and for that I am grateful.


Most Popular Post

How to Arrive in Bangkok — Wow, this post did well! I love writing in-depth posts for the cities I know best.

Oysters at the Grog

Other Posts

Kate’s Picks: Where to Go in 2016 Before It’s Too Late — Japan for the exchange rate, Nicaragua before the canal is built, and Jordan to expand your friends’ horizons.

Scenes from England’s Lake District — One of the most beautiful places I’ve been in the UK.

Quit Fucking Around and Build Yourself a Fuck-Off Fund — This post was HUGE! And a very important message.

The Ultimate Girls’ Getaway to Koh Lanta, Thailand — My favorite place in the world. My third trip was my favorite.

Make This The Year You Start Your Own Business — Literally the only way you can have job security.

Seven Quirky Travel Accessories For Your Future Home — Some of my favorite new finds from Airportag.


News and Announcements

Not a lot of big news to report. January’s challenge was to find and furnish a place, something that I’ve achieved for the most part.

But for February? Hmm.

Then I got an idea. We’re in a leap year — why not do something with the number 29?

So I decided — 29 days, 29 friends! I want to spend time with 29 different friends over the course of the month. Not necessarily new friends (though meeting new friends would be AWESOME!) — I want this specific challenge to be about reconnecting with the friends I already have.

And to add to the list, I want five of those friends to be people I haven’t seen in at least five years. I have a few in mind already.

So if you’re in New York and we know each other, drop me a line! Let’s hang out soon.

Castlerigg Sunset

Most Popular Photo on Instagram

Everyone loves a glorious sunset. I’ll never forget this sunset at Castlerigg Stone Circle in the Lake District of England!


What I Read This Month

I read a piece on XOJane that suggested completing an author in 2016. What a great idea — you read all the works by an author you love (or at least everything you can find!).

I had already planned on completing Junot Diaz this year, but I could easily do Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Elizabeth Gilbert, Toni Morrison, or Barbara Kingsolver. As much as I adore Lionel Shriver, her books take a lot out of me (in a good way) and they’re best spaced out over a long time.

But a suggestion for you? Steve Martin. Yes, that Steve Martin. His books are magnificent and very different from what you think they would be. My favorite is Born Standing Up; I also love Shopgirl, The Pleasure of My Company and An Object of Beauty.

Here’s what I read this month:

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs — This book is going to stay with me for a LONG time. Robert Peace grew up in one of the roughest neighborhoods in Newark. He was brilliant and hardworking, earning a scholarship to Yale. After Yale, he traveled the world, then returned to selling drugs in his old neighborhood and was murdered.

How could this happen? How could this be prevented? I can’t stop thinking about these questions. What if he had had a mentor? What if he hadn’t been so loyal to his friends and family above all other things? This book was tremendously eye-opening when it comes to race and especially class in America, and I can’t recommend it enough.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates — This is one of the biggest books on race in America. Written as a series of letters to his son on what it means to be black in America today, Coates weaves through the history of his life from Baltimore to “The Mecca” (Howard University) to New York, Paris, and beyond.

This book was more of a challenge than I anticipated — it’s dense, it’s difficult, it’s beautiful and not a single word is wasted. As racial violence grips America, I’m trying to read more so that I understand more (not least because I’m moving to a historically black neighborhood). This book isn’t the easiest read, but I feel like it should be required reading for Americans, especially in an election year.

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie — This Kindle short is based off Adichie’s TED Talk on contemporary feminism in Nigeria and beyond. So it’s a quickie read — and I’m not sure if I’m being dishonest by including it in my book round-up here! It’s an argument for why feminism needs to be taken seriously and appreciated by all citizens of the world — but she delivers it in the most delightful, charming way. Definitely worth a read.

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling — I like Mindy Kaling a lot and I really enjoyed her first memoir. Like the Fey/Poehler/Dratch memoirs, she has great things to say about working hard in a female where women struggle to be acknowledged (not to mention women of color). But I think Kaling’s biggest strengths are when she writes about feeling like an outsider and faking it until you make it.

Anyway, I’m hoping that if we meet, we’d be friends. Her high school was actually one of my high school’s rivals. I’d love to tell her stories about the freaky incest-space-shadow-baby plays her high school would present at Dramafest.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert — I adore Liz Gilbert and will read anything she writes. This book isn’t quite a self-help book, nor is it quite a memoir — it’s a guide on how to bring more creativity into your life and how best to use it. It’s a quicker read than I expected, and I absolutely loved it. I feel like I have a whole new way of seeing things, both the creative work I do for my career and the creative work I do for myself. Definitely worth a read, and Gilbert is one of my favorite literary voices.

What I Watched This Month

Mozart in the Jungle. I put it on after it won a few Golden Globes and I ended up binge-watching all 20 episodes over three sessions! It’s a show about the secret lives of the best classical musicians in New York. It’s a bit soapy, a bit funny, and an interesting look at the life of a professional classical musician.

If you are a creative or work in the arts, you need to see this show. Seriously. More than anything, it’s about the relationship between art and money. And if you’re a musician, especially a classical musician, you’ll love it, too. It reminded me of my nights partying, skinny-dipping, and drinking with the musicians in Kuhmo, Finland, before watching them perform Bach and Sibelius the next day!

What I Listened To This Month

“Lazarus” by David Bowie.

As usual, I woke up, grabbed my phone, and opened Facebook. My stomach tightened when I saw that David Bowie was trending. I knew he’d been ill with heart problems and living out of the public eye for awhile. Had he left us?

And the first thing I saw was this video, which I watched immediately.

I was overcome.

He knew he was dying for a long time. And instead of withdrawing from the world, he chose to create a beautiful final collection of music, as unique as his material had always been.

I thought I would listen to this song once, be sad, and turn to my usual favorite Bowie songs, “Young Americans” and “Modern Love” and “Golden Years.” But I kept listening to “Lazarus” and marveling at how bravely and beautifully Bowie decided to leave this world.


Snowy Harlem via Instagram

Coming Up in February 2016

Moving day is February 3! My dad is driving me down and helping me move in my belongings. Furniture will be arriving over the next few weeks. Let’s just hope the weather doesn’t look like that above photo!

I won’t be traveling anywhere in February (other than home to Boston for a bachelorette party two days after I move, amusingly enough), but I’m making BIG plans for the spring and summer. I’m also arranging lots of meetings with my New York-based travel contacts so we can put some cool trips together.

Guys, the travel tingles are returning. That makes me SO HAPPY. Last week I got an idea for a trip and I researched and planned it maniacally, my heart racing, until I realized it was 3:30 AM and I should probably go to sleep.

That trip might end up happening — or it might not. We’ll see. The important thing is my mojo is sloooowly coming back. For awhile I was afraid that I had lost it after pushing myself too hard for too long.

It’s still there. And it’s raring to go.

One last thing — I am deeply grateful to have what I have today. Five years ago, my dream was to earn $1,000 per month from my blog so I could afford to live in Southeast Asia. That dream obviously grew and changed over time as I grew and changed as a person.

To be at the point where I can live on my own in Manhattan — and still travel — is something that I didn’t think would be possible a few years ago. I’ve worked so hard for this but I’ve also had a fair amount of luck, not to mention privilege. I won’t ever forget that, and I’m enormously grateful to all of you who continue to read my material and allow me to remain a full-time blogger.

What are your plans for February? Share away!


35 Responses to “AK Monthly Recap: January 2016”
  1. Anna says:

    Congratulations! Harlem is massively underrated and not at all the scary place of the 1980’s B-movies. And the food scene rocks. I am no longer an NYC resident, but I love the city, and so I just want to say – welcome!

  2. Congratulations, Kate! I always love to read success stories like yours, as it proves that hard work, determination (and yeah, little strokes of luck along the way) can pay off. Enjoy the new pad 🙂

  3. Sasha says:

    Congratulations Kate, I am looking forward to hearing how your move to New York goes. Good Luck!

  4. Rebecca says:

    So glad you liked the Lake District when you were in the UK, that’s where I’m from 🙂

  5. I’ve had Big Magic sitting on my nightstand for several days and have yet to pick it up. I’m placing a lot of pressure on that book, hoping it will help me get MY writing mojo back. It’s encouraging to hear you liked it!

  6. Claire says:

    Congrats and welcome to NYC! My best friend lives in Hamilton Heights and it is such a fun neighborhood with a deeply homey feel. I really related to the end of your post. Though I work a job with standard hours, I still feel deeply lucky and privileged to be able to live in NYC and do the travel I want to do.

  7. Happy moving week! So fun catching up in NYC and I can’t wait to come see your hood next time. And I loved Big Magic and Why Not Me also! Just finished Big Magic this week.

  8. Erin says:

    Kate, congratulations on achieving this new dream! Have fun moving and settling into your new place.

    As for your February plans question: working and taking trips to place near my home base where I can crash with friends to work and catch up with them. Cleveland for sure, maybe NY and West Virginia.

  9. Congratulations and enjoy it! 🙂

    xx – Lisa – JoyDellaVita Travelblog

  10. Candice says:

    I can’t wait to see photos of your decked out apartment!

  11. Congrats Kate and welcome to the big apple! You’re in luck move in wise. The weather is insanely warm in the city this week. It’s 52 degrees right now on the Upper East Side and Wednesday it will be a high of 61!!! Of course it get warms the week I’m leaving on my winter escape to Central America. Oh well – works out perfect for you 🙂

  12. I am so happy for you, Kate!

    Ever since I discovered your blog, in 2013, you’ve been an inspiration to me and I hope I once have the courage to do what you did and start traveling the world. It’s amazing that you managed to build such a great community through your blog!

    Enjoy your time in NYC!

  13. Zascha says:

    I’m very happy for you, Kate. Been to New York twice and I absolutely love that city. Sounds like you’ve made the right decisions 🙂

  14. Amanda says:

    I’m so so excited for you, Kate (and can’t wait to eventually come visit you in NYC)!

    As for my plans for this month… I have a trip to Minnesota, and a big trip to northern Norway to do lots of fun wintery things like dogsledding and reindeer sleighing and sleeping in an ice hotel.

    I also have a goal of bumping up my passive affiliate income this month, and hopefully landing at least one ongoing freelance gig.

  15. Noelle says:

    I’m so glad you picked Harlem – I stayed in Harlem about a year ago and fell in love. It’s an awesome area with a lot of history, character, and it felt like “real” New York to me.

    Glad to see so much falling into place and going in a good direction for you.

    I have big things going on in the next month too – partially thanks to the inspiration from this blog – I am taking a big leap and moving to London! So a thanks to you Kate for making me feel like at age 26, I can too take a big step like you did when you started this blog 🙂

  16. Rachael says:

    Congratulations on your new nest! Decorating a new place is so so fun. And a washer/dryer? Lucky girl!

  17. Bianca says:

    Hi Kate, I love to read all your posts. I try to setup a pfe too. But it cost time but I will manage it. Just not sure I should fo it in bad foreign English or Dutch. February is too cold for holidays but busy in work an night college so very boring for me. I you plan Ireland this year let me know…..

  18. Hannah says:

    Welcome to Harlem!! LOVE your blog and am fangirling out in my own Harlem apartment that you’re moving to the neighborhood. Excited to read about your adventures here! 😀

  19. Brenna says:

    So happy for you, Kate! It’s all going so well and I can’t wait to see what you get up to in New York. Hopefully I’ll be there soon!

  20. Luisa says:

    Congratulations on the new apartment and good luck with your move tomorrow!! Do you ever do reader meetups in Boston?

  21. Kim says:

    So great to see you last month, Kate! I’m so happy for you as you embark on this new adventure — and I’m glad to hear the wanderlust is returning. Hopefully now that you’re relatively close by, you’ll be able to come to Corning for a long weekend soon! 🙂

  22. Awesome! Welcome to Manhattan and the West Side!

  23. Congratulations on the apartment!

  24. Jamie says:

    Congratulations lady!!! You are such an inspiration and I’m so happy for you!

  25. Shawna says:

    Congratulations!!! So happy for you Kate!!! Can’t wait to see what your February has in store.

  26. Janet says:

    Hey Kate – Love your book recommendations. Since you read Why Not Me? and are interested in readingmore of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s books, you should check out The Lady Project Book Club! We’re reading Americanah next. I’m a member and the Communications Coordinator for the Boston Chapter. There is a NYC Chapter and it seems fabulous! You should definitely look into joining 🙂 I’d love to have you a part of the organization! Here’s the link to the Facebook page:

  27. Gary says:

    This is my first time reading and commenting or even both on a blog. Your stories are amazing and inspirational. To this end I have started my own blog concerning my forthcoming adventures in the US. I recently became Lord Gary Whitt hence the title of my blog. Can you offer a newbie any advice?? And rest assured you’ve now got me hooked…Amazing!!

  28. Congratulations on finding an apartment! Looking for apartments is crazy stressful in most cities now. But it’s all worth it when you find one 🙂

  29. Jecht says:

    Awesome stuff Kate. Good Content!

  30. KC says:

    Beautiful pics! So glad you found a apartment! Enjoy!

  31. Demi says:

    Congratulations! It must be a great feeling to finally settle into your own place! I am finishing law school and trying to fit in travel so it will be awhile until I’m at that point. Enjoy it!

  32. Beth Reed says:

    Welcome to NY! Just back from Guatemala and really enjoyed your post on Lake Atitlan, we spent the week there and truly unreal! Would love to hear about any bogging events here in NY! I love to eat and write my way through the city!

  33. sara says:

    Hey Kate i love your blog and your posts. You are always so truthfull and fun to read.

    I know you decided to slow things down and thats cool sometimes we need this phase in life.

    I have two recomendations/ideas for you:

    – why you do not decide to travel inside EUA (im from portugal and i dont know EUA) i think its cool for exaample 1 year you only travel in EUA – a lot of tiny cities or destinies a lot of people do not know inside.. You could do 1 city por month or 2

    – when you decide to go back to travel – why you escape from the capitals and travel to tiny villages in europe?

    Cheers. Best Wishes


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  1. […] went on and on about my apartment in last month’s recap — it seems a bit silly now, as I hadn’t even moved to the place yet! I will tell you, […]

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