Last year at the end of November, I got an offer for a co-op placement with a company in Vancouver. Starting January second. Short notice, but also exciting.
I had never lived outside of Ontario before, and didn’t know too much about anything. So I started asking everyone I knew for advice. Friends, family, friends-of-friends, everyone had something to say. However not everyone has good advice.
Having been there and back now, I have written up some notes on what I found useful. Thanks goes to family, friends, friends-of-friends, and even strangers that shared some of their knowledge.
The single best piece of advice I got was to buy a rain jacket. Already have one? Buy a real rain jacket. The insistence at first seemed over the top. I can now say however that they are worth every penny. It is not the intensity of rain but the consistency that will soak through your regular old “jacket”. Gore-Tex is a beautiful thing. The ideal rain jacket should sound like you are wearing a Sun Chips bag at first. Eventually it will break in and stop being so noisy. Eventually.
A close second to the rain jacket is a pair of waterproof shoes. Whether boots, hiking shoes, or something else, you will be walking in the rain at some point. There is absolutely nothing worse than wet feet. While I went with boots, I would buy hiking shoes if I had to do it again.
The market is as bad as it sounds. Especially for co-op students, looking for a four or eight month rental. You really can’t be picky. That being said, you can still get an okay place short notice. Thanks to UBC and Simon Fraser University being nearby, there are a good amount of students living nearby, and you can usually find an empty room. Yes, it will be more expensive than housing at school.
As important as distance for housing, keep an eye on what main transit lines are nearby. You can be twice as far, but if you are living on an express line you can commute around the city just as quickly. The key streets to look at are Main and Cambie.
Bring less clothing. Moving out I packed a full 50 pound suitcase of clothing, and in retrospect that was too much. Even only four months is enough time to accumulate new clothes, souvenirs, and all sorts of things. Pack less, and make your way to a thrift store the first day or two after you move out.
Finally, make peace with the fact that you will spend a fair bit of money. Not just on housing and food, but also on all of the experiences that are so close to you. When you can take public transit to skiing, it is very difficult to not go at least once. In addition, with Seattle so close, and Victoria even closer, you will have many opportunities to travel and spend even more.
Buy a bicycle! Even though Vancouver already has world-class public transit, having a bike lets you go much further, on your own terms.
Sign up for ZipCar. You rent cars by the minute, with a daily cap. You don’t really need them for in Vancouver, but they are critical if you want to do something further away for a day or even a weekend.
Make an effort to keep in touch with family or friends. While the time zones are only three hours apart, that is enough to make a big difference. When everyone is working before you even wake up, you have few chances to catch up with others naturally. Plan some phone calls, skype chats, gaming sessions, or whatever you need to catch up.
Be a tourist. Do it shamelessly. I bought the Lonely Planet Pocket Vancouver book, although any guide will work. Having a reference of things to do nearby when you’re wandering around the city is fantastic for when you have a lull in your day. You don’t have to do everything, or even anything in the guidebook. Often finding a place the next door down from a recommended one is nearly as good, at a fraction of the price.
Finally, plan big things in advance. It is easy to do things around the city spontaneously, but larger plans take some time. Visiting Seattle or Victoria is worth the extra effort – both are beautiful cities and completely different than Vancouver in their own ways.