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Searching For A Place To Live In New York City

Can I even rent an apartment here?

Restaurant in New York City
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BROOKLYN, New York- I didn’t realize how far gone I am from the real world until I tried to rent an apartment in New York City. Suddenly, all kinds of things that everybody else worries about but which never had anything to do with me — credit score, pay stubs, W2s, tax forms, bank statements — all of a sudden became very important.

I was sitting in a rental office today after finding an suitable apartment, looking at what I needed to apply and being like, “Dude, I don’t have any of this.” My financial record keeping ends at crossing someone’s name off a list as soon as they pay. While I write for major media sources I’m technically categorized as a contractor. I just travel, write, and shoot video. I don’t care about anything beyond this …

But I am trying to enter another world here in New York — a world that I rejected coming out of high school. I don’t have a cubicle ditcher story. I’ve never even had a real job if you don’t count the couple of months that I worked at Blimpie Subs in New Britain, Connecticut in the spring of the year 2000. I turned 18 and I left this world behind. The next 20 years I spent bouncing between 90 countries around the world with little other ambition but to do whatever I wanted, wherever I wanted, wherever I wanted. I was immature but reveled in it … and I have to admit that I still do.

But we’re in NYC now and have to play by their rules. That world that I’ve been peering curiously in at for the past 20 years is one that I’m participating in now. Sometimes I would get an apartment in countries like China, but this never consisted of anything more than pushing a stack of cash across a table. In NYC, I could
easily end up having to rent a camper van for a while, kind of like we did when we traveled across New Zealand a couple of years ago.

Here’s the paradox:

Between my wife and I we make more than enough cash — over the 40x monthly rent that NYC landlords generally require. My wife also has savings in an amount that would be enough to cover multiple YEARS of rent. Liquid cash is no issue here, the problem is that I don’t have any credit.

In the USA, credit score is more than just an indication of how well you manage your finances. As put by a Budget Car Rental clerk when I asked him why he had to do a credit check on me when I was paying the full price for the rental in advance:

“We do this to find out what kind of person you are.”

Criminal record and credit score are starting to serve the same function: to separate out the good, the bad, and the ugly, creating a new Gattaca-like underclass of people who are no longer permitted to function in mainstream society. We cry foul on China’s social credit system, but what we are doing here is shockingly similar.

I do well as a writer. However, I chose to life a life where I can go wherever I want to go and cover the stories that I want to cover rather than working a staff position with a single publication — where I would more than likely spend my days packed inside of a particle board enclosure. But I don’t have any credit.

There are consequences to any lifestyle choice. If I walked the path of the hipsters out-competing me for apartments in Brooklyn I may be able to boast a trendy address but I wouldn’t be able to travel as I please. If I travel as I please, I may find myself living in a camper van parked on the side of the road. I knew what the consequences could be and I accepted them. I still do. While I would like to set up a base of operations in Brooklyn I know that it may not be possible. I’m not giving up the lifestyle that I cultivated to hang with rich hipsters.


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Filed under: Apartments, New York City

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3717 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

Support VBJ’s writing on this blog:

VBJ is currently in: New York City

11 comments… add one

Leave a Comment

  • Rob July 16, 2019, 7:07 pm

    This is interesting! I hope you’re able to keep up with the story on the blog.
    Keep up? Heck I hope it works out for you guys!!

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    • Wade Shepard July 17, 2019, 9:56 am

      Thank you! I’ll try to keep up this time!

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  • Trevor July 17, 2019, 12:39 pm

    another down side of travelling…… cant get credit…. many down sides, most of which evolve when said traveller tries to be normal

    ….. but thankfully, the +’s far out weigh the -‘s

    yes….. as Rob said….. its a very good on going story….

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    • Wade Shepard July 17, 2019, 3:36 pm

      Exactly! There are downsides to every lifestyle. I guess you can never really go back.

      Link Reply
  • nycnyc July 17, 2019, 12:50 pm

    A lot of contractors face this issue. In general, prior tax returns do the trick. (for rentals as well as for other things, like mortgages.)

    If you have credit card(s), you have credit. I would be quite surprised if you did not have a credit card at all, given how much it facilitates life and all the benefits. (cash back, dispute policies, price matching, lounge access, travel, etc.)

    After reading all your travel stories, it’s great to read to read about experiences from where I live. Good luck on your search!

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    • Wade Shepard July 17, 2019, 3:37 pm

      Thank you! I don’t have credit cards.

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      • Trevor July 18, 2019, 3:18 am

        Oh man.. you’re screwed re NO credit cards.

        No wonder going back is hard..

        You need to do a post ‘why i dont have credit cards’

        I hope u have a debit card?

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      • Jack July 24, 2019, 11:30 pm

        You might want to get a couple. A CapitalOne is usually pretty easy to get. You will probably be approved straight away. Discover is another card that isn’t bad and if they don’t approve you for an unsecured, they will usually offer you an secured one. They graduate to unsecured after 6 months.

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        • Wade Shepard July 25, 2019, 10:13 am

          I won’t be approved.

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  • Jack July 24, 2019, 11:28 pm

    Dude, you didn’t get credit cards when you were back in the US all that time? I am Mr Anti System and even I have several credit cards. Been holding onto some of them for almost 10 years lol

    Now for my serious comment: You are so right that the credit score has turned into a defacto score on how good of a person the system thinks you are. Even out in BFE, USA they run credit checks and want you to earn 3X your rent monthly and have decent credit score. If you don’t have a good score, they relegate you to life with a slum lord. Moreover, even good jobs are off limits without a good score.

    Back to credit cards. I really suggest new vagabonds get a credit card or two before they hit the road, even if it is a secured card. It’s great for emergencies and even a $300 or $500 limit is useful for renting a car without issues.

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    • Wade Shepard July 25, 2019, 10:11 am

      Hello Jack, All excellent suggestions here. Yes, I feel that a couple of credit cards would be useful for any traveler … even if I don’t really use them myself.

      It is getting really scary what is being made of the credit score. Corporations have gotten really good at aligning their interests with public morality that they can manipulate. Like immunizations. Now they are making life extremely difficult– if not, impossible — for people who don’t play their game / use their service / give them their money. You can’t rent a car, you can’t rent an apartment, you can’t get a job unless you use their services. This should be illegal … but they have the gov by the balls just as much as they do everyone else.

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