While this pandemic has taken a toll on all of us, one way or another, one “nice” thing that has come out from it is companies being flexible about work remotely (at least with US-based companies, as friends I’ve talked to in other countries don’t all have this option). Some companies are temporarily remote, and others, like Twitter, have fully embraced the WFH life and are letting their employees work remote forever!
After being in NYC all this year, in November, I decided to venture out a bit and continue to safely work remotely but with a little change of scenery. It seemed like a lot of people have done some sort of coastal exchange — with New Yorkers temporarily going to California for a warm winter, and Californians coming to New York to experience a white Christmas season.
While travelling may still seem risky with COVID, longer term stays seem like a safer option — there’s a lot of testing sites in the US to get tested before and after you arrive in a new city, and staying in a city for at least a month gives you lots of options to quarantine if you test positive or feel like you’re experiencing symptoms so that you’re not spreading anything around.
Lots of Airbnbs have 1+ month stays and no contact check-in options, and working remotely means spending a good chunk of your weekdays indoors, while having the evenings and weekends to go out for a walk, try outdoor dining, get takeout, or safely explore some local outdoor attractions or nature spots at a slower, leisurely pace.
Pre-pandemic, my days are always packed whenever I’m travelling! I love mixing in a few popular attractions with as many local experiences as I can. I live for those off the beaten path moments!
In contrast, working remotely in a different city is a way more chill alternative as I’ll find myself opting instead for some casual walks around my neighborhood on the weekdays (on some days, work can get so busy, that I’m just consumed by meetings and getting work out before a strict deadline so it’s definitely not all fun and games!).
Note: If you’re researching for a home away from home to work remotely, I would highly recommend researching the COVID numbers and state-wide policies they have in place. Avoid places that have high COVID rates and make sure to follow the rules of the city, such as wearing a mask, social distancing, no large gatherings or any mandatory quarantining etc. Whenever possible, I highly recommend getting tested before travelling — it looks a bit scary but it’s actually quick and painless!
Originally, I wanted to spend 3 months working remotely in Honolulu, but decided on break it up by doing one month in LA first to test it out.
So how would I rate my time in the City of Angels?
Let’s start my review!
I chose LA because it’s a city I’ve always wanted to live in but can’t — I love walking AND I hate driving too much to ever make it work. Me and Yann didn’t have a car when we were there for the month (save for renting a car for a few days to do some National Park road trips) since we wanted to test out if we could make it work without one — not having to commute to work or go to social events definitely made it much easier!
In a way, it was almost like a social experiment to see if we can get by without a car, while only relying on the occasional Uber or bus ride. If we could make it work without a car, there was a very real possibility that we would move there for a longer-term stint later on.
And of course with winter looming, we mostly wanted to go somewhere sunny to continue being able to go running outdoors (this pandemic has definitely turned me into a total fitness nut!).
The COVID situation
When we had booked our month in LA, the COVID cases in LA were rising, but it didn’t seem too alarming. COVID has been a wild ride in California, with cases going up and down all year, which was different from NYC where it peaked in the spring and remained stable and low ever since.
(Throughout the pandemic, I’ve constantly been searching up COVID rates across the world, as a weird replacement for me obsessively searching up international flights in normal times — it’s obviously not as fun but it’s always interesting looking into cultural insights and seeing how different countries have been implementing their COVID policies!).
LA had seen a rise in cases in the spring and summer but the cases never climbed too high before falling again. We thought this would be the case when we arrived, only to witness the cases grow exponentially out of control.
A few days after we arrived in LA, the city went into a lockdown (it was a weird lockdown because almost everything was open including retail stores, offices etc except for indoor and outdoor dining).
Since all the hiking trails, beaches and nearby national parks were still open, it didn’t deterred our plans, since we had mostly wanted to enjoy the nature by doing some socially-distanced walks and hikes. Plus, being in LA already, the safest option seemed to be staying put.
Little did we know that LA would turn into the country’s newest hotspot. Having lived in NYC when it was the leading hotspot, it was weird going through that experience again. However, being about 10 months into the pandemic, it was definitely a different vibe — in our Hollywood Hills neighbourhood, everyone we saw behaved similarly to life in Hell’s Kitchen in NYC earlier this year — everyone we saw were mostly other runners, people walking their dogs or going for walks or grabbing food in a safe, socially-distanced way.
However, we had ventured into some other neighborhoods occasionally and it really felt like the pandemic didn’t exist there – huge groups of people were shopping or hanging out, not wearing a mask (or wearing one inappropriately), etc. It was a bit alarming!
We got an Airbnb for a month in the Hollywood Hills that was a short walk to Griffith’s Park, which leads to several awesome hikes like the one to Griffith’s Observatory, Bronson Canyon and all the Hollywood Sign hikes. Runyon Canyon was also close by, along with some really scenic walking routes just from strolling around the Hollywood Hills neighborhood.
The food options weren’t as good in the area but we did a lot of our own cooking (there was a big supermarket just a block away!) and ordered a lot of takeout on the weekends to support local restaurants, similar to what we did all year in NYC.
I love watching Buzzfeed’s Worth It videos, and was pleasantly surprised that Sushi Spot (featured in their sushi episode) was just a block away! Amazing sushi rolls for $3-4?! I had to have a lot of self control to prevent myself from ordering from there every single day!
Also, there were a ton of amazing donut shops nearby so I may or may not have had a donut everyday that month (shhhh).
Cost of Living
LA is interesting since rent is slightly cheaper than NYC, but owning a car really jacks up your monthly expenses (I’ve heard salaries are also much lower in LA compared to NYC).
Since we didn’t have a car, our cost of living was slightly cheaper than NYC. We got a huge 1-bedroom apartment (probably 3x the size of our NYC apartment) for slightly less than what our rent was in NYC, and food prices were also significantly cheaper.
However, factoring in our move to get to LA, and renting a car twice, we pretty much broke even, in terms of not spending any more or less than we normally do in a month in NYC.
The “not having a car” experiment in LA was…both a hit and miss. It works well for working remotely since we weren’t doing too much exploring and stuck to mostly walks and hikes in our neighbourhood. During the times when we did venture out to go to the beach or to West Hollywood, for example, we took a bus and found it to actually be pretty pleasant.
That said, I don’t think I could survive on public transit alone if I lived in LA long-term (sadly ruling out any possibility of me moving there long-term in the future).
Living in LA without a car is like living in a foreign country without being able to speak the language — you can get around short-term just fine, but you’ll never feel like a proper Angeleno without one.
Things To Do
There’s usually a ton of things to do in LA, but being a social city, a lot of the typical things you would do in LA aren’t very pandemic-friendly and were cancelled.
However, all hiking trails, parks and beaches are open, and since the Governor encouraged everyone to get outside for exercise, we were able to happily stuck to outdoor activities where you can easily social-distance, such as hikes, walks and weekend trips to the beach or road trips to nearby national parks.
Since we were working during the weekdays, and with Q4 being a busy quarter at work, I really enjoyed unwinding in the evenings with a nice sunset run, walk or hike. LA has one of the most amazing sunsets I’ve ever seen!
The time difference also wasn’t too bad where I’m able to continue watching the Champions League and the Bundesliga. I feel like nothing interests me on Netflix anymore (has that happened to anyone? I think I binged watched too much Netflix at the start of the pandemic) so I mostly just watch soccer these days if I’m watching TV.
Although speaking tv shows, Ted Lasso on Apple TV+ is one of the best shows I’ve watched all year — if you love cultural stereotypes (and soccer!), you’ll LOVE this show!
My LA Top 5 Highlights
My favourite thing about LA has to be the endless sun. I was shocked by how perfect the weather was for the first week I was there (around 24-26 degrees celsius everyday) and was even more shocked by how it was just sunshine and clear blue skies everyday that I was there!
Some of my highlights include:
1. All the hikes!
Living in the Hollywood Hills is like a hiking wonderland. There’s so many trails nearby that you can do different ones every week without ever getting bored. And just when you feel like you’ve seen it all, something always surprises you — like this one time I stumbled across a family of deer!
2. The Sunset Strip
Outside of the Hollywood Hills, the Sunset Strip is relatively close by, and it’s a place I love taking a stroll around. One day, I unexpectedly walked past the Oppenheimer office and even saw one of the Oppenheimer twins inside — I really can’t tell them apart! (the photo above is taken on a different day when the office was closed).
For those of you who have binged Selling Sunset this year, you know what I’m talking about!
3. Joshua Tree
I loved Joshua Tree when I visited two years ago when I was living in California, so I was excited to finally go back. After visiting a ton of National Parks within the last two years, I have to say, Joshua Tree probably doesn’t rank in my top 3 National Parks anymore (sorry Joshua!), but it’s still a great nature getaway nonetheless.
4. The food
One day after we came back from Joshua Tree and still had the car, we drove to San Gabriel Valley (known for having a high Asian population) to stock up on groceries for the week at an Asian supermarket there. We also grabbed some take out for dinner at a super low key restaurant called Kang Kang Food Court and I think I’m still dreaming about those dumplings.
In fact, David Chang (founder of Momofuku) had once said, “One of my best meals in a long time happened at Kang Kang Food Court” and I couldn’t agree more.
Outside SGV, it was exciting living in a city with a Din Tai Fung, Sushi Spot and Jeni’s ice cream. Oh and who can forget In-N-Out!
5. Death Valley National Park
WOW. Death Valley is probably the most amazing National Park I’ve ever been to. I’m going to write a full blog post about it later on, but this place is VAST. It’s the largest National Park outside Alaska, and it takes more than an hour to even drive from one side to another.
I originally thought Death Valley was mostly a desert with sand dunes so I was really shocked when I started researching for the trip and discovered that sand dunes only make up less than 1% of Death Valley. There’s salt flats, a salt water basin, gorgeous mountain ranges, even a waterfall and more!
There’s no cell reception around or near Death Valley so you’re completely cut off from the world. I LOVED IT!
Is remote working in LA worth it?
To be honest, this gets both a YES and a NO from me. If California wasn’t going through a crazy COVID spike and had everything relatively control under like in NYC, I would have said yes. Overall, I had a pretty relaxing time working from there and loved getting to know the Hollywood Hills area so well.
Luckily I avoided getting COVID during the entire month I lived in LA (I got tested twice) but with COVID cases spiraling out of control in California, I would avoid visiting or moving there until the situation is under control or wait until you’re able to get vaccinated.
Had I known before planning a remote month there, I would’ve gone straight to remote working in Honolulu as I originally planned, and skipped LA altogether.
For those interested in saving some money while working remotely, LA is still quite expensive (just a tad cheaper than NYC) so it might not be worth it, relative to other sunny but safer cities.
Have you had the opportunity to work remotely from a different city? Where would you go if you can work remotely from any city?