Everything I Wish I Knew Before Heading Off On My Californian J1

Don't eat the garlic pizza dip...just don't do it.

If you’re lucky enough to be embarking on a J1 this summer, congrats! You’re about to have the best summer of your life – you lucky divil.

It’s around that time of year when, if you’re a lucky J1 goer, you’ll be finalising your job, preparing for your embassy interview, and saving your bum off to make sure you can afford to have the time of your life.

I was one of the lucky souls who jetted off to the sunny west coast city of San Diego last summer, and although I had the best three months of my life, there are definitely some things I wish knew before making the move. Here’s a list of all the things I learned on my Californian adventure.

When you think you have enough money – think again

It’s no secret that you should be doing some serious saving during these last few weeks before you head Stateside, but I can’t stress enough how important money is to survive on a J1. California is one of the most expensive States in America, not just in terms of rent, but also to eat and drink. Think about how much money you’re aiming to save – now double it.

Tipping is essential

Tipping your server/bartender in America isn’t negotiable. You don’t only have to tip at the end of your meal, but also with every drink you buy at the bar – at least a dollar each time. If you’re not in a position to tip, be prepared to fight with your bartender because they will 1. cause a scene or 2. refuse to serve you again. I’m not being dramatic.

Airbnb or sublet an apartment

We all know that person who brags about the fact that they stayed in a two-bed, unfurnished apartment with 12 other people on the J1. Trust me – you don’t want to be that guy. Try your hardest to find an Airbnb for the three months before you leave Ireland, you’ll have to pay your first month’s rent upon booking but it’ll ultimately save you money in the long run and you’ll have a bed to sleep on.

Stock up on the necessities

Among the most expensive things to buy in America are the bare necessities – things like tampons, shampoo, shower gel, cotton pads, washing detergent and toilet roll. You won’t find anywhere in Cali where you’ll be able to buy tampons for less than $10, so you should try stock up on all these bits from Penneys before you leave. I’m well aware you won’t be lugging bog roll on an 8 hour flight, but if you’re working in a bar or restaurant..you can always pinch from there!

Nobody uses public transport

It’s a fact that if you’re living in California, you’ve been driving since you could walk. Everyone on the west coast drives and the bus is literally considered the peasant wagon. On the bright side, you’ll meet some interesting characters on Californian public transport – including lots of dogs.

Don’t abuse the aircon

When you arrive in California from Ireland, the heat will definitely be a shock to the system. In saying this, it’s only going to get hotter, so try your best to not abuse your aircon as soon as you arrive. Aircon is the worst for racking up the utility bill and you’ll need it far more in July. Trust me.

Bring more than one hoodie and pair of jeans

I know what you’re thinking: “why would I bring warm clothes to the sunny west coast?”, but I swear – California gets breezy and there are going to be days when you’ll need to leave the house and shorts just won’t be appropriate. Also, you’ll be glad of a cosy hoodie during those breezy nighttime beach sessions.

Garlic pizza dip is most definitely NOT the dreamy Dominos one you’ll be craving

You might think American food is going to be amazing, but I’m here to give you a gentle wakeup call. Don’t bother ordering a garlic dip with your pizza, it’s actually garlic butter and a FLUORESCENT yellow colour. It’s disgusting.

Eating healthily isn’t cheap

Unfortunately, America doesn’t have the same food laws and restrictions we have in Ireland, so finding fresh, healthy food that won’t cost a bomb is difficult. Whole Foods is the only place you can get chicken breasts that aren’t pumped full of water and they’re far from cheap, so if you want to have a somewhat healthy diet you’re going to need that $$$.

Make a friend who drives

If you don’t drive yourself, you’re going to need to befriend someone with a licence. The best part about the J1 by far is the travelling at the end, the impromptu trips to LA and mall runs. Like I mentioned, the public transport system is pretty awful, so if you want to see the city – you’ll need a car.

Four Loko is your new best friend

Four Loko is a caffeinated alcoholic bevvy that will blow your goddamn mind. One can contains 12% alcohol and will only cost you about $2.50. One can will get you well on your way, two will get you hammered and three will make your heart stop. You’ve been warned.

The Americans are genuinely the kindest people in the world

You’ll soon learn that the Americans (especially west coasters) will want to help you with anything and everything. They will never let you get the bus home alone after work and they need you at their 4th of July BBQ. They will also continuously say “we should go for a drink sometime” and you’ll never know if they mean everyone should go drinking or if you’ve just agreed to a date.

Say yes to everything

A J1 is a once in a lifetime experience, so make sure to get out of your comfort zone and say yes to everything (except drugs). Try to branch out from your Irish friend group and spend some time with the Americans you work with – nobody knows the place like them and you’ll be guaranteed that true Cali experience.


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