The San Diego trip

For last couple weeks, I had been worked to help my niece, Yunqi Liu settle down. She would fly from Shanghai to San Diego to pursue her master degree in UCSD. This post documented this journey.

Apartment hunting

I was astonished how crazy the San Deigo rental market is, a two-bedroom apartment can easily exceed $4000/month. The strong demand from UCSD students and faculties may drive the price up, so is the proximity of Westfield UTC, an upscale shopping center.

As neither Yunqi or her roommate, Zaichao has any income or credit history in the United States, they need a cosigner or guarantor to sign the lease. Both cosigner and guarantor are liable for payments default. The difference is cosigner shares the same responsibility and rights, while guarantor is NOT entitled to live in the apartment under the contract.

I decided to sign the lease as a guarantor, not for semantics correctness; just feared the lease might establish my residence in California with tax liability. My colleagues were haunted by California Tax Service Center for years with their short endeavors in the Golden State. It is better safe than sorry even though the guarantor incurs more security deposit and less benefits.

The Day before landing

Due to that Yunqi’s flight lands at 4:30pm local time in LAX, I have to fly to San Diego one day ahead to pick up the apartment keys and setup for the first night stay. If the flight landed earlier, I could fly to LAX to pick them up in the airport, and might still have time to go shopping and set everything up.

The rental experience with Economic Rent-a-car was slightly unpleasant. I got the exactly same car as advertised in the Expedia, — which is great, Nissan Rogue, a compact SUV with keyless ignition and lane change assistant.

Nissan Rogue in the Comfort Inn parking lot
Nissan Rogue in the Comfort Inn parking lot

But it took me one extra hour to ride on the wheels. The rental office was offsite so I had to take a second shuttle from the Sand Diego rental car center. The company is also extremely risk averse. The agent kept promoting their full coverage insurance plan for $20 extra per day as he was concerned that the 3rd party liability was not covered by my auto insurance, — it did indeed, combined with the Expedia theft protection. I had to call Statefarm to get hold of my insurance agency to explain the insurance policy over the phone to resolve this issue. And I was not alone, another furious customer had to do the same thing while I was waiting in the line.

The leasing office closes at 3:00pm on Sunday, so I have to either return the car earlier, or park the car in the street or at the specified parking lot (with a $29.99 fee) for off-hour return. Overall, I think the discounted price could not justify the hassle, especially for a short stay.


  • Alaska Flight: $327.80
  • Sea-Tac Airport parking (4 day): $50.50
  • Economic Rent-a-car (3 day): $148.31
  • Expedia insurance (4 day): $40.00
  • Comfort Inn: $113.74

Subtotal: $640.35

Landing Day

I woke up on 8:00am, had a big fat breakfast, prepared for the big day.

First, I drove to the Walmart for shopping the very essential:

  • beddings
  • garbage cans, trash bags
  • toilet paper, napkins, paper wipes, etc
  • dish wash
  • dinnerware, silverware
  • milk, bread, cereals, eggs, instant noodles, bottomed water

Shopping cart in Walmart checkout
Shopping cart in Walmart checkout

Then I drove to the leasing office to get the keys, and walked through the room and facilities. It was almost 2:00pm when everything was settled. I hurried to hit the road to avoid the Friday rush hours, — Google Map estimated 3.5 hours for mere 113 miles. The I5 north was a massive parking lot, bumper to bumper with roughly 30 mile/hour speed.

I eventually made it at 5:30pm. The two were already waiting in the terminal, looked exhausted. The luggage was barely fit into the cargo space as a warning signaled the hatchback was not fully secured. It took us another 20 minutes to enumerate different combinations to fit everything perfectly. The return trip was less stressful, and everybody was exhausted except that little guy.


  • Walmart shopping: $331.46
  • Walmart shopping: $26.25
  • LAX P1 parking: $9.00
  • Toll: $9.18

Subtotal: $1016.24

Shopping Days

The next two days, we just shopped around for mattresses, furniture, cooking utensils, etc. in Mattress Firm, IKEA, Target, Costco. Their favorite place is the 99 Ranch market, an Asian supermarket.

Yunqi and Zaicao with receipt in Ranch 99
Yunqi and Zaicao with receipt in Ranch 99

On Sunday afternoon, I decided to leave early to return the rental car to avoid the risk and hassles, also hoped to hop on an earlier flight to Seattle. It turned out the low-price ticket waived the rights to change itinerary. I could not board the earlier flight even there was a spot available and one passenger just missed the flight. I stayed in the airport for 3 hours to finish reading book, The Accidental Superpower.


  • Costco $159.26
  • Costco gas: $50.03
  • Chevron gas: $17.92

Total: $1283.45

Family values? Priceless.


I am so glad I could help my niece and her friend to settle down to start their new journey. I feel the world is quite different over the last two decades. When Hui and I flew to US in 2003, we had no relatives or friend to fly in; senior students with the same advisor, the Chinese Student and Scholars Association (CSSA), even local churches reached out to help us bootstrap and kick off a new life.

The rent was one magnitude cheaper, and the landlord was perfectly OK to sign a lease with two broke students. It took us couple weeks to collect essential household goods without a car.

Other lessons learned are:

  • Get a mid-size SUV if you plan to pick up international travelers.
  • Pay the premium for flight tickets to have options open.
  • Avoid the cheapest car rental, other fees may snake their ways make up.