Whether you’re brand new to Charm City or a long-time resident, it’s always a good idea to check in with others and see how they’re making the most of their lives in Baltimore.

Recently, a user on the Baltimore subreddit did just that in a thread asking for a “Baltimore hack that you’re willing to share.”

There was some really, really good advice in the thread. We’ve pulled together a list of seven top tips for living life in Baltimore.

1. Take advantage of the Pratt Library system

The Enoch Pratt Free Library system is one of Baltimore’s crown jewels. While a few branches are closed right now because of the high temperatures and a lack of air conditioning, the system has more than 20 locations.

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Your library card gets you physical loans from the library, digital loans on your favorite devices and so much more – everything from computer training to COVID-19 testing to passport applications.

And here’s a bonus hack for Baltimore book lovers: The Book Thing of Baltimore is an organization that, once a month, opens up and allows anyone to come in and take as many books as they want, free of charge.

2. Are you a new homeowner or taking on a big project? Run to the Station North Tool Library.

This one is exactly what it sounds like, and it’s exactly as good as it sounds, too. For a membership fee, you can get up to 8 tools per week to tackle any projects you’re working on at home – yes, including power tools. There are monthly membership options or a sliding scale annual membership fee based on income.

In addition to borrowing tools, you can take classes to learn a new craft and take advantage of open workshop hours.

Using the tool library is definitely cheaper than buying a power tool you’ll only use twice. It’s also a great way to save storage space at home, and support your neighbors – membership helps subsidize the cost of classes for folks who might not be able to afford them and keep the library operating.

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We’ve got more tips on renovating an older house in Baltimore here.

3. Watch out for speed cameras

This one is definitely more “tip” that hack, and while it isn’t unique to Baltimore, it is worth considering, especially if you drive on I-83. The Jones Falls Expressway recently installed speed cameras, and the flow of traffic often (OK, always) exceeds the speed limit.

According to the city’s website, speed cameras record violations any time a driver is going at least 12 mph over the speed limit. They operate from 6 a.m.-8 p.m. in school zones and around-the-clock on the JFX and in work zones.

It’ll cost you $40 per speed camera violation and $75 per red-light camera violation.

4. City services? Some actually work really, really well.

It’s easy to gripe and moan about the state of services in Baltimore City — there are some neighborhoods that have frequent, repeat issues. But Baltimore also has solid 311 tracking for complaints ranging from water outages to illegally parked cars. And we’ve got a dedicated, hardworking graffiti removal unit.

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There’s an app to report and track cases, but I can tell you from personal experience that calling and speaking to someone on the phone can really get the gears in motion — just be sure to get your case number for any necessary follow-up.

Another city service that works like a charm? The Sisson Street dump. One of Baltimore’s five residential drop-off centers, the Sisson Street location in Remington is the one that I’ve used as a homeowner. The staff are friendly and helpful (they’ve helped me remove recycling from my Subaru before), but don’t forget to bring proof of city residency.

5. Defensive driving is important

Again, maybe this isn’t totally unique to Baltimore, but the drivers here are definitely ... well, assertive. As one Reddit user pointed out, even if you’ve got a green light, you should look both ways before driving through an intersection. It doesn’t take a lot of time driving downtown before you’ll see drivers treat red lights as suggestions or plow through bike and bus lanes.

Car insurance is already expensive enough, especially in Baltimore — one estimate finds premiums are nearly 20% more expensive than the statewide average. Wallethub reported that Maryland has an unusually high number of drivers who lack even basic insurance, which drives up the cost for others.

To prepare yourself for driving in Charm City, this story has a map of the roads and neighborhoods in Baltimore that experience the most collisions, according to state data.

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6. If you’re looking for a good meal, explore

There’s great food all over Baltimore. Locals will tell you not to waste your time at any of the big chains that dot the Inner Harbor. Simone Phillips is a creative in residence for The Banner and runs the popular @CharmCityTable Instagram account, and she documents some of the best places to grab a bite in the city.

Once you start looking, you’ll find places with great stories behind them, like the Liberian connection to a new cafe downtown or the family history behind traditional Trinidadian roti.

7. BWI and Penn Station are both great for travel

If you want to get to Washington, D.C. from Baltimore, the absolute best option is the MARC train (a one-way ticket from Penn Station to Union station is $9; buy it on the CharmPass app or at the station). The weekend schedule is a bit limited, but during the week you can get from Baltimore to D.C. at just about any time for cheap. Penn Station is also great for catching an Amtrak train for a trip up or down the East Coast.

If you’re traveling a bit further, BWI is an invaluable airport to have so close. The light rail or the MARC train will get you there cheap and easy (a one-way ticket from Penn Station to BWI is $6), which can save you from costly parking. BWI is a hub airport for Southwest Airlines, which means you can often find cheap flights to points all across the country.

Do you have a great tip for making the most out of life in Baltimore? A story that you think is worth telling? Let us know! You can email me, reach out to me on Twitter or email our newsroom at tips@thebaltimorebanner.com.

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Cody Boteler is a reporter on The Banner’s Express Desk, reporting on breaking news, trending stories and interesting things in and around Baltimore. His work has appeared in The Baltimore Sun, USA TODAY, Baltimore magazine and others.

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