I’ve Moved Around the Country Plenty of Times. Here’s How You Can Press Reset on Your Life, Too

published Jan 17, 2020
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Credit: Lauren Volo

It was somewhere around my twelfth move that I discovered the gene variant DRD4-7R, better known as the “wanderlust gene.” I’m convinced I have it. In eight years, I’ve moved 25 times, and would happily move again if I needed to. A lot of those moves were in and around New York City, as I sublet furnished places I could’ve never afforded any other way. 

My original move was intended to be a giant reset for my faltering life. I was an overly trained, under-hired 44-year-old actress who’d just launched a dietary counseling business in Los Angeles. It took off momentarily, before an economic downturn snatched away my clientele. I decided to go back to school to get the degree I never got when I was younger, and to start over in a new city. It was a clean slate that appealed to my love of adventure. I packed one large suitcase that resembled a small whale on wheels, sold or gave away everything else, and hopped on a one-way flight from L.A. to New York City with about $900 in the bank. 

I had exactly two acquaintances in New York. One greeted me with the stipulation that I could only stay with her for three nights. I made it two and then moved into a dormitory on campus midway through the academic year. I surprised my much younger roommates by cleaning their lived-in space. They came back from winter break with a sparkling apartment and, well, my aging self as their third flatmate. Both of them were fabulous 19-year olds, and while we were friendly with each other, I didn’t spend much time with them outside of our living situation. I simply worked hard in school and slowly got back on track. I formed new relationships and got the lay of the land.

In a few weeks, I was getting the hang of being in a new city almost completely by myself. I learned that it’s not such a wild thing to do—if you’re willing to take a few simple steps. Other people who’ve pressed the reset button on their lives would tell you the same. Here’s where to start.

Decide what you can live without

The hardest part of all is taking the plunge and deciding to move in the first place. But from there, you can begin making a plan and taking the steps to make it happen. It can be pretty darn scary—I felt physically ill watching my 20-year-old belongings disappear at my yard sale. I’d envisioned taking most of those items with me into late adulthood. But I needed to let those possessions go in order to leap into a new life that’s been far more fun than I could have anticipated. 

To be clear, not everyone needs to let everything go. You can rent a U-Haul, hire a moving service, or take what fits in your own vehicle. The key is figuring out what makes sense for you. Letting go was difficult at first, but I didn’t regret it later and was in a better spot because I was traveling light.

Draw up a plan—and a budget

A recent transplant named Andrea Rose decided she wanted to start over in Washington, D.C. To do that, she made a plan that involved using Craigslist to find a temporary sublet. That gave her time to find a place she could rent for longer. Sublets are a great way to start out. To find them, you can join housing groups on social media, comb over lists from colleges and universities, or sign up for emails like The Lee List, The Listings Project, and more.

Once you figure out what rent will cost, it’s best to have savings to support yourself for at least six months. Since I was going back to school and taking out loans that covered rent and food, I knew I’d be set. Tammy Stroeble, an international mover, took the leap from Germany to Los Angeles in 2017. Before the move, she worked two jobs for six months in her hometown, saving as much as she could by living at home in Radolfzell. She began her new life in the U.S. by staying with family friends in Fresno for a few years. Moral of the story? It took a few detours before she finally got to Los Angeles, but Stroeble says her saving strategy gave her an important safety net to start with, and the confidence to keep going.

Don’t neglect safety for convenience 

You see a lot of seemingly sketchy things in big cities. One actually sketchy practice is when people show apartments they don’t have any right to, then collect application fees with no intention of renting it. Their story usually goes like this: The apartment belongs to their friend who’s out of the country and has asked them to handle the rental details. Beware of tall tales.

Another scam you’ll want to avoid: Putting down anything more than a small deposit before seeing an apartment in person. I’ve seen many people forlornly trying to get into an apartment building they thought they paid a full month’s rent for, only to find their “apartment” is not for rent at all.

With one sublet I rented in Asheville, N.C., I booked a hotel room for my first night just to be sure the place I’d paid a deposit on was in the condition I expected it to be. Put simply, I had a backup plan in case it was nothing like the pictures. The idea was that I could find another place in Asheville fairly quickly if things didn’t go according to plan. Luckily my safety net wasn’t needed, and I enjoyed a nice long stay in a picturesque part of town.

Start working as soon as you can

Amy Glin first moved to Ohio in 2014 and took a job doing food demonstrations in grocery stores. The work helped her meet people in the community and make connections. But after a few months, she decided that she would rather settle in Colorado, and learned she could transfer her work to some stores in the Centennial State. After figuring out her job situation, she found a place to stay using Roomiematch.com, a service that screens its users to keep out scammers. In short, she covered both her work and living statuses quickly and easily.

Adam Schomer moved from Detroit, Mich., to Los Angeles just over 10 years ago with the intention of seizing any and all work opportunities. He found a room to rent on Craigslist, and, almost immediately, began working with his new roommates on a web series. The income offered him a way to do other activities he enjoyed, and soon enough, he put himself on a path toward becoming a documentary filmmaker. It all began with his willingness to start new projects.

Get comfortable being alone

When you’re new to a place, remember that relationships take time to develop. You’ll have to get used to doing some things alone. If you’re accustomed to a network of folks who invite you to gatherings, gallery openings, sporting events, and other fun things, it might be difficult to suddenly uproot yourself. But don’t let that stop you. Schomer said he enjoyed trying new things solo, since it allowed him to meet more people than if he’d gone with a friend. He went to yoga classes, on hikes, and even on a group trip to India. His network grew naturally and opened up all kinds of opportunities for him, such as creating his own Monday meditation group that blossomed into a community of trusted friends.

If heading out to social gatherings alone gives you nerves, I’m right there with you. I’ve found it gets only a little easier with practice, but almost always turns out wonderfully. When I moved back to L.A. after eight sublime years in New York, I decided to take a tour of an old house out in Malibu, just because it looked interesting. There was a woman there around my age doing the same thing. Ironically, we both worked in animation and had a nice time chatting. We went to lunch after the tour and have been friends ever since.

To make your own move, you don’t need boatloads of cash—though that can certainly make things easier—or to know anyone at all. You can press reset by planning, budgeting, and staying open-minded as you take your big leap of faith.