5 Lessons I Learned from My Cross-Country Move

published May 5, 2018
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(Image credit: Lumina/Stocksy)

On May 1, 2017, my partner and I squeezed all of our remaining belongings into an overstuffed Hyundai Elantra and departed on a one-way trip from Toronto to Vancouver. I say remaining belongings because an 2008 Elantra is no U-Haul. Tony Bennett may have left his heart in San Francisco but we left all of our furniture in the Salvation Army loading bay. We had decided to leave our apartment, jobs and almost a decade’s worth of friends behind to start over on the other side of the country purely for the experience. With our late twenties calling, we wanted to pick up and try something totally new before we lost the nerve. As we just marked the one-year anniversary of our big, crazy move, here are the top five things I learned from moving across the country.

(Image credit: Colleen Murphy)

1. You have too many things (and you will become allergic to things).

Anyone who has ever had to sort all of their things into hastily labeled bankers boxes has come face to face with the realization that no matter where you fall on the hoarder spectrum, you simply have too much stuff. Moving cities magnifies this experience because not only do you theoretically have too much stuff, you logistically have too much stuff. You need to toss, donate and re-gift until you have one trip’s worth of possessions and trust me, that will be less than you think when you play one very stressful game of Tetris: Pack the Car Edition.

What I didn’t expect was that this guerilla warfare on my personal property would change me on the other side. When offered a secondhand microwave for our new place I practically shouted “NO!” in my mother’s face in a flash of packing PTSD. When it came time to re-acquire, a more minimalist version of myself remained. Be prepared to feel differently about that which is not portable and your newfound passion for the packable.

(Image credit: Colleen Murphy)

2. Take your time (not just for the road trip stories).

We began our move with a one-month road trip that took us through Detroit, Chicago, Minneapolis and the Prairie Provinces before finally arriving in our new rain soaked homeland. What we didn’t realize when we plotted our slow and steady route was that not only would it be an opportunity to transform the trek into a pseudo-vacation, it was a great way to lessen the whiplash that occurs when you suddenly find yourself in a new city. Put plainly, moving can be kind of a harrowing experience and being able to put some temporal distance between our departure and arrival lessened our anxieties. When we finally pulled into Vancouver, we were ready to get there. One month in a sweaty sedan will do that for you.

3. Get your story straight (and don’t talk to strangers).

Have those stock answers ready because a big move, like any elective life choice, will be met with a lot of questions (and opinions) from friends, family and inquisitive strangers. If you ever want to hear about why people hate a place, tell them you’re moving there for fun. Also, be prepared for your former homeland to also take a tongue-lashing. As major Toronto stans, explaining why we would leave a place we still loved was mental gymnastics some just couldn’t do. Lean into the supportive well wishes and be on your way.

(Image credit: Colleen Murphy)

4. Find your new favorites (and try not to compare)

Going from knowing my neighborhood like the back of my hand to being a stranger in a new area code was a feeling I wanted to overcome as soon as possible. I soon realized that surveying and evaluating as many local hot spots as fast as I could was not only impossible, but also not particularly helpful and resulted in me fiercely comparing my new city to my old one. Finding a couple go-to hang-outs, whether they are cafes, restaurants or park benches, is not only comforting but a better way to find your new groove. (In case you’re wondering, I found Budgie’s Burritos.)

5. Home is where the heart is (and was)

Feeling like a local after a major move takes time and I’ve been told that getting used to the weather (in Vancouver that means rain), finding new friends, and hitting the one-year mark are all indicators that your new city is now “home.” The simplest answer is ultimately that home is where you have your mail sent, but for now I fly “home” to Toronto to visit friends, go “home” to Calgary to see my family for Christmas and return “home” to Vancouver to, well, be at home. When you know, you know.

This post is part of a three-part series—you can find out more about Colleen’s move here: Things to Buy First When you Move to a New City and 10 Things I Wish I Had (or Hadn’t) Left Behind in My Cross-Country Move.