The One Move That Changed My Entire Life

Illustrated by Elliott Salazar.
It sucks to break up with a city you love. We’re talking Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction levels of suckiness. The logistics are a nightmare, the landlords are diabolical, and nothing comes cheap. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth risking a boiled bunny, if you really want out. When I moved across the country from New York to Los Angeles, it was to reboot my career; I had known for years that L.A. was the only city in which this could happen. But the longer I lived in New York, the more my identity became linked to that location. Excuses to stay put were easy to come by: “I can’t leave my friends!” “I can’t leave this apartment!” “I actually LIKE being sexually harassed on the subway!” Some excuses were genuine, but many were based in fear. My biggest bad excuse was always money: “I don’t have the cash!” But when I finally did move, I found that if you’re willing to be minimalist and creative, you can haul your ass across the country for little more than the cost of a plane ticket.

However, before you all book flights to a better life, consider this: “Just because” is not a reason to move 3,000 miles. Move because you need to, move to pursue your passion, or move because there are mobsters who want you dead. But don’t do it “just because.” It’s certainly possible to relocate for cheap (more on this in a sec), but the emotional price can be high.

My move was especially charged, since it came two months after three major traumas: a breakup, a job loss, and testicular cancer. My friends supported me throughout, helping me cope with insane levels of stress. Without them, I honestly don’t know if I would’ve survived. But with their help, I was able to get through crisis and tap into newfound strength. This strength is what gave me the courage to finally move across the country. It wasn’t easy, but it was the most important decision of my life.

Whether it’s Seattle to D.C., Atlanta to Portland, or Philly to an ice floe in Alaska, I can promise you one thing: Moving cross-country doesn’t happen without a fight. Here are some tips for getting through the battle without breaking the bank.

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Illustrated by Elliott Salazar.
Obviously, it’s best to move just after your lease expires. But life is rarely concerned with the terms of your rental agreement. Case in point: After I was dumped and got cancer, life thought it would be super chill if I lost my job as well. This meant I was no longer able to afford my $2,500/month apartment. But, with my last tether to NYC cut, I was finally free to move across the country.

Well, almost free — I still had eight months left on my lease. And so, I came face-to-face with the unrelenting bureaucracy of my evil corporate high-rise. I wasn’t allowed to sublet and was forced to find another tenant to whom I could “assign” my lease. The lease assignation process was lorded over by the building management team — a squad of impressively inept ex-sorority girls. To be fair, it’s possible that they would have been good at their jobs, but because they didn’t actually do those jobs, it was impossible to tell. So, it fell completely on my shoulders to find someone to take over my lease — and lead that person through the application process.

Unloading a $2,500/month studio in the middle of October in New York proved to be Mission Nearly Impossible. After a desperate search, I was unlucky enough to find an insane architect who had seemingly never applied for an apartment in his life. What should’ve taken one week took an entire month; as my new tenant struggled to assemble the very basics of the application, the building management team made it their goal to slow the process, every Tory Burch-heeled step of the way.

I was determined to move by the end of October, but the architect refused to move in until November 15. Frank Lloyd Wrong would only agree to sign if I paid half November’s rent. He was my only hope, so I said yes. Fortunately, I also got my security deposit back from the clutches of the corporate robots, so that lessened the damage a bit.

Los Angeles was much friendlier on the real estate front. Through friends, I found a miracle sublet in Los Feliz for $1,000/month with no security deposit. The sublet lasted three months — long enough for me to get my footing, find work, and search for a permanent spot.

I recommend the try-before-you-buy technique of moving across the country; in other words, spend some time in your new city before pawning your furniture. I spent the month of September in Los Angeles before I officially made the decision to move. That month was enough time to get acquainted with L.A., figure out which neighborhoods I liked, find my furnished sublet, put feelers out for potential jobs, and form a few nascent friendships. It gave me the courage to make the leap and the knowledge required to land on my feet. Of course, you can also adopt the balls-to-the-wall, sight-unseen approach to your move — but just be prepared for a less-smooth transition.

Half an insane man's November rent: - $1,250
Miracle sublet: - $1,000

Security deposit refund: + $2,500

TOTAL: + $250
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Illustrated by Elliott Salazar.
Moving means exorcising your demons and your sentimental attachments to furniture. Get rid of that coffee table your ex-boyfriend built for you. I don’t care if he was Magic Mike; the memories of your failed relationship aren’t worth the cost of a moving truck.

Wait, you’re thinking, he’s saying ‘Don’t hire a moving truck?’ What about all my stuff?

Sell it. That’s what I did. You’ll need the cash in your new location, and who knows if that sexy sofa will even fit in your new apartment. I had an absurdly expensive table from Knoll Design Studio that I got rid of to the tune of $1,135. My adorbable, midcentury-modern loveseat fetched a more modest $200, but was still worth selling. What you can’t sell, trash. No one on Craigslist seemed particularly interested in my IKEA bed frame, bookshelf, or dresser, so I sacrificed them to the god of cheap Swedish furniture (a.k.a. the dumpster behind my building). Traveling light allowed me greater flexibility upon landing in L.A. It also saved me the expense of hiring a costly, cross-country moving truck.

Of course, it’s impossible to purge everything, and there will be stuff you want to keep. Because I’m a writer, I was unwilling to part with my book collection. But it also felt absurd to rent a storage space for books alone. So, I called upon the free storage space so many of us are lucky to possess: the parental basement. I shipped my books to mom and dad and stored them there until I found a permanent place to live in Los Angeles.

The rest of my belongings came with me in the three large suitcases. Again, minimalism is key here: Don’t squander luggage space on jeans you wore in middle school. If Alicia Silverstone couldn’t make Excess Baggage work, there’s certainly no hope for the rest of us.

Shipping books to Mom’s basement: - $265
Packing supplies: - $32

Designer table sale: + $1,279
Love seat sacrifice: + $200

TOTAL: + $1,182
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Illustrated by Elliott Salazar.
I don’t think the reality of the move hit me until I was seated on my JetBlue flight, crying into a bag of Terra Chips. I had done it: I had gotten out of New York alive. I had survived the trauma of heartbreak and cancer, and I was ready to create a new life in a new city. Fortunately, emotional baggage doesn’t cost anything to check, as I had already spent $160 stowing all my earthly possessions an hour earlier.

An important question to consider, before spending the $438 on your one-way ticket: Are you running to something, or from something?
If you’re running from something, you’re going to keep running from it, no matter what city you’re in. But if you’re running to something, if you have an identifiable goal and a positive reason to make the move, you have greater chances of survival. So check in with yourself before checking in to JetBlue. Because if you still have demons chasing you, you’ll wind up being the emotional equivalent of the girl from It Follows.

One-way ticket to a new life: - $438
Baggage: - $160
Taxi to JFK: - $62
Taxi from LAX: - $45
Plane “Food”: - $16

- $721
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Illustrated by Elliott Salazar.
I live in L.A., and I don’t own a car. This fact, when told to the average Angeleno, is treated with the same concern one reserves for a friend with a terminal illness. “You don’t drive? In L.A.? Babe, I’m here for you.” But the truth is, a car-free existence in L.A. is actually amazing. By using Uber/Lyft as my sole form of transportation, I avoid the hassles of traffic, parking, and designated driving. I also avoid the costs of leasing a car, insurance payments, and gas. All in all, the Uber-only method can actually be cheaper than owning a car.

For this reason, you might want to think about whether or not you want to buy a car right off the bat. Since moving to L.A., I’ve met a surprising number of people who don’t drive. These days, most major cities are armed with fleets of Lyfts, and it’s possible to ride-share your way to glory. Of course, if you have a job where you need to run frequent errands in your car, or if you happen to like spending 30 minutes searching for a brunch parking spot, this option might not be for you. But if you need to take a minute to settle into your new city before sinking a down payment into a Prius, you might want to consider the benefits of riding in cars with strangers.

First month of ride-sharing glory: - $464

- $464
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Illustrated by Elliott Salazar.
My first New Year’s Eve in Los Angeles was almost a disaster. The evening started out with a Skype call to my best NYC friends, in which I pretended not to be absolutely devastated that I was missing our annual New Year’s celebration. After I hung up, I spent 20 minutes sobbing, and then another 20 minutes coming up with reasons why eating an entire sheet cake alone in my apartment was probably a better idea than braving the L.A. New Year’s party to which I had RSVPed.

I was paralyzed with anxiety and social dread until about 10:00 p.m., when I got a text from my new L.A. friend, Ryan:

“You still coming 2nite?”

I snapped out of it. Yes, goddammit, I was still coming 2nite. I manned up, armored myself with the most expensive shirt I owned, and headed to the party. And thank god I did. Ryan, the guy who texted me, flirted with me all night, and kissed me for the first time the following day — I’m now lucky enough to call him my boyfriend.

Moving doesn’t end when your new lease begins. Establishing an identity in a new city requires courage, hustle, and determination. Leaving great friendships behind is hard, and forming new ones can be even harder. Find a group of Starter Friends to help you navigate the social landscape of your new city, say yes to every invitation, and always go the the party. I repeat: GO TO THE PARTY. The worst that could happen is that no one talks to you. The best that could happen is that your life could change forever.

That’s the other great thing about starting over in a new city: Possibility is everywhere. Every interaction, every event, every trip to the goddam grocery store surges with the excitement of the unknown. It’s both exhilarating and terrifying. And if you move for the right reasons, it’s absolutely worth the price.

Speaking of price, here’s the shocking final twist: I actually made money on my cross-country move — $247 dollars, to be exact. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I didn’t go out and buy a Tesla with my new fortune. But still, it’s always good to have extra cash for a rainy day. Unless you, like I, moved to a city where it doesn’t rain. In that case, buy yourself a cocktail. You earned it.

TOTAL GAIN: +3,979

- $3,732


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