I moved to New York City four years ago from California with nothing more than a little chunk of change and a (practically) strangers couch to crash on. It had been something I had been talking about doing for my entire life, and I was finally done just talking.
I was 26 years old at the time, a college graduate, with nothing exciting happening in my life. My life wasn’t bad by any means, but there was nothing that made me leap out of bed in the morning. I was tired of being just comfortable – so I jumped.
If you’re anything like me (and countless other people), you may also be contemplating taking a huge step and moving to the big bad city. I let myself talk about it for years before I actually set a plan in motion. And it was the best decision of my life.
Before I really get started, I feel like it’s important for you to understand a couple things about me. I am and have always been a very self sufficient person. I had to be. And without telling a sob story or bragging about being independent, you need to understand that I had no parents (or anybody else) helping me out.
This was something I was making the decision to do a hundred thousand percent alone. I worked to put myself through school and I worked to save money and do the things that were important to me. By myself.
I want you to know this so that you stop making excuses for yourself that you just simply can’t go at it alone. Because you can. Let me repeat that. YOU CAN MOVE TO NEW YORK. Even with nothing, or at the least with very little, and here’s my 10-step guide to making it happen.
1. Want it more than anything.
This is the most important thing you have to decide, because you will have to make sacrifices in order to make this happen. If you don’t want it bad enough, like really want it bad enough, it’ll never happen.
The hardest decision I ever made was to leave. I ended a very long relationship, quit a good job with a lot of opportunity and moved away from the family I had built myself from scratch. I did it because I felt trapped in a life that was happening to me instead of creating the life I wanted for myself.
Everything else I had to do after deciding to go was so easy in comparison. It wasn’t even a blimp on the radar compared to the monumental choice to jump with no safety net. I knew it would be hard, and I knew that it would be scary, but I also knew that it was the most important thing I would ever do in my life.
So decide you want it more than anything, tell yourself you can do it, and then just keep on moving.
2. Stop listening to people.
Your friends and family could end up being your biggest liability when making life-changing decisions. I say this not to belittle their existence, but to allow you to act as your own entity in deciding important matters that affect your life. Nobody else has to live with the decisions you make more than you do, and your opinion should be the only one that matters in this moment.
When my plan first started out, I only told a few people I trusted and knew would offer the support and encouragement I needed. I saved all the rest for later. When it had finally made the rounds to everyone I knew, I had a lot of people say discouraging things about how hard, dangerous and expensive it was. How New York is a tough city and it’s impossible to make it there.
Let me let you in on a little secret: it’s not impossible.
If you’re lucky you won’t encounter much of this negativity but if you do, don’t listen to them. Any attempt to talk you out of it, no matter how genuine it is for your well-being, is coming from a place of fear and ignorance. Nobody can actually know if you can do it unless you try. And although New York is a tough city and it’s not for everyone, that’s not what you need to hear right now.
You don’t need the negativity, you need to know you can do it.
3. Start saving money.
So you decided to go and not let anyone stop you? So now you need to start saving money. Nothing will make New York more stressful than showing up flat broke. So you need to start minimizing your expenses and budget your finances and get a handle on that before you pack up everything and leave.
It doesn’t have to be a lot of money, just have a little something substantial to fall back on. I don’t have an exact number for you. Everyone’s financial situation is different, but I would suggest a number with at least three zeros behind it. The more, the (obviously) better.
This is where wanting it bad enough is important. Because it will be tempting to spend money on everything in your life that provides you with instant gratification. New clothes, another night out at the bar with your friends, or countless other things we throw our money away on everyday.
This is the time to prioritize and make some sacrifices.
Budgeting and learning to handle your money (even if you don’t have a lot of it) is the only way to survive this giant move. Hell, it’s the only way to survive life as an adult at all. Learn self control and live within your means, and putting a chunk of change together to move shouldn’t be that impossible.
4. Have a departure date.
I think any important goal should have a deadline. It’s what keeps you motivated and holds you accountable. You HAVE to pick a departure date and stick to it. Once this date becomes flexible in your mind, it’s easier to validate your excuses. Then you’ll put it off just another month, or another six months, until the date gets further and further away.
Everything you do should revolve around this date. It doesn’t have to be as soon as possible, just enough time for you to be comfortable moving. I gave myself a little less than a year, but I also wanted to save enough money to do some traveling first.
My plan was book a one way ticket to Europe, and spend a few months backpacking with no return date. I ended up booking my final ticket to New York City from a couchsurfer’s bedroom in Vienna.
The most important thing though was having my departure date from home. If you want to make it really real, buy your one-way plane ticket as soon as possible. Buy it right now. Having that ticket in hand could be exactly what you need to make the move a reality.
Print it out, tape it up on your mirror and look at it every single day.
5. Lighten your load.
Nothing makes moving more expensive and stressful than hauling your entire life across the country (or even just state lines). Do yourself a huge favor and lighten your load before you go. Keep what you MUST, sell what you can, and donate the rest.
This is probably the BEST advice I can give you. It will make temporary sublets, or awful roommates much more bearable when you know that you and your stuff are just a taxi ride away from another living situation. If you can help it, just bring a suitcase and put off buying a lot of furniture until you’re settled.
I got rid of almost everything I owned, packed a small suitcase, and kept a few boxes of stuff at my sisters. Whatever I could sell I did, which helped add to the money I had to take with me. I will spare you the minimalist rant and how I have since learned to purge myself of unnecessary things. I’ll save that for another post. But I will tell you that letting go of stuff was difficult at first, but once I did, I truly felt liberated.
When I finally found my first roommate in Astoria, I moved into her already complete apartment. I furnished my entire empty room for under $300. I ordered the cheapest bed frame, memory foam mattress and sheets I could find online. I bought a bedside table at a secondhand store and I had so little clothes that they all fit in my tiny new closet without needing a dresser.
I stayed in that room, with that $300 worth of furniture, for three years. Talk about the best $300 I ever spent.
6. Have a temporary place to stay.
This is probably the toughest step if you don’t already know someone who lives in New York. When I left California to embark on my European backpacking trip, I didn’t know a single person who lived in New York either.
What happened to me was lucky. I worked at a job that allowed me to interact with the northeast region of the US and I had a number of customers calling in on a daily basis from New York. I got in touch with one who was fascinated by my bold plan to just show up and see what the city had to offer, and he was nice enough to offer his couch while I figured it out.
Although I know this was a lucky break for me, it doesn’t mean something similar can’t happen to you. Start within your network to see if you have any friends of friends willing to help you out. Then start searching the internet for temporary sublets or living situations. Try websites like Craigslist or Facebook groups (like Gypsy Housing).
The thing about New York is it truly is one huge revolving door, constantly moving, with new vacancies all over the city. Just have a place to crash your head for a few weeks when you arrive and you can figure out the rest when you get there.
7. Get any job you can when you arrive.
I think one of the biggest obstacles we place in our own way is the false idea that we have to have it all figured out ahead of time. We want to have our ducks lined, our T’s crossed and all other conditions to be perfect. It’s not true.
Don’t be fooled by having to have a job before you show up. Yes it makes it easier but it’s not a necessity (that’s what you saved money for silly). You just have to be willing to hit the ground running as soon as you show up. Most importantly, don’t be ashamed to take whatever job (within reason) you need to in order to make it.
Fall back on whatever put you through college. Or if you didn’t go to college, whatever your first job out of high school was. I interviewed for a couple nanny positions when I first arrived in New York with no luck. So I printed out some resumes, and walked into every bar I passed by to hand it off to whoever would take it.
Just get an income, any income. Once you have your bearings on the city and how it works then start looking for the dream job.
8. Choose a neighborhood that’s affordable.
Yes, we all want to live in Manhattan. The whole reason we’re even moving to New York is to live like Carrie Bradshaw and if we can’t do that what’s the point, right? Wrong.
New York is big and there are so many wonderful neighborhoods in every borough to choose from. More and more trendy New York neighborhoods are developing every single day, it’s almost impossible to keep up. So stop dreaming of Manhattan and live where you can afford. I had never even heard of Astoria before I showed up in New York. But I still found myself living in Queens, commuting to Manhattan, and loving every minute of it.
There are plenty of safe neighborhoods that are just a short train ride away from any part of Manhattan you want to visit. Start small, find a roommate and don’t let yourself be disappointed that you have to cross a bridge to get home from work.
The bridges have the best views of the city anyway.
9. Be prepared to get lonely.
When I moved to New York, it was the first time in my life I arrived at an airport without someone there waiting to pick me up. I had no friends. Nobody knew who I was or where I came from. It was exciting and scary and most importantly, extremely lonely.
I spent a few weeks struggling with this. It even got so bad that I started looking up plane tickets home. But I will tell you what my best friend Angie told me when I called her, emotionally conveying my uncertainty about being able to hack it in New York. She said, You can absolutely do this, but it’s okay if you want to come home.
When I was in New York, lonely and unsure of myself, this was the only thing I needed to hear. If you can remember that, and can stand to spend a little time with yourself, it gets better. You will eventually meet people and make friends and create some pretty amazing memories in this magical city.
Don’t sell yourself short, but don’t be too proud to decide that it’s okay to go home. I think giving yourself that permission can help take the pressure off being in New York. Because it is overwhelming and it took a few minutes for me to even know where to begin.
Just breathe, you can do this.
10. Make New York City home.
There’s an energy in New York that keeps this city buzzing round the clock. If you can soak up just a little bit of that energy, you’ll find yourself creating a home in what is (in my opinion) the most exciting city in the world.
No matter how long it takes to get the train system down, or how many roommates and apartments you go through. There will be stress and doubt and complete and utter fear. But there will also be excitement, culture and the thrill of the city that nobody thought you’d ever make it to. Or maybe that you never thought you’d make it to.
The best thing about moving to New York (besides moving to New York), is that once you get here, you’re in good company. You will meet people everyday that did the exact same thing you did. They will become your teachers, your guides, and your best friends.
It may take months, or maybe even years before you actually realize you’re living in New York. I can tell you it took me going back to California for the first time to realize New York had become my home. It’s where I’m supposed to be.
It is an incredible feeling knowing that I made one of my biggest dreams comes true. And I know if I can do it, so can you.