I packed up everything in my apartment and drove 16 hours from Colorado to Chicago, all alone, to intern for a semester at the satellite campus of my Bible college. While the ministry career path was ultimately a bust for me, my solo time in Chicago was not.
I have two great friends that I still talk to from my Chicago days, one a fellow student and one a coworker. Even better than that, I have four months' worth of great memories that I would have never gotten anywhere else — especially if I had been too scared to move alone.
Moving by myself was not even close to easy. I had to find not one, but two apartments because my first living situation in a random basement near Midway Airport was a "big, huge mistake," as Julia Roberts would say. I had to figure out how to transfer to the Chicago location of the restaurant where I worked in Colorado, again, all by myself. I had to learn the layout of a big city way before GPS was a thing.
I cried myself to sleep for weeks because I was so lonely. I was scared I wouldn't make new friends. I was terrified that my comfortable, predictable life back in Colorado wouldn't be the same when I got back.
Funny enough, it's these intense emotions that made for the richest memories of my solo time in a new city. Then, I was absolutely convinced I was falling apart and had made a terrible mistake in moving alone. A decade later, I crave the independence and adventure I had during that brief season of my life. Because I was stretched and emotional and scared, living in Chicago alone changed me for the better and will forever remain one of my favorite times in life.
If you're scared to make the big leap and move alone to a new city, you should be. Moving alone is scary, but it may be exactly what you need. Here's why.
If you're anything like 24-year-old Erin Brown, you too may feel that Jack-Kerouac-like itch to set out on your own — you're ready to escape your safe, sheltered hometown life. Brown says of her major bicoastal move from Southern California to New York City, "I needed a challenge. I had grown up near the L.A. area and always felt that it was too slow-paced. In January 2015, I made the final decision that I would move to New York by May 1 with a job or no job. My family and friends did not take me seriously because everyone who was born in my city stayed in that city. I was tired of feeling trapped in a box where every move for me was calculated and normal."
"After tirelessly looking for employment across the country and having employers turn me down because I was too far away, I decided that I would just need to focus on finding a place to live and figure it out once I arrive. By luck, within a week span before moving I was able to find a place to live and land an amazing job with Sirota PR, a top PR firm in NYC, because they wanted to take a chance on a 'go-getter' like me. Women should move to a new city because we need to be challenged. Living in a cookie-cutter world where you have to fit a specific mold never worked for me and never was going to be fulfilling enough."
As I learned the hard way after getting kicked in the ass by my big, solo Chicago move, the old saying is true: Wherever you go, there you are. For most of us (myself especially), this thought is terrifying. Even when I moved to a brand-new, exciting city, I could never escape myself. It took months of forced "quality" alone time before I began to realize a truth I am still exploring today: If I am going to be stuck with this person for the rest of my life, I better learn to like her.
Maryann Reid, an author who has moved alone to Abu Dhabi and Tampa, Florida, where she currently resides, shares, "Moving to a new city is beneficial because it forces you to face yourself and your faults. Oftentimes, we tend to blame others for our issues. Moving lets you see how things stay the same, and if you're still unhappy no matter where you go, then you are the problem… A new city gives me new hope, and a way to reinvent myself."
There are plenty of logical reasons to move to a new town, like running from the law or escaping a toxic ex. Even if your motivation falls outside of the sphere of Thelma and Louise, moving to a new city could give you the fresh start you have been craving. Rona Lewis, CEO of RonaCorp, says that moving 3,000 miles away from home was the best thing she could have done for that very reason. "I was born and raised in New York, went to college in Pennsylvania, then came home to New York City to settle down. The man I eventually married was a contemporary jazz recording artist who lived in Colorado. I ended up moving there to be with him. I hated it. We moved to Florida where, after five years, I realized that Colorado wasn't the only thing I wasn't thrilled with."
"So, it was a conundrum whether to move back to New York City or to head to L.A., where I had some friends who suggested I give the West Coast a shot. It was the best thing I could have done. I moved to Los Angeles 10 years ago. My first reaction, once I got settled, was a huge sigh of relief. I had no one to answer to. I could reinvent myself. I had my whole life in front of me — no compromises, no limits. It was the most freeing epiphany I had ever had. I was able to rebuild my life my way, and I wouldn't have it any other way."
If you feel stagnant, trapped and just plain old bored in your life, it may be time to pull up a Google map of the United States — or even the world. Paige Donner, founder of Paris Food and Wine, says that when she moved to Paris five years ago, she was completely uprooted. "It felt like I had torn myself, roots and all, out of the nice little hothouse that my life had become in Southern California. Having finished my university degree in SoCal and then lived there for 15 years prior to moving to Paris, the change was nothing short of a drastic upheaval."
But soon enough, Donner embraced the spirit of a common saying circulated in the Paris expat community: Bloom where you're planted. She continues, "Five years after arriving, I am hosting my own food and wine radio show on World Radio Paris, I have accumulated a wealth of knowledge about French wines in particular, something that only spending time in the country can impart, and I am launching an annual event called Paris Food And Wine. I think moving to a new city, at least once in your life, really makes you find out who you are, from the inside out, and gives you that strength of character that comes from the knowing that 'if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere!'"
In every big move I've made —starting with Chicago and moving next to Denver, an hour north of my family in Colorado Springs — I was surprised at how willing people were to open up and reach out to the new kid on the block. Some of the strongest connections I've made were formed from an instant spark in a new place, not necessarily after decades of friendship.
Lauren Bowling, personal finance blogger at L Bee and the Money Tree, says that moving alone to New York City with only $300 in her pocket was the "best thing" she'd ever done. Not only did Bowling have to quickly cultivate her independence, she had to step up and create her own support network by making new friends. Bowling says, "Fresh out of college in a big city, I learned how to stand on my own two feet both financially and emotionally. I had to go out of my way to make new friends, find a job, get an apartment and set up my utilities — things I'd never done before. Being away from the support network of my family also meant I had to learn to be OK with asking for help from others."
Yes, this is cliché, but as a married mother of two toddlers, I now understand that life goes by way too fast. Every woman has a different path. Some women may choose to never get married and have children, and that is a wonderful choice. But if you suspect that you may consider having a family in the future, plan your solo move now before your window of opportunity closes for good.
Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a licensed psychologist who specializes in women's issues, says, "I strongly suggest to many of my clients moving to new places by themselves, particularly for my college-aged students, as this is sometimes easier to do before you have other commitments like partners and children, etc. I think it's important to move to a new city at least once because it causes a boost in confidence like few other things I've ever seen. I think it's a very empowering experience for women."
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