What to Know Before You Move to a New City

Lessons from my first 100 days in Austin, Texas.

Alison Tugwell
Apr 6, 2016 · 9 min read

I was in a sling at the bus stop outside the emergency room when I got the call.

“Alison, it’s Erin,” my recruiter’s voice on the other end. She had news.

“They really liked you but thought you were ‘too creative’ for the role…I’m sorry…

I squinted and turned away from the rays of the hot Texas sun and leaned against the warm, softly jagged cement. I thanked her for going to bat for me for the past month. She sheepishly expressed honest concern that I enjoy my weekend and I glanced down at my $1500 confederacy-blue sling with adjustable velcro that came with a free x-ray and Percocet sample. If there was ever a bench built for bus commuters, it should be outside the hospital.

“It’s the price you pay for the life you choose.”

I ended up at the hospital bus stop expensively sprained and rejected that Friday afternoon because I had taken a chance…

“I’m New Here. Like Everyone Else.”

Austin’s got the rep of being the smallest big city in the US. Forbes names it as the #2 of the fastest growing cities for 2015, with half of the households being non-familial, so I was in good company. And just like the kind of human I was looking to be my partner someday, I was looking for the most interesting, humble place with a sunny disposition and room to grow.

I loved New York. Let me repeat. I LOVED NEW YORK. The tumultuous city living, the late nights, the holes-in-the-walls, the penthouse parties, the energy the closeness, the daily random observations, the momentum, the electric osmosis. But I hit a point where the walls were too close, I wanted space to breathe, I wanted movement and newness, and personal connection. But the movement felt more like a schlep, the newness exhausting, the connections to be more surface tablet touching, and the bright lights and noise, well, those that read me know how I feel about the sirens

The ‘Catalist’

  • a city
  • space (think CLOSETS)
  • active creative communities
  • warm
  • bike-friendly
  • just friendly in general
  • lower cost of living than NYC
  • no more than 1 other roommate
  • somewhere I could eventually buy my own place

Get Out There

After many street tacos, late-night walks home through oddly clean alley ways, 4 different rounds of buck hunter, getting a runner-up award for my Bloody Mary costume at 11AM, getting turned away from the Driskill because of said costume eleven hours later, Whole Foods breakfast tacos, half-drank Lonestars, and the exhilarating joy of discovering a Thai restaurant inspired by its kitchy graffiti and who shall forever remain pun-named….

I was ready to call Austin my new home. Nevermind that one’s tourist life resembles real day-to-day as closely as a comedian’s bit onstage adheres to its subject’s factual-based coverage in the Times.

I never drink that much, I knew nearly nothing outside of downtown, and the only people I knew were Hulk, my friend in the MBA program at UT, her cat, and my glamourous friend in PR, a fellow ex-New Yorker who I studied abroad with in college and who I had dinner with and fell back in love like we did in Paris all those years ago.

This might be obvious, but do a site visit. And don’t just do tourist shit, do things you would normally do — visit coffee shops, take the public transit or get around how you normally would on a day-to-day basis.

Oh, and use this cost-of-living calculator by BankRate to see how you stack up in your new city. I just discovered this and it’s pretty rad.

As I met them, I asked people (and yes, Hinge dates) what they loved about their neighborhoods and what their commute looked like. I was determined to hold off on buying a car as long as possible (and I’m still holding strong), so location was key.

It’s Not How Many You Know, It’s Who You Know

Me: “If I did it in New York and survived, I can do it anywhere…” What I mean is I could do it in any first-world city where survival is implied and referred to in a lesser-known high sub-level “The Hustle” on Maslow’s hierarchy, where the majority of the people I would share air with regularly use LinkedIn.

Once thought to be a part of Esteem, ‘The Hustle’ is now it’s own Maslow sub-hierarchy.

I chose a city where it was notoriously cool to be weird. Most people here look like they could be in my extended family — tall, white and fair, super-American-features minus the pot-belly, but most likely with pot in their pockets. Actually the lack of diversity kind of bothers me, but just like that ‘weird mouth thing’ after the 5th Hinge date and Hoda’s spanx on GMA, inevitably these things tend to reveal themselves as the honeymoon phase wears off.

So I guess in hindsight, it was pretty ballsy, and I didn’t fully believe it until I moved here. Thankfully, Hulk, Brett, and Cara turned out to be three great people to know. I stayed at Brett and Cara’s places the first couple weeks here and they both lived in great locations that made it easy to get around without a car. I knew I’d meet more of my kind of people if I started doing the things that I enjoyed and asking people as I went along where to go for meeting other people that biked, did yoga, and rock-climbed; freelanced, geeked out over lettering, puns, graffiti art, and personal and professional growth gurus. This required me to make consistant effort to pursue interests that I liked enough to do by myself, instead of saying yes to calendar commitments I was not otherwise exhilarated by. I leapt at the opportunity to be an organizer with Creative Mornings Austin, whose fellow organizers and attendees are all sharp, have-their-shit-together, badass creatives. My new roommate introduced me to a cool new bouldering gym called Austin Bouldering Project that was in biking distance from us and offered yoga and coworking too. At twice the size and half the price of a Brooklyn Boulders membership. WOOP!

Have a BHAG on You

My goal was to have a job and a place to live by SXSW 2016 (March 11–20, 2016). Ninety days. I made that goal, but barely. I thankfully found my apartment, er I mean house on Craig’s List — a nightmare if you don’t know the neighborhoods or have a car and it was exactly what I was looking for (thankfully now there is Roomi and highly recommended for anyone moving and looking for an outlet — plug plug plug Ajay Yadav).

I literally got my offer while drunk on overpriced cocktails on the Four Seasons lawn after having met a bunch of my NYC startup friends in for Week 1 of SXSW Innovation. I did not think I was going to get this job as Employee #1 of a new half-built coworking concept and venture, so it was a huge relief and a big win.

I had no idea it was going to take this long.

It takes a lot longer than you think…

  1. to find a job
  2. to find friends

Other important items to note:

  • you will forget important dates like showers and birthdays of new babies, to send a gift for important life-events (I mean where the f is the post office around here anyway?) because you will be in bubble-mode. I’m so sorry Brian and Meghan ’n’ John respectively…your wedding and incoming baby is really important and I swear I’ll get my shit together and ship something to you after I get that (second) paycheck. Not that you’re noticing cause you’ve got amazing life-things happening but still…
  • You will remember what you suck at. Like home improvement. The only things I like about home improvement are the sexy entendres and the smell of Home Depot. But I had more time than money so I spent the former on dating sites to find men that can build things in exchange for me wearing tight lounge-wear and making one of 3 recipes that would forever exile me from friend-zone. This is easier to do in Texas where they’re adept at ‘men-things.’ (One time I dated a Milanese engineer in Manhattan that put my Elfa shelving up crooked. He was a lot more interesting than most of the men you can find outside NYC, but that shit would just not fly here in Texas…)
  • You will go a little crazy. Offset the crazy by being kind to your body, mind, and others every day. Moving my body and quieting my mind, and petting my roommate’s dog, Dozer, daily eased my anxiety and aided in maintaining my optimism in the toughest moments.
  • You will start asking for things again. What a fricken relief! All those intro’s I made that led to 2 marriages, 12 jobs, 6 mentorships, 25 speaking opportunities, 2 major press mentions and 1 seed-size investment are finally paying karma dividends…Ask for introductions. (write a blurb you can easily copy and paste into an e-mail body so all they have to do is change the names and send.) Ask for great ‘hidden gems’ suggestions and star them on Google maps. Ask someone you admire or think is cute out for coffee. And when you get that new role, ask for $15K more. (Anna Marie Clifton can help you there on both of those last points.)
  • You will say yes to random adventures that may end in injury…
Obligatory #sympathyselfie with the $1500 sling.

I was seeking to make friends with other cyclists and several people mentioned I check out the Thursday Night Social Ride — an extremely Austintacious, decade-old tradition. If the Tour de France, Hells Angels, and a UT Tailgate had a threesome every week, that’s TNSR. I was rolling along quite smoothly keeping pace with the guys that were blasting “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough” out of duct-taped speakers and pulled up to a cute girl with some badass biking threads. I was just about to ask where she got her pullover when a white flash darted in front of my tire — I hit it and fell hard right on my side. “BIKER DOWN!” I hear as a deluge of cyclists whizz past me. I quickly, awkwardly pulled myself to the side.

“Did I kill something?!” A good samaritan cyclist had slowed his roll and peered past a fenced-in yard.

“No, it kept going. You probably just hit its tail.”

‘It’ being a cat.

The gravitas of taking a big, exciting leap is that gravity will inevitably kick in. And if you don’t land standing, you’ll have a better story. I’m fairly convinced that not even felines land on their feet every time, although I’m starting to believe in the nine-lives myth. I’d like to think he sacrificed one of his so I could start mine here in Austin with a tale to tell.

Have you taken a leap to a new city or considering it? IS IT AUSTIN? Let me know in the comments below!

Alison Tugwell

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Coach for Multipassionate Pursuers / Poet / Pun Lover