On Moving to Austin
I have looked forward to today, the 1-year anniversary of my move to Austin, since the moment I landed at the airport, raced to my Uber, and proudly proclaimed, “Hello, I am the newest resident of your city.” My driver (Jeffrey) was all like, “Okay, whatever.” You see, I knew that if I hit the 1-year mark, it meant moving to Austin was a success. In fact, my lease was set to expire 1 month before that milestone, giving me a real ultimatum: love Austin, or leave by September.
Well, I’m still here. So how did I get here?
At the end of my sixth year in New York City, I suddenly found myself free of commitment: my roommate had decided to relocate with a friend to Bedford-Stuyvesant, many of my closest friends had left the city for other opportunities, I was single and my 2-year lease in the East Village had finally come to an end. I had traveled throughout the year and grew to love the weightlessness of wandering, of passing through cities and countries with a backpack and a treasure chest of travel apps, working from cafés and often daydreaming of throwing my life into a 78-degree storage unit and seeing where I could find WiFi. Returning to New York started to feel stale — though I worked remotely and greatly admired my home, I was often caged up in my apartment or stressing to compete for basic resources: Chinese dinner on New Year’s? Wait in line. Groceries at Trader Joe’s? Bring a crossword puzzle. I had developed a certain anxiety about living in bottomless New York — a place where simple things were more difficult and time moved unapologetically. Since I worked remotely, I asked myself: if I could live and work from anywhere at this stage of my life, would it be New York?
But with my parents’ insistence, I snapped back to reality and began looking at apartments in Brooklyn and Queens. After two years, I had forgotten the cold and stressful world of NY apartment hunting. I stuffed $500 cash into my pocket and raced to Astoria to beat a couple that was also interested in a 1-bedroom that would offer more space for a work-from-home lifestyle. But as I toured the floor plan and took in the coveted view of an auto repair shop and A Very Small Twinkle of Manhattan, I released the grip on my stack of cash and left the building.
I would not settle.
What a terrible thing it would be, I thought, if I spent my whole life in this city, and it was the only place I ever called home in my twenties, the only place I ever saw reflected in who I am? How crazy would it be if I did not take advantage of this clearing in my life, when I am nimble and young and willing to fail? I feel lucky to be alive during an era when technology enables unique unbound lifestyles, and I didn’t want to take that for granted. Suddenly, it all made sense in the way that impulsive decisions always do: I would take the uncertain route, and at the very least, profit from the experience. I called my mother and announced a plan that was not well-received: I would store my belongings and travel the country until I knew where I wanted to land. (I was pretty set on Austin but wanted time to decide.) This later became known on social media as my #NomadSummer. And boy, was it fun!
I bought a WiFi hotspot, upgraded my laptop, and bought a battery pack. I found office space in cafés, hotels, treehouses, hammocks, co-working spaces, rock climbing gyms, cabanas, and libraries. I carried tuna and almond butter in my backpack and stayed in hostels, with friends and family, or occasionally splurged on a hotel. It was stressful and invigorating and I loved every minute of it.
I learned two very important things during that summer. First, I discovered a big correlation between my environment and my mood. In beautiful Boulder, Colorado, I woke up hours earlier, calm and collected, eager to see the mountains, and worked methodically until magic hour. In Venice, Calfornia, I slept in and wandered the beach after work, filming skaters on my iPhone. I wondered how New York had affected my mood and work.
What a terrible thing it would be, I thought, if I spent my whole life in this city, and it was the only place I ever called home in my twenties, the only place I ever saw reflected in who I am?
The second thing I realized, reluctantly, was that I could not extend #NomadSummer into the fall. This style of travel became expensive and the changing variables grew stressful and impacted my work. My city tour became a sort of audition process, discovering the merits of each city to be sure that Austin was The One. I wanted the weather of Miami, the friendliness of the South, the outdoor adventures of Colorado, the laid back vibe of Southern California, and so on…
And so, after a summer of travel, I followed my instinct and moved to Austin. The greatest gift I’ve ever given to myself.
With moving came a purge of belongings. I sold or gave away much of my IKEA furniture and stored a few bins “in the cloud” using MakeSpace. At the end of the summer, after traveling with just a suitcase, I had a pretty refreshed view of how to live minimally, and so I compressed my life into a few boxes and shipped them for less than $400. I fell in love with Austin’s (more) affordable housing, where each new “luxury” building competes with outlandish amenities like movie theatres and rooftop pools, boasting generous floorplans that are dreamy to anyone who once worshipped a fire escape in a pre-war New York building. It wasn’t until a fateful moment at Austin City Limits, surrounded by new friends and millions of festivalgoers, that I proudly — and drunkenly — proclaimed, “I am buying a couch!” Austin had captured my heart.
Ironically, life in a smaller city can be exciting to someone accustomed to a dense metropolis. Here, I feel intimately connected to the people and places that matter, like I’m living in a village. At a restaurant, I can meet the Chef and learn his or her story. Become a regular, perhaps. I run into people I know at every corner and in every bar, and everyone is a friend of a friend. There are just a few local well-loved cheese shops, bakeries, theaters, museums, menswear stores — each an important piece of the Austin puzzle. There is an intimacy to life in a smaller city that I didn’t know I needed.
And the people! I’ll always remember the exchange I had with a parking attendant one week after I arrived. Instead of the cold, rushed demeanor I was expecting, this woman asked me about my day and complimented my smile. I was… very confused. The people in this city are so nice and so patient that sometimes I just want to scream for them! WHAT DO YOU MEAN IT’S NO PROBLEM TO GIVE 20 PEOPLE SEPARATE CHECKS? Even the design of public places makes it easy to be social: long wooden tables, games, hammocks, casual vibes and food trucks all make it hard to leave a new place without a new friend.
And yet, Austin is also so big, so unpredictable, and so weird. All my anxieties about living in a concrete jungle have been replaced with insatiable curiosity — the good kind. Beyond Austin, I’ve got an entire state to explore that might as well be a different country. And it somehow seems easier and more accessible to keep up with my list. Yet just when I think I’ve hit every food truck in my neighborhood, a new one opens. (Speaking of food, did I mention how much I love the food here? And the groceries! Did you know I can buy 30 limes for $1? Do you know what a full-size shopping cart feels like?) Many complain of Downtown construction, where a hotel and condo boom is rapidly changing the skyline. But to me, it’s mesmerizing to watch Austin’s future rise from the ground. I want to be a part of it.
My desire was to live in a place that offered a hybrid of city and outdoors. Here, I can have brunch downtown with friends and spend the afternoon on a hiking trail. I can spend a workday indoors and begin the evening rock climbing outside. Heck, I can even do that when it’s snowing in the Northeast. And I can get to all of those places on my own, without a chartered bus or a field trip.
But I’m still two-thousand miles from my family in Connecticut, New York, and Massachusetts. I have to reserve trips home for important occasions. My family isn’t around to see the wall I painted in my apartment or meet my friends. I can’t take the train home for mom’s art opening or visit my nephew on a moment’s notice. But flights are quick and economical, and technology makes our relationship feel intimate even from a distance. When the gang is together, I try to be more present; I notice things and I give better hugs. I’m learning.
I’ll admit, though: this isn’t all specific to Austin. There are other cities with great weather, friendly people, delicious food, and nature. You can find tacos in other cities. Heck, you can find way more culinary diversity (read: more than Tex-Mex) in other cities. There are even places in New York where you can find affordable housing (…?) and cheap limes. And I am a big believer that I can be curious and fulfilled in any city. But what I found in Austin is a perfect mix of everything that matters to me right now, built by a community of people that I admire, with fewer compromises.
Last week, I had the honor of marching in the Pride Parade with fellow rock climbers and felt an overwhelming sense of pride. Not just for who I am as a person, but also for this place. Austin has welcomed me with open arms, and I will forever remember what that feels like, no matter which city I call home.
Here’s to year two.