If you live in New York City for long enough, you have those moments where you imagine what it would be like to live somewhere else ― somewhere where the weather isn’t so cold, and the main method of transportation doesn’t reek of urine and trash, somewhere you could have a room that fits more than just a full-size bed and a vertical dresser.
Every year, for the past six years, on Aug. 1, I’ve reluctantly signed on the dotted line of the lease renewal for the New York City apartment I’ve unpacked my stuff in for quite some time, agreeing to pay an exuberant amount of rent for a depressing amount of space. But this last August, I had been dating my boyfriend for close to a year-and-a-half, and we had decided to take the next step in our millennial relationship, meaning sharing more than just a Netflix account.
One afternoon, after talking out loud about how it would be nice to spend a year living somewhere other than the madness of Manhattan, we came to the realization that turned us into modern-day nomads: If we didn’t have a lease anywhere, we could afford to live in a new city every single month.
Since we both have the incredible privilege to work for ourselves, the only requirements were that the city has good public transportation (we don’t own a car and renting one isn’t cheap) and that we could find a place to live that cost less than what we both paid in rent in New York City (around $1,500 a piece).
And just like that, we flipped our plan of choosing just one city to park ourselves in for a year, to choosing an unlimited amount.
The first step to making this happen was to make sure that we could travel lightly. We decided to sell, give away or donate close to 90 percent of our belongings. We left a few garbage bags of clothes, personal items and a few pieces of furniture at my boyfriend’s parents’ house, which is located nearby in New Jersey. We then packed only enough clothes for our adventure, fitting them into one carry-on suitcase and one checked bag each.
For the past year and four months, we’ve lived in a new city almost every month, staying some places longer because we loved living there so much. We’ve lived in cities like Portland, Austin, Denver, Chicago, Los Angeles and in a few different neighborhoods in NYC (like Bed-Stuy, Greenpoint and Hell’s Kitchen). Here are the five main ways I’ve been able to live in a new city almost every month, without blowing my savings account or putting an end to my career.
Take Over Someone’s Apartment
One of the main logistics we had to figure out when city-hopping was where we would live. Over the past year, we’ve lived in over 11 different apartments, sleeping in other people’s beds, using the contents left inside of their fridge, and crossing our fingers that we wouldn’t find any unwanted house guests roaming around, like roaches or rats.
No matter how many times you enter someone else’s home, there’s still a period of three to four days where you just feel like you’re a guest. However, after those days, you adapt. The fun thing is, you get to not only see how other people live, but you get to live like them, which isn’t something most of us do. Most of us build our own habits and cling to them for life.
After picking a city to live in, our first place to search for an apartment was Airbnb, where we found that in some cities, like Portland and Los Angeles, you can get a discount of 10-30 percent for booking a month-long stay. We also searched local Facebook groups to see if people were looking to do short-term month-to-month leases on their place.
Before we decided on an apartment, we researched the area to make sure it was safe, had a lot of food options in walking distance and was in the heart of the city so that we could be around the action without having to rent a car
Get Into the Freelance Game
Though both of us are business owners, we also turned to freelance websites to help us take on additional work in the marketing, writing, business development and social media fields. Earning extra side income helped us pay for things on this adventure that we wouldn’t normally tap into our small pot of disposable income for. This allowed us to go to local museums or attractions and eat at restaurants more frequently than we did when we both had our own kitchen and the proper utensils. We used websites like UpWork, CloudPeeps and Fiverr to find side gigs.
Tap Into Your Friend Network
To help save money along the way, one of the things we did was check in with friends who lived in the cities we wanted to travel to. We asked them to let us know if they had any extended travel plans so that we could house sit their place. We ended up staying at a friend’s has in Austin, for a month, for free, under the terms that we took care of their two dogs, which to us was just an added perk. We also found that our network of friends was able to steer us in the right direction as to what neighborhood we should choose in those cities, the best time of year to plan to live there and the sights we should absolutely see on our monthlong stay and the ones we could ditch.
Living out of a carry-on suitcase and one checked-bag size suitcase makes you picky about the clothes you bring with you. I started to realize that I really only wore the same three shirts, four pairs of pants and three dresses. I packed those items plus jackets, shoes and life items (like a mini-hair dryer, a couple of books, rain gear, and my makeup and hair products).
The thing about having fewer things is that you adapt and suddenly, you don’t miss much. Occasionally I’ll think about a top, a sweater or a pair of shoes that I used to keep in the back of my closet and wear once in a while; I do miss being able to get creative with a closet full of clothes. But now, I get creative with the few things I own, and there’s something oddly fun about that.
Living with items that you had to drag around with you every 30 days also leads you to be more conscious about buying new things. When I walk into stores, I now ask myself how badly do I need this item and how much weight will it add to my already 49-pound suitcase? Usually, I leave empty-handed.
Find a New Work-Life Balance
Perhaps the hardest part of living in a new city almost every month is finding a work-life balance that compliments the strong desire to explore what’s around you and to make sure that all of the items on your work to-do list are properly taken care of.
One of the things I did was budget out 2 to 3 hours a day to explore, whether that was early morning, during lunch or at night. I made sure to spend between 8 to 9 hours a day at a desk, a coffee shop or a local co-working space working. That way, I was able to maintain a normal work schedule while also making sure that I was squeezing out every ounce of what a brand new city offers. I did try to implement a “no weekend” work rule, where I’d spend Saturday and Sunday adventuring around town, though of course on busy work weeks, that rule was broken.
My boyfriend, who has his own marketing company, spends most of his day on the phone and computer, rarely having to meet with clients in person, and when he does, he jumps on a plane (using airline miles) to meet them. I not only run my own wedding business, but I freelance and teach workshops all over the country. When my work calls for me to be in a specific city, I travel there and then come back to the city I’ve parked myself in that month. When I know my work is going to take me to a location for a week or two, we try to plan our traveling and our “city of the month” around that.
My boyfriend and I both worked hard, for years to be able to work for ourselves and work anywhere and we feel proud that we’re able to do that, even though some days the hustle can be hard and the work hours can be extra long.
Traveling like this has put our relationship on an accelerated path. We’ve had to face relationship struggles and problems that other couples might not face for many years in their relationship, dealing with things like living in a new city, again and again, where we both don’t know anyone. We face the stress of having to find creative ways to pay our bills while traveling and work through communicating better ― even when both of us are in a new place we feel uncomfortable in.
But it’s also brought us closer together, having us rely on the strength of our relationship to make “new” feel like “ours” in just a matter of days and learning how to deal with constant change, never settling down. We’ve become great at dealing with life’s curve balls and always being on-the-go, and we look forward to the day when we test our relationship like most do by learning the art of living together in one place, for a long period of time.
While there is something calming about resting your head on your pillow-top mattress every night and walking around the corner to your favorite bodega for ice cream, there’s also something thrilling about moving around, living out of a suitcase, and understanding that there are far more magical places in this world than New York City.
I don’t know if one of those places will become the place at which I take a new permanent mailing address. That’s to be determined ― however, not for a while. I plan to keep moving around for at least a good chunk of 2019 ― or at least until I get tired of all my clothes being wrinkled.