If you’re tired of being a big fish in a small pond and are longing for the bright lights of a city, it’s important to remember that living in a major metropolitan area won’t be exactly like an episode of Friends. You probably won’t be able to afford a sprawling apartment on a waitress’s salary and it’s unlikely that you’ll spend every single day hanging out with a quirky group of twentysomethings at the nearest coffee shop. In fact, there’s a good chance that your first year living in a big city will be filled with as many challenges as it is adventures.
But don’t give up and sign that lease in Nowheresville, Indiana just yet. The hurdles you’ll learn to jump when moving from a small town to a big city are designed to make you a savvy urban citizen. If you’re dreaming of New York, Los Angeles or some big city in between, here are 13 things to expect when relocating from a dot on the map to a glittering metropolis.
There’s a reason why country songs referencing the wide open road aren’t written about cities. When moving to a big city, you’re going to realize pretty quickly that quite a few other transplants had the same idea as you. More people means more traffic—and that includes foot traffic and crowded buses in addition to vehicle traffic.
Between 2009 and 2014, metro commute times rose by 3%. In New York City, your commute on public transportation will take around 40 minutes. In Chicago, expect to spend about 34 minutes in your car on the way to work. And if you move to Los Angeles, be prepared to spend 104 hours annually sitting in traffic.
There’s no shame in getting lost in your new city (even if it is on a grid system). Unlike your small town, with its main drag that you can cruise through in under a minute, your adopted city will come with a slew of confusing streets that dead end and then start up again and have names that you can’t remember.
Our advice? Embrace it. Take to your new city on foot and get lost on purpose. You’ll get a feel for the area and discover some hidden gems along the way.
You already know that moving to a city is expensive. Your rent will cost more. Your electric bill will cost more. But what about those other expenses?
In all likelihood, your car insurance will cost more. You may also have to say goodbye to the days of free parking and cough up the money for a parking space near your apartment (along with parking everywhere else you go). You may also be required to get renter’s insurance as well. And don’t forget about the fun expenses. Going out to eat and hitting the bars will also be pricier, but if your bank account can take the hit, enjoying your new city’s nightlife every so often will be worth it.
If dining options in your small town included Applebee’s, McDonald’s and a truck stop, prepare your taste buds for the culinary journey that comes with moving to a big city. In addition to being able to satisfy your craving for Chinese food, Italian food and Indian food on a single block, living in a city will inspire you to try cuisines you’ve never had before. After a few months of urban living, not only will you finally be able to pronounce pho, but you’ll be eating it—along with tons of other exciting new menu items—on a regular basis.
Move to a city and watch the number of apps on your phone triple. Living in a major metropolitan area means having access to all of life’s technological pleasures. Before you know it, you’ll be Ubering everywhere, ordering food from Postmates, hiring a dog walker from Wag and looking for love on Tinder. You will also literally forget how to go anywhere without Waze.
PSA: If you’re moving to Los Angeles (or some other driving city), you can disregard this one. But if you’re moving to a walkable city, get prepared to strap on your sneakers and take to the streets. In pedestrian friendly cities like Boston, you’ll find that it’s easier to get to work, run errands and head to happy hour on foot. In fact, you might decide to ditch your car entirely. If you’re moving from a rural area where the nearest shopping plaza is several miles away, the ability to walk across the street and get coffee will seem nothing short of magical.
Unlike a small town, which tends to have just one identity, a big city has an almost overwhelming number of different neighborhoods with distinct identities. From the raucous, nightlife-centric district to the bohemian enclave on the outskirts, exploring your city’s different neighborhoods is a great way to understand the communities that call it home. Before moving, you’ll probably do a bunch of research about different neighborhoods, but the only way to find the one that’s right for you is to see it in person.
Say goodbye to the days of driving to your local diner at 9:30 p.m. only to find that it closed at 9. In the big city, you can do almost anything you want at any time of day or night. Want a steak dinner at midnight? Sure. Burlesque show at noon? Go for it. Everything you want is just a swipe, a click, a call or a quick stroll away. It doesn’t matter if you’re a night owl or a morning person. The city is yours.
Log onto your job search engine of choice and plug in any major city and you’re sure to find way more options that you would in a small town. This is exciting—especially if you’re moving to a big city without securing employment first. But be forewarned, more job opportunities come with more competition. When moving to a big city, polish up your resume and bring your A-Game.
If you’re moving to Las Vegas, of course you’re going to want to wander the famous Strip. And if you’re moving to San Diego, you’re definitely going to want to stroll around Old Town. At first, anyway. After a few months in your new big city home, you’ll trade tourist traps for local hot spots. And when your family comes to visit you and asks to see Times Square or the Hollywood sign, you’ll roll your eyes at first—but then you’ll go with them and love it.
There’s a reason people only wax poetic about small towns where nobody locks their doors. In the city, that kind of behavior gets you robbed. If years of small town life have made you kind and trusting, the big city will give you some edge.
That doesn’t mean you have to glare at strangers. Just be aware that if someone comes up to you claiming to be a prince from another country who needs to borrow your car for official royal business, you don’t have to hand over the keys.
If you’ve ever wanted to rock pink hair, neon leggings, cowboy boots or even a romphim, the big city is the place to do it. No one will mock your bright red skinny jeans or ask you why you’re wearing high heels to the office. No matter how overdressed, underdressed or insanely dressed you are, there will always be someone taking a bigger fashion risk just down the street.
Here’s something no one tells you about moving to a big city: it’s lonely at first. Even though you’re surrounded by millions of people, there will be times when you still feel alone. This is especially true if you don’t know anyone before you move. Making friends is hard in a new place.
But don’t give up. Most people say it takes about six months to a year to feel at home in a new city. While there are certainly ways to speed up the process, don’t be surprised if your first year in a big city is filled with trials and tribulations in addition to all of those #blessed Instagram shots of your new skyline. Just give it time. You may feel like a stranger when you first move from a small town to a big city, but one day, you’ll wake up and realize that you’ve become a local.