The big move; one year on

A moving van packed with all of my belongings

Moving to a new city is hard. Starting life all over again in another place means rebuilding a lot of the things you take for granted. This is my story, all of the mistakes I made, and my advice for anyone planning to make the same kind of journey.

A year ago yesterday, I packed up all of my belongings and moved from Sheffield, 220 miles to Brighton. I remember being close to tears as the van made its way down Ecclesall Road towards the motorway and out of the city. This was somewhere I’d called home for ten years. I’d reached a point where I could barely walk through the city without bumping into a friend. I didn’t even need to make plans to see people because I’d always know where they would be.

But after realising I needed a change in career, taking voluntary redundancy and topping it all of with a difficult break up, I decided a new start in another city would be a sensible move. I’d even considered another country, but after missing the deadline for an application for a Masters, I decided Brighton would be a good choice. A bustling seaside resort with an amazing music scene, and well known for it’s connections to the creative industries, I knew this would be the right place for me. I’d found the perfect Masters course to suit my interests. All I had to do now was get there. Turns out, that challenge was more telling than I realised at the time.

Plan, plan and plan some more

I’ve never been the spontaneous type, and I still believe that such spontaneity in packing up and moving is reserved for those who will never have to worry about money. Or those with no possessions. My own possessions ended up packed into a storage unit for a few weeks when I first arrived in the city. I’d been searching desperately for somewhere to stay, but Brighton has a very competitive property market. Renting a bedroom in a house shared between 3 or 4 will typically average about £450 – £600 per month – double what you’d expect in Sheffield. If you’re not there to view places, you don’t stand a chance. If you are there, you’re still up against so much competition that you’ll lose out on the tiniest things. I was lucky to find a room to lodge in for a few weeks while I searched, and eventually managed to find a room that barely fit my belongings. After staying for 6 months I’d planned on moving to somewhere more spacious, but a year later and I’m still here. Finding somewhere to live is hard!

I would highly recommend to anyone planning such a move that you’re able to find somewhere to live before you get there, and have some knowledge of the property market. I knew it would be expensive, but I had no idea how competitive it would be. I was days away from being genuinely homeless during that search. It’s not a good place to be, especially in a city you don’t know. Also, be prepared for seemingly excessive expenses like “administration fees” that letting agents love to apply.

Find your crowd

When you’re moving to a new place, making new friends is the hardest part. The easiest way to do this by far is to have some kind of hobby that introduces you to new people. For me this has always been music. Playing open mic nights, going to gigs, it’s always been a great way to meet others. Admittedly, I made little effort in this, but when I did I didn’t quite feel the same connection. I guess I’d got very used to knowing everyone on the scene, and suddenly becoming an outsider made it a much more uncomfortable experience.

Whatever it is you’re into, there’s no doubt some kind of meet up going on. Having a shared interest makes it much easier to start conversations and make those connections. It doesn’t matter if it’s music or art or walking or the course you study.

Similarly, moving to a new place could be a good opportunity to try new things. If you’ve moved for university, it’s quite easy to stick with the people you’re put with; your housemates and coursemates. But there’s a whole city out there, and it’s well worth checking out new interests. You never know what – or who – you’ll discover.

It won’t come to you, you have to go to it

Before I left, I knew I’d have to make the effort. If I stayed home and only went to lectures, I knew I wouldn’t meet anyone or really get the most out of the city. You have to be proactive; get up early, go out and explore, be the first to strike up a conversation. Moving to a new place is going to be very hard if you’re introverted. It’s also not easy if you work from home – something I’ve very much learned first hand.

Look after your health

I’ve always struggled with anxiety, and I’d hoped that this move would be a good opportunity to challenge myself. In reality, I may have bitten off more than I could chew. Not knowing anybody makes going out unnerving. Add to that the fact that I work from home, didn’t have much money and didn’t even have to go to university that much, I gradually turned from anxious to borderline house-bound. There have genuinely been days when I stared at the front door, feeling like I couldn’t open it and step outside.

If you struggle with anxiety, you’re introverted or generally just shy, be aware that this will be particularly challenging. It might be worth trying things out before you go; try going out on your own or putting yourself in situations where you have to make conversation.

Be prepared for loneliness

I was quite fortunate to meet my girlfriend just a few months after arriving here, but apart from her and my housemates I’ve had very little company. Again, it might not have been the case if I’d been more proactive, but it’s been a lonely year. To make things worse, your social feeds will be full of updates from your friends back home talking about all the things they’re getting up to without you. That one hurts.

Find ways to occupy yourself when you’re on your own. Games, TV shows and books are great, but just like with socialising, an active hobby can be really good for the mind. Give yourself something to work towards that can really occupy your attention and won’t leave you reaching for your phone.

Finally ask yourself; is where I am the problem?

I moved because my career felt stuck, and a break up had left me feeling down. I wanted to escape my situation and I saw moving to a new town as the best way to do that. But in hindsight, the problem wasn’t the place. I was so caught up in all of the pain that I didn’t see what I really had. I felt like I had to replace everything in my life to be happy, when really I actually had a lot of great things that I had to sacrifice just to fix the few problems I had.

I think the best way to look at it is to ask; what will take more work? Is it easier to ditch everything, pack up and move to a different place, make a whole new set of friends, spend years trying to build new relationships and restart your career? Or would it be easier to stop, spend some time working out what’s really making you want to move and fix those things where you are? For most people, I believe the latter will be a much simpler solution. If there’s one piece of advice I could give to anyone who’s thinking of packing it in and disappearing to another point on the map, it would be that.

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