7 tough lessons I learned when I moved across the country

attilio pregnolato/Shutterstock
  • A move can be tough for anybody – especially when you’re moving across the country.
  • Despite a positive attitude, moving from the East Coast to the West of America was not as easy as author Charyn Pfeuffer had anticipated.
  • From attitudes to fashion standards to lingo, here are the 7 tough lessons she learned when she moved from Philadelphia to San Francisco.

I’ve always had an impetuous streak. I’m also a highly motivated individual. In 2000, I made a deal with myself: If I could support myself financially after one year of freelancing full-time, I’d move from Philadelphia to San Francisco.

I’d visited the West Coast exactly once, but it left an indelible mark on my heart. As I saw it, if I could create a successful freelance career, I could work from anywhere. So, when I was in the black after the first year, I packed up my trusty Toyota Tercel and headed west.

I had a few friends living in the Bay Area, plenty of work, and I was able to lock in a rent-controlled apartment prior to my arrival. With the essentials sorted out, I thought it would be an easy transition. Despite my positive attitude, things didn’t go quite exactly as planned.

Here are seven lessons I learned when made the 2,976-mile schlep west.


1. East Coast and West Coast attitudes are very different

oneinchpunch/ShutterstockAttitudes are different on the East Coast compared to the West.

My tell-it-like-it-is attitude (aka, my “inner Philly”) wasn’t met with the warmest of receptions. In fact, within my first few weeks, I inadvertently made a woman cry because I gave her a bluntly honest opinion. Solicited, mind you.

It came from a kind, constructive place, but apparently, she didn’t want the actual truth – a “no one likes to hurt anyone’s feelings” reality I’ve encountered many times on the West Coast.


2. Fashion standards are way different

2M media/ShutterstockHeels are not an option in San Francisco.

I’m no fashionista, but I can pull it together when necessary. Also, I admittedly have a stiletto habit. When I moved to San Francisco, it took exactly one Friday night out in Jimmy Choos to rethink my fashion priorities. Hills and heels don’t mix – I quickly became an outdoor clothing convert.


3. There will be uncomfortable feelings

Daniel Vine Photography/ShutterstockIn the beginning, I wondered if I made a mistake.

You can possess all the confidence in the world, but a cross-country move will push you out of your comfort zone. Being in a new city and living space, no matter how much you love it, can be unnerving. I felt like I was lost most of the time, and as a result, running late. I hate being late.

I didn’t have my go-to network of local friends and neighbours I’d cultivated over the years. Not having that safety net scared me. In the beginning, there were times the distance seemed impossibly far, and I wondered if I’d made a mistake.

Optimism goes a long way, but things rarely work out exactly as imagined (whether you make a cross country move or not). It makes life easier if you can sit and work through the uncomfortable feelings and go with the flow. Things will eventually fall into a comfortable rhythm.


4. Patience is key

ddisq/ShutterstockMoving cross-country requires a lot of patience.

There’s a learning curve with any move – especially a cross-country one that involves a brand-new city and culture. It can be maddening to get up to speed on the local way of life, but if you can slow down and embrace all of the new-to-me scenarios, like convoluted street parking rules, compost and recycling programs, and endless public transportation delays (Hello, Bay Area Rapid Transit!), it will make the adjustment much easier.


5. It’s hard to leave familiar places

interested/ShutterstockLeaving home can be hard.

I felt very much at home and had a ton of friends in Philly. It definitely wasn’t an easy decision to leave. Yet, I didn’t think for a second I’d have any issues making friends in San Francisco. I was wrong.

Philly isn’t called the “City of Brotherly Love” for nothing. It was a bit of wake-up call to realise that I had to start over from scratch. I brought my A-game to the friend-making situation – I started volunteering weekly, taking Taiko drumming classes, and attending lots of concerts and cultural events. I eventually made friends, but it definitely took some time and effort.


6. You need less stuff than you think

Africa Studio/ShutterstockMoving is a good excuse to clean out your belongings.

Moving is a good excuse to purge belongings, and a cross-country move is a very good reason to get rid of stuff. As much as I wanted to hang onto every item of so-called personal worth, I didn’t need to pack half of it and ended up giving most of it to Goodwill upon arrival.

Make your life easier and judicially figure out what’s treasure and trash before you make your move. Repeat after me and ask yourself: Is this item really necessary?


7. East Coasters curse way more than West Coasters

perfectlab/ShutterstockThere are definitely differences in the way East and West coasters speak.

I’ve always had a sweary mouth, but it became all the more apparent when I moved to the West Coast. If I’m not talking with my mouth, it’s with my hands – and usually both. I’m not going to apologise for communicating the way I do, but it’s definitely not the West Coast norm.

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