Moving To New York City Alone in My 20s: My Experience and What I Wish I Knew

Woman standing in NYC alone

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I never wanted to move to New York City. 

When I listed all the places I’d consider moving to alone in my twenties, each city jotted on a single pink post-it note and neatly affixed to my bedroom wall, New York City wasn’t one of them. There was San Francisco, London, or perhaps someplace in Southern California — but definitely, not New York City. 

I was extremely methodical in my deliberation. Contemplating every possible aspect an all-knowing millennial woman possibly could. Cost of living, quality of life, career opportunities, social life, the weather — even the dating scene and caliber of eligible single men. 

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Moving to New York City in my 20’s, I imagined, had many benefits. It’d be an exciting and inspiring experience.

Like Sex in the City, I envisioned strutting around SoHo or perhaps Chelsea into sexy bars with my stylish girlfriends sipping beautiful fruity cocktails. And the ambitious, good looking, single wall street type men in tailored suits — plentiful!

The rational part of my brain, however, reckoned that living in New York City alone would be hard. It’d be cold, crowded, loud, dirty and expensive. Not really the quality of life I’d hoped for (even in my twenties). 

So how I ended up in a tiny room I booked long term on Air BnB, in a tiny apartment in Brooklyn six months after scrutinizing the wall of post-it notes that did not include New York, was beyond me. The answer to this anguished me for nearly a month. 

I raked my brain for a coherent explanation every single time someone questioned: “so why’d you move to New York City?” I pondered deeply as I stood jampacked like a sardine on the J train home from work. I agonized intensely as I lay in my tiny twin bed pushed up against the wall that tiny room in Brooklyn. Why in the world did I move to New York City? 

Why I moved to New York City.

I grew up in South Florida. For college, I found my way one hour South down the I95 interstate highway in the magic city, Miami. 

Miami was a fun place to live in my early twenties. There was the beach, pool parties, clubbing, fancy restaurants — all the things that I adored. There was warm sunny weather nearly every day. And my family just a short car ride away. 

But I felt that I had seen and experienced everything Miami had to offer. Done everything there was to do. And quite frankly I was bored with the place. So after a breakup with my Dutch boyfriend with whom I had lived in Amsterdam for about a year, I didn’t want to move back to Miami.  

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Miami didn’t have that bustling metropolitan city energy that I craved. Miami didn’t have the abundance of career and networking opportunities I wanted. And the eligible (emphasis on eligible) single men, the pickings were scanty at best.

This was my perception of Miami, and I was just over it. 

After an unfulfilling stint in San Francisco, my unwillingness to face the headache of procuring proper documents to live in London, and being hesitant to buy a car I knew I’d need to live in Los Angeles — I somehow found myself in a tiny Brooklyn apartment. 

I was bored with my hometown, seeking an adventurous opportunity, and quite a bit restless. And well, why not? New York City seemed like a rational place to at least try. 

The truth is, I moved to New York because I didn’t know where else to move. A lame reason — I know. But it’s the truth.

But after reciprocating “so, why’d you move to New York City” enough times, I came to the conclusion that’s the very reason why many young people in their twenties and thirties move to New York City.

Moving to New York City alone in your ’20s or 30’s. 

Jenaae in Washington Square Park after moving to New York City alone
My first summer after moving to New York City, just after I turned 29.

If you’re looking for a compelling reason to move to New York, and you haven’t quite convinced yourself that it’s the right decision for you, consider — well, why not? 

This reason is especially compelling if your a single woman in her 20’s or 30’s.

The opportunities, adventures, and single eligible men are abundant — although there are other issues as far as the men are concerned (more on that another time). And if you absolutely hate it, you could always pack up your things, and head south to the sunshine state (or wherever you’re from). 

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It’s after college, perhaps you’re making strides in your career at this point, and you’re really coming into your own as an adult. Moving to New York City alone in your twenties and thirties can make this time in life especially exhilarating. As the energy in NYC is always on, and are always things to do, places to go, and people to meet. 

Having lived in New York City alone in my twenties, I’ve found some very fabulous reasons, quite a few, in fact, to move to New York City at this stage in life.

Beyond the uninspiring well, why not, here are three reasons to move to New York City alone in your twenties:

1. Moving to New York City will toughen you up and make you a stronger and more resilient human being. 

2. You will likely meet some really cool people in New York City who will broaden your mind and enlighten your way of thinking. 

3. It’s a lot of fun living in New York City. And it’s an experience I think every worldly woman (especially so in your twenties and thirties) should have at least once in life.

10 things I wish I knew before moving to New York City alone as a single gal in my 20s.

The lay of the land — New York City

With all that being said, here are some things I wish I knew before moving to New York City.

1. This lay of the land.

New York City is made up of five boroughs — Manhattan, Brooklyn, The Bronx, and Queens. Oh, and Staten Island. See the pretty accurate judgmental map of NYC, pictured above.

Manhattan, (mostly referred to as “the city” for short), is the Sex in the City New York, The Gossip Girl New York, The Law & Order SVU New York. 

Manhattan is where you’ll find the shops, attractions, super-rich people, fancy restaurants, the lights, the action — mostly everything you’re considering moving to New York City for. 

Manhattan is also where you’ll find the tourists, the noise, the crazy people, the grime, the rats. Basically a lot of the things people leave New York City for. 

Brooklyn, The Bronx, and Queens is where all the regular people live. It’s where you’ll find “the real New Yorkers”. In these boroughs, you’ll find immigrant communities, Hasidic Jewish communities, young people that can’t afford Manhattan rent, families, and more. Much much more. These boroughs are a bit cheaper to live, and you’re often just a short train ride away from the city. 

Staten Island? I can’t really say what’s over there. Never been. Never had a reason to. I can tell you all the people I’ve encountered from Staten Island, are the quintessential New Yorkers you see on TV. “The real, real New Yorkers”, who have made New York home for generations. 

What about New Jersey?

Many people live and commute into the city from neighboring New Jersey. I have a girlfriend that lives in Jersey City whose commute into the city is just 10 mins! The neighboring New Jersey cities are much cleaner, quieter, and more of a suburban vibe than New York City in my experience. 

2. Come with a game plan.

Moving to New York City is a massive undertaking.

You’ll need to find somewhere to live. You’ll need to secure a job or perhaps a coffee shop to perch, or a co-working space like The Wing (where I’ve met several lovely women). You’ll need to make new friends, find some hobbies, and perhaps start dating. You’ll basically, as quickly and as efficiently as possible, need to get your shit together. And in the midst of the turmoil that is New York City, it’s easy to lose sight of why you moved to New York City to begin with. 

Even if you’re moving to New York City alone, with no money, and/or no real plan, try your best to be clear on why you’re moving here. And don’t lose sight of that mission. 

Make sure you have a clear idea of why you’re venturing into this city, to begin with. How long will you stay? And what do you wish to have accomplished when it’s time to bid the city farewell? 

3. The people here are way cooler than (insert city you’re moving from). 

One of the first things that struck me when I moved to New York City, was how much cooler the people here were than the people in Miami.

The people here dressed differently, they thought differently, and they moved differently. People in New York are so diverse and unique in their ways of being. It’s truly inspiring, and overall just really freaking cool. 

4. Explore.

When you look at New York City on a map compared to other major cities, it’s actually quite small in size. But in the same breath, New York City is massive in its diversity of landscape.

The vibe of the neighborhoods in the five boroughs is vastly different. And the people in each neighboorhood, unique. 

You may find yourself frequenting a particular neighboorhood when you first move here — but your new favorite neighborhood is yet to be discovered. Before you commit to any neighborhood, especially where you will live, take some time (preferably in the warmer spring and summer months) to have dinner in Harlem, go for drinks in Bedstuy, shop groceries in Chelsea, see a movie in Queens. 

Get lost, explore, and get acquainted with the different locales New York City has to offer.

5. Stand clear of the closing doors.

For as long as I live, no matter where in the world, these six words will live on with every memory I have of New York City.

In a city of nearly 9 million people, one of the most important principles one can realize is respect. Don’t stand in the middle of sidewalk traffic to gaze at your phone. Don’t take up two train seats with your handbag or your legs spread wide open. Allow people to exit the train before you enter. And please, stand clear of the closing doors.

6. Embrace the bag and pan.

You may know it as the gym bag, the work bag, or perhaps the mom bag (even if you’re not a mom). Whatever you call it, embrace what my Caribbean mother calls “the bag and pan”.

In other words, the massive carryall bag that totes around practically your whole life. Because if you’re going for after-work cocktails in the city, you don’t want to ride home on the rush hour train just to grab a pair of heels and lipstick.

7. We’re only human.

One impactful lesson I’ve learned living in New York City alone is that everyone is going through something. From an outburst of anger because somebody shoved some lady a little too hard trying to get onto the packed train. To a dear friend expressing to you their struggles with anxiety or depression coping in the hectic city.

Try to understand that people aren’t always just nasty to be nasty, rude to be rude, or mean to be mean. New York City can be hard on the human spirit. We’re all just humans, dealing with issues, trying to get to work on the packed train. Rember that.

Have patience. And try not to let little things (and there will be many little things) get you riled up. 

8. People are busy. 

If there’s one thing the seemingly everyone in New York City has in common, it’s busy. Busy is the culture in New York City.

Your new friends — busy. That guy you met on The League and really hit it off with, but haven’t heard from in a week — busy (or just not that into you).  Everyone here is busy going places and doing things.

And if you’re not careful it’s easy to get caught up and busy, too. None the less, try to keep in touch with people, make time for yourself, and don’t get too busy.

9. New York City will change you. 

Whether I will remain in New York City, and for how long is still up in the air.  But I can say without a doubt, for the 8 months I’ve lived here thus far, New York City has changed me.

New York City has toughened me, in a good way. It’s enlightened me in so many ways, too. I am a stronger, more resilient, cultured, and more experienced woman because of New York City. And for that I am grateful. 

10. Don’t forget to look up.

They say you can always easily spot the tourists in New York City as they walk and stand in the middle of sidewalk traffic obliviously gazing up at the skyscrapers.

While it’s infuriatingly annoying when you’re just trying to walk past, as Hannah Baxter wrote so beautifully for Coveteur “I do wish that someone had told me sooner to take a second and really enjoy my hard-won place in this city”. It’s dirty and loud and crazy and fast, but if you can wade through all of that, you can appreciate all the magic that brought you here in the first place.

  • Jocyln Ventura says:

    Thank you so much for this blog post! I came across it while looking up tips and tricks about how to move to nyc. I myself am really wanting to move out there by next fall. But have no clue what step I need to start taking first so thank you.

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