- Jessica Frisco is a healthcare director who moved from NYC to rural Vermont during the pandemic.
- She and her fiancé quickly grew fond of their new small town, despite their worries about the change.
- They enjoy more outdoor activities, save on expenses and groceries, and are easily making new friends.
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Like millions of New Yorkers who justify their sky-high rents with the opportunity to live out their dreams, I thought NYC was the most incredible place in the world. After seven years in the city, I was thriving with strong friendships, a great job, a beautiful apartment in Williamsburg, and a packed schedule full of activism, exciting nights around town, and taking care of my dog.
At 28 years old, being a New Yorker felt like a huge part of my identity, and even during the pandemic, I had a difficult time imagining ever leaving.
But when I stumbled on my dream house in rural southern Vermont, I started imagining the crazy alternative of a life elsewhere. Could anything compare to the buzzing energy of NYC? Though I had always dreamed of owning my own home, I was deeply anxious about the thought of leaving behind my friends, the political causes and networks I had dedicated so much energy to, and the infinite opportunities of the city. NYC was stimulating, challenging, and full of interesting people.
But believe it or not, so is my new life in Dummerston, Vermont.
Here’s what it’s like to move from the big city to a tiny, rural hamlet – the main things I was worried about, and how they turned out.
Making the leap to Dummerston
I traded in the “rustic chic” aesthetic ubiquitous across Williamsburg (farmhouse decor, hipster lumberjacks) for the real thing. The town I live in now is called Dummerston, a small community of 1,800 filled with dense woods and open farmland.
Unfortunately, the Vermont version of “rustic chic” means “needs work,” but my fiancé and I were looking forward to the challenges of getting our property up and running and testing out our handyman skills. It was whether I could make friends and find my purpose in this small town that really had me wondering.
Ten minutes down the road from our house is the main town of Brattleboro, home to a whopping 12,000 people. Despite my initial anxieties, I’ve been impressed by how much there is to do when strolling through the town on a weekend.
The main strip of the historic downtown area overlooks the Connecticut River and is filled with coffee shops, eclectic restaurants, breweries, and thrift stores that even rival those in Brooklyn (except in price.)
While the restaurant scene in Brattleboro and the surrounding area is impressive given the small size of the town, I do miss NYC’s unmatched offerings for takeout and access to literally any cuisine at any time of day. Takeout or a dinner in town has become more of a special occasion than a casual afterthought like it was in the city, especially since most places here close by 9 p.m.
However, now that I have my own house and lots of kitchen space, I’m cooking much more from my pantry stocked with bulk staples, produce sourced from local farms up the road, and lots of maple syrup.
Friends from NYC or family from my hometown in Connecticut come to visit often, and we love having the space to cook and host. Grocery stores in Vermont aren’t actually that much cheaper than in New York, but I’m saving around $250 a month by cooking nearly every meal from home.
With all the cooking comes a lot of composting, something that is mandated by the state of Vermont. While there are options for compost and trash disposal, like burying food waste in our yard or hiring a trash service to come by weekly, we’ve landed on making regular trips to the local dump to save money.
This has been one of the most challenging errands to adapt to, given the labor intensity of sorting by plastic type and garbage category, and that the dump is only open until the afternoon on weekdays and Saturdays. More than once, I’ve lost track of time and had to hang on to bags of food waste and recycling until the next weekend or rush during my lunch break between work meetings.
Building up a social life was easier than expected
It took me years of living in NYC to build up a circle of friends. New Yorkers are infamously flaky and hard to schedule with, given their packed schedules and competing options. With all the work I had put into my relationships, I was dreading starting from scratch in Dummerston. Yet it’s been shockingly easy, even in a pandemic.
The slower pace of life makes it easier to catch someone with a free afternoon, and my fiancé and I chat with our passing neighbors or host new friends regularly. We’ve also relied heavily on Facebook, joining the Brattleboro Facebook group and participating in a “Dog Park Pals” group to seek playdates for our dog (and ourselves).
Now, neighbors stop by with a carton of eggs or some homemade maple syrup just to say hi, have a playdate with our dogs, or just to check in on how the New Yorkers are managing.
Trading rent for a mortgage
Of all the things to worry about, the finances of the move were actually quite attractive. In Williamsburg, I paid $1,400 a month for half of an 800 square foot two-bedroom apartment. In Dummerston, my fiancé and I split basically the same cost for a mortgage on an eight-acre property with a house, barn, and a massive shed. Plus, there are heavy tax incentives to leaving NYC and buying a home.
That said, home ownership has not come cheap. Without the buffer of a landlord or property manager, we’re on the hook for every maintenance and utility expense. A bitter winter forced us to spend over $1,000 on propane to heat the house, and nearly the same on unexpected plumbing and electrical issues. More space also means more spending on furniture and decorations, and Facebook marketplace is in low supply out here compared with NYC – another thing I miss dearly.
Overall, in the next five to 10 years, we’ve estimated spending $30,000 or more on home improvement on top of our mortgage. It sounds like a lot, but in New York I was paying $17,000 a year in rent without even getting a fixed-up house to show for it.
The politics in rural America aren’t exactly what you think
In NYC, I was very politically active and my values were a key factor in deciding where I could live in the future. Though it’s a rural state, Vermont is incredibly liberal and its residents young and old are highly engaged. Yet politics here are hyper-local and more practical than ideological, a change from NYC that I’ve come to appreciate.
While I’ve only been here a few months, I’ve already gotten involved in some work on transitioning the town to renewable energy and improving safe police practices.
I was sad to give up the excitement of the big city and the sense that anything could happen at any time. Yet Vermont is stimulating in its own ways. I’ve been skiing and hiking more than ever before. I’m regularly chasing porcupines and other wildlife away from my dog, and driving down our dirt road often feels like an off-roading adventure.
I’ve also come to realize that peace and quiet is not all that bad or boring; in fact, my ability to relax and concentrate has increased significantly, something I didn’t realize how badly I was lacking before the move.
Life in Vermont is challenging, in a good way
One of the things I loved most about NYC was being constantly challenged, whether it was hustling to get ahead at work or figuring out the quickest subway route. I was always trying to get ahead or get somewhere else. Out in the country, my fiancé and I still work hard, but in different ways, like figuring out how to get internet in the woods or working through an electrical outage.
We regularly use more power tools than I can count, and I have become an amateur tradesman who can start a generator, split a log, and replace a condensate neutralizer pump on an HVAC system. Now, with all the work and commitments I’ve put into my new home, it feels like I’m building a foundation for the long-term.
I’ve been lucky enough to keep my career, at least for now
Like many New Yorkers with an office job, the pandemic forced my company to go fully remote which allowed me to move while keeping my job. I’m able to work as a healthcare director from 9-to-5 remotely in our upstairs office room, across from my fiancé. My job may go back to being in-person a few days a month at some point; while the commute to the city will be long, it will give me a chance to visit and see friends.
Thinking about the long-term, the opportunities in my field local to Vermont are limited. It would be difficult to find a comparable job that wasn’t remote or based elsewhere in the Northeast. But living here has made me think about alternatives I never previously considered, especially given how friendly the state is to small business. Could I get into a trade, or open a retail store? Maybe one day.
A new happy place
Looking back on my anxieties prior to leaving the big city for a tiny town, I’m sure I was worried about losing a big piece of the identity I had created for myself in NYC: that of a hard worker with a packed schedule, up on culture and politics and surrounded by fascinating people. The move to Dummerston made me realize it was just as much about what I brought to a place as what the place offered me. My new town has all the foundational elements to make an engaging and excellent life here too, and I’m excited to have taken the leap.
In April, my fiancé and I went back to NYC for a friend’s birthday. The city seemed the same, but I no longer felt like investing in its endless opportunities. I’m sure I’ll be back for work and to visit friends and family, but from now on, my identity is a bit more centered in my happy place in Dummerston.
Jessica Frisco is a director at an NYC-based healthcare network. She is a registered nurse and holds a Master of Public Health degree from Columbia University.