Shallon Lester is a YouTuber who moved from New York City to Bozeman, Montana, in June 2020.She purchased a five-bedroom house and realized she’d rather feel rich than big-city cool.Even though she loves Montana more than she had expected, she’s found the dating scene to be tricky.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Shallon Lester, a YouTuber living in Bozeman, Montana. It has been edited for length and clarity.
I’m a YouTube creator who grew up in California, but I lived in New York City for more than 12 years and worked as the editor of a magazine. Once COVID-19 hit, the party was (literally) over, and all I was left with was the vexing drudgery of big-city life without the fun.
I didn’t know a single person in Montana, but after I visited Bozeman, something about it felt like home. It called to me.
I moved to Bozeman in June 2020, and I’ve loved it — the winters are even growing on me. It’s nice to hibernate and slow down.
In NYC, I barely kept my head above water. I had a big title but a terrible bank account and felt trapped. Now I live in a five-bedroom house in a rural area, and I love it.
What I miss about NYC
The only thing I really miss is wearing my designer clothes and not getting funny looks, but swapping Christian Dior for Mossy Oak is a small price to pay to live somewhere safer, saner, and slower.
I look back on my life in NYC and see how anxious and exhausted I was. I travel a lot and would dread coming home to Manhattan. Now, no matter how great my vacation is, I’m always thrilled to be heading back to Bozeman.
But it has taken me three years to fully shed the manic-city-girl energy and lean into a slower pace of life. I’ve had to cultivate patience and softness in a way that I didn’t have to in Manhattan.
Bozeman is small enough that you never know whom you’re going to run into, so you have to mind your manners. People are aware of you in a way that they aren’t in a big city, where you can blend in.
Buying a house in Montana
Lester with her friends at her house in Montana.
After two years of renting, I bought a house for $1 million last summer. My house has a theater on half an acre and includes a guest house I rent out full time for $2,000 a month. I bought my house in cash, so I don’t have a mortgage. Having an extra $2,000 a month is amazing. Saving like this would’ve been impossible for me in NYC.
If you told me when I lived in NYC that I would end up in the suburbs in a big house on a quiet street, you may as well have told me I would live on Rikers Island.
But the coronavirus pandemic snapped the fear-of-missing-out syndrome out of me, and I’ve never looked back. It felt great to put down real roots and escape the trade-up mentality of NYC.
Gas tends to be $3 less per gallon than it is in California, and you can have a steak dinner at a nice restaurant with a glass of wine for under $60 a person. Manicures and hair salons are cheaper, too (highlights and a cut in NYC would cost me more than $400, but I pay $150 here). But I’ll admit that the quality is better in big cities.
It also costs less to care for my dog, and he has more space to roam around.
Trading the big-city cool factor for an easier cost of living was the best decision for me. Feeling cool isn’t as important as feeling rich.
Lester and her friends.
I lucked out and have a great group of friends, but dating is a little trickier. I think the men in Montana I’ve met have a very different type of intelligence than I’d found in NYC: They can build things, they can kill things, and they’re very tactile and useful. I find it so cool and sexy, but they don’t really find my type of intelligence sexy. I’m sarcastic, witty, and nerdy. The guys I’ve met here are more into intelligence that has a real world application.
Priorities are also different here. Businesses are understaffed, and it’s common to see employees not show up to work if it’s a good ski day or the first day of elk-hunting season.
Guys I’ve met seem to gravitate toward girls who need saving, or who may have jobs but not careers. I’m not quite ready to settle down yet, so dating is still fun for now.
Social-media influencing in Bozeman
I’m one of the only YouTubers in the area. I was afraid my followers wouldn’t care about me if I wasn’t a “cool” New Yorker anymore, but I’ve noticed the opposite. I think it’s been inspiring for them to see that you can radically change your life, make choices that seem scary or impossible, and not only survive it but also be happier.
However, I have struggled to secure brand partnerships with local businesses. Many haven’t gotten on board with influencer advertising because they don’t see the value, so I’ve stuck to nationwide or global brands.
In Montana, people also assume influencers are huge self-centered jerks, so it can be a bit of an uphill battle to prove I’m pretty cool and nice and, more importantly, not trying to turn Montana into Los Angeles or Manhattan. I moved here to let it change me, not the other way around.
Advice for moving from a big city to a rural area
Lean into it. Have respect for the local politics and way of life. Sink your teeth into one big local hobby, whether it’s CrossFit, fishing, or rodeos. It will show locals you’re there to assimilate, not colonize.
To make friends, have a routine — the same coffee shop, same yoga class — and use your big-city boldness to invite people to do things.
Have you relocated and want to share your story? Email Lauryn Haas at [email protected].