Welcome! I'm Katie Toomey, a freelance video editor living here in Los Angeles, CA. I started this “Get Moving” interview series in what feels like a long overdue fashion. After having many approach me about my own moving blog and how helpful it was to have another experience to read about or relate to, it sparked me to interview others in our industry who have made a move somewhere for their own work.
My aim is to help broaden the reach to share these stories for others out there, like me, who wanted to hear more perspectives to help build confidence, to relate to planning worries and execution woes, and to understand the struggles and even successes more fully.
This series will hopefully help you gain wisdom to be better informed when and if taking that risk and leap for yourself.
I myself have made a rather large move (the biggest I've ever done to date) moving from the East coast in NC to the West coast to LA just last year. I wrote my “East to West Coast Moving Adventure” on Creative Cow very soon afterwards to document the process. I've been living in LA ever since. All these experiences will combine to make a collective resource that anyone can access - from any where, at any time. If you don’t know anyone who’s done this sort of thing, it can feel very isolating and impossible to manage on your own. You shouldn’t have to face this alone - and now, you won’t have to.
Kylee Peña was born and raised in Indiana. She currently works in Creative Technologies at Netflix. Before that, she worked in dailies and workflow across broadcast and streaming media including shows like Scorpion and Jane the Virgin.
And prior to that, you could find her working as an editor on corporate and unscripted content. She is co-president of BCPC (Blue Collar Post Collective), managing editor at Creative COW, and active with SMPTE. Kylee likes to “scream about inclusion, a lot.”
She has moved twice so far in her lifetime: from Indiana to Georgia, and from Georgia to California, and her most recent move was from Atlanta to Los Angeles. Kylee has now been in LA for almost four years!
“Five days of solace and solitude to begin a new life.”
Katie: What event or situation sparked the move?
Kylee: I’ve always wanted to live in Los Angeles because I’ve always wanted to work in film and television. I knew it was going to be the place where I really began meaningful work because it’s where the majority of the meaningful work happened. I went to school in Indiana and graduated in 2009, right into a recession. The prospect of just going to LA and seeing what came next with no savings, job prospects, or connections was overwhelming during such a major financial crisis. I was lucky to get a job in Indianapolis doing corporate video.
I was less lucky to end up with an unsupportive partner who wouldn’t consider relocating with me when I had no job secured, which really isn’t likely at all. As I got started in the first few years of my career, I learned a lot about the skills I brought and how I could leverage them once I was in Los Angeles. But all my plans went to the wayside. We did move when I secured a job in Atlanta, although that position didn’t pay to relocate or pay me anymore than I had already been making, so there were no further resources.
The details are a lot more complicated than this, but the bottom line is that I slowly came to my senses and woke up to living in a bad situation, and my career was only part of that.
When I pivoted toward post technology in Atlanta, my income doubled and suddenly I had the resources to do what was necessary. I finished the gig I was on and hit the road to start a new life alone.
Can you tell us some of the ways that the new area(s) differs from some of the other places you've lived or the last place you lived? What is similar and different for you? What do you like and dislike about your new area?
The biggest difference between Indiana and Los Angeles? The weather. Since I’ve lived in LA, I only had to scrape snow and ice off a car when I was visiting my parents or visiting Iceland! LA and Atlanta are somewhat similar in that the city is compartmentalized into unique neighborhoods that appeal to lots of different kinds of people and can really shape your experience in both cities. I love Los Angeles. I love being surrounded by film and television. I love the big open spaces where nature is preserved within the urban sprawl, and I love that I have apps for people to bring me food or do my laundry. Sure, the traffic might be challenging sometimes, but did you read the thing I said about the snow?
How did you begin to prepare for the move?
This is going to sound weird, but it wasn’t the greatest situation I was in. I started to prepare in secret. I went through all my belongings and sorted out anything that wasn’t essential including clothing. I tracked the route and found safe places to stop. I looked at what a Motel 6 cost in each place and made notes of that plus gas. I made sure that when I left, I would have the minimum required for survival.
A lot of my preparations had already been done for years. I had laid groundwork and made friends in LA that I knew would help me when I landed there. I had asked a lot of questions about work life and geography. I really knew all I needed to know to move. Most of all, I already knew people would be there for me.
Once it was no longer a secret, I told some key individuals. I happened to be at NAB for a week during my preparations and took that opportunity to share my news in person. But I didn’t talk about it on social media until after I was already there.
Maybe the most important thing I did was buy four brand new tires from Costco right before my departure.
What did you use to help plan your route? Did you fly, drive, or otherwise teleport to your new location?
I used an app called Roadtrippers to plot my route and help me calculate my fuel usage, because I was driving my almost ten year old car across the country. I used Google Maps a lot obviously too. And that was basically it. I realized when I was halfway there, I could have done it with a map because the instructions were basically “keep driving until you hit the ocean.”
Do you have any packing tips and tricks for us?
My packing was unique because I only brought what I could fit in my Pontiac Vibe. Everything else I left or gave away. I had to really think about what I needed or wanted, and what I wanted to rebuild once I was established again. The prospect of starting over also included furniture shopping.
In fact, that was one of the things I used to keep my head on straight during this chaos and upheaval of leaving a relationship. I went to tumblr and looked at the #cozybedrooms tag and planned how I would make my bedroom cozy once I moved.
When I was going through items, I threw away or donated anything I hadn’t thought about or worn within the last year. I gave a lot of clothing to Goodwill. I had a tupperware tub and a few boxes, and I used my Tetris skills to arrange things. I really had to evaluate every individual item’s worth in my life compared to buying it again in California. Once I had the essentials packed in, I threw in a few non-essentials to round it out.
I also kept a box of things I knew I’d need along the drive, and a bag with items for motel stops. The box had some snacks, chapstick, maxi pads, and other stuff that you pretty much immediately need when you need it. The clothing was packed with the stuff I’d need right on top. Overall, it mostly worked out, but did get a little messy by the end by nature of the tiny space.
One thing that ended up being a nearly life changing bit of advice was to take the laundry I wanted to keep and travel with to a laundromat for wash and fold service. Up to this point, I never knew these services existed. It was suggested to me vigorously as a method of self-care – things are challenging enough, don’t get yourself down by sitting in a depressing laundromat babysitting your clothing. So I dropped off my stuff and got it a day later, and it was folded so nicely and smelled so good and made such a big difference for me for relatively little cost, maybe $1.25 a pound. I don’t use these services all the time, but I do still use them when I need it.
What sort of challenges did you face trying to save or come up with the budget needed?
I was really lucky with my budgeting because I had a bedroom waiting for me and a roommate who wasn’t going to charge me rent for it until I had found a full time gig. And I only started the real process of moving forward after I had been able to work for four months at double the rate I had previously. And on top of that, I had parents that were really excited about me starting over, providing financial support and pledging more if needed. These things helped me not to panic over counting pennies. I took as little as I could.
I still stayed in Motel 6 and ate cheap and saved all my money (or future asks for money) for LA because I had no idea what to expect once I landed. Overestimating my motel and fuel costs really helped me cope emotionally with everything – I came in pretty far under my estimate. Being real about what the costs will be is super important, because no amount of wishful thinking will make gas prices drop.
What would you -not- recommend cutting costs on when considering a move?
I recommend not cutting costs on car maintenance if you choose to drive across the country. In addition to the new tires from Costco, I took my car for an oil change and engine once-over a week before my departure. They found a belt (who knows which one) that had nearly worn out and replaced it – a minor but still unexpected cost.
I was able to start driving with some confidence my car wouldn’t break down, which really means a lot when you’re a solo female traveler who will be crossing some of the biggest, emptiest parts of the US.
What were some of the advantages/disadvantages to working within your time and budget limits? Did you have a long time to plan out or have to move fast?
I suppose some of the advantages to doing all your research over several years is that you internalize all you learn. The downside is that I spent those years not in LA, but you know what I mean. I wouldn’t wish my circumstances for moving on anyone – it was really difficult, lonely, and sometimes even felt like I was doing something bad. But I wasn't. I was working toward a bright future where I could finally be everything I wanted. And keeping that in mind helped me as I transitioned from bad to good.
One major advantage for me was choosing to move only what I could fit in my hatch-back. A lot of people aren’t prepared to shed what they have accumulated to relocate (and that’s fair) but it felt like a deep cleanse to me. I was ready to throw all that stuff away and take only what I needed and rebuild somewhere else.
If budget was no limit, what conveniences would you have liked to use or were you able to incorporate into your move that you would suggest others try using, if they can?
If budget were no limit to me, I suppose the only real difference would have been staying in a nicer hotel along the way. Except every Motel 6 I stayed in was perfectly fine, so it’s not a major improvement. Hotels that offer breakfast would have been nice. Maybe taking a few extra days to sight see would have been interesting too – I see people doing that and it looks fun. But I just wanted to be in LA. I felt vulnerable with everything I owned in my car, even if it wasn’t worth much.
I suppose if budget really were no limit, I would have bought a new car for the trip! But mine kept up. It didn’t break down at all until I had lived in LA for over a year, and even after that minor engine repair the only thing that took it out was a collision that totaled my car. (That wasn’t my fault!)
How did you mentally prepare for the move?
I prepared for the broad idea of living in LA over many years, before the prospect of relocating became less and less viable as my situation got worse. The actual preparation for this specific move and its logistics started about six months before I moved. I didn’t have a move date yet, I just knew it was going to happen when the financial opportunity opened up.
I had to mentally prepare myself for everything else that was wrapped up in this, including separating from a partner. The best word I can apply to how I managed all of it: compartmentalization.
Even as my exit date got closer, I only kind of had a plan for when I would leave. I shifted it around based on my plans. For example, the last week I was in Atlanta I booked a gig, so I pushed my departure forward a day so I could finish it out. I’m a planner by nature, and I planned what I could with distance and stopping points, but the rest I just had to keep up in the air.
What is something you absolutely could not live without in the new area/place? Your hard line of "I'm not moving unless..." moment.
I didn’t really have the ability to place hard requirements on my living space, so I didn’t have any. I knew wherever I ended up could be temporary if I wanted it to be. Luckily, it ended up being perfect.
Did you ever find yourself at a low point and feeling like giving up or saying no the opportunity? Were there any times that people tried to talk you out of it or alternately were they supportive and helped you stay focused/encouraged?
I can see how people would definitely be overwhelmed by the entire idea of moving and be overloaded and want to give up, but my situation was so different. I was finding myself and my freedom. There was nothing that could keep me away from all that, even if it meant I was going to live in a cardboard box. It was terrifying and exciting all at the same time. There were times when I wondered where I would be in a month, but I didn’t allow myself to go down any kind of spiral. I compartmentalized the negative parts of the experience so fully that I spent a year processing all of it.
The mentor and friends I shared my situation with, and my parents, were the support I had and I’m extremely grateful for it. I can’t imagine going through a major upheaval without someone in your life telling you that what you’re doing is good and you’ll be okay.
How does managing all this have an effect on your sleeping, physical health, and your mental health, do you think?
Weirdly, the hardest thing on me was not having home-cooked meals for a while. Before I moved, I lived alone in a hotel for a couple of weeks in transition. At first it was great. But it’s increasingly difficult to cope with not making your own lunch or dinner and eating rich foods that are delivered to you.
At the same time, I allowed myself space to just exist and eat a fucking pizza if I wanted it. Not a lot, but occasionally. If I wanted to sleep more, I did. However, I never wanted to cry. I was too excited.
During all this, I was working overnight, and then flipping from night to day to attend NAB and speak on a major industry panel, then flipped back to nights again. My physical and mental challenges are unique to my situation. I remember often just pushing away bad thoughts. I knew it was all temporary, and I could feel it later, and if I felt it all right now then I might not make the right decisions. So I did my best to turn it all off. The consequence of that was taking a year to unravel it, occasionally experiencing some strange reactions to seemingly mundane things.
For example, the last hotel I stayed in before I moved had an overwhelming smell of cheap carpet cleaner. It was terrible, but I just didn’t acknowledge it. In the months after relocating, I entered a room and was hit with that smell and it knocked the wind out of me.
If you have the capability of dealing with negative emotions as they happen, I strongly encourage it. If not, survival is the key.
How do you know the difference between moving worries that can be researched or worked through or a generally bad decision/bad outcome risk? Can you even know that difference?
I think there are some obvious things you can look to, like “is this area good or bad, statistically” or “do I have enough money to eat.” But I think the majority of your worries just can’t be dealt with ahead of time. There will always be things you didn’t know or could have done better, and that’s life.
An example of how this could have been crappy for me: I had originally planned to stop for the night in a small town west of Dallas. I rearranged my stop schedule to spend less time on my second day of driving, so I could go shopping at a record store in Dallas and stay in Fort Worth. This worked out really well because a major storm came through when I hit Dallas and I didn’t have to drive through it. It also worked out because it turns out the small town west of Dallas is just a town that sprung up around oil drilling, and the people staying in the motels there are long-term residents, so the prices of rooms are sky high.
THE MOVE ITSELF
I finished a gig in Atlanta that had me working until almost 3AM. I found a motel room nearby, slept in my clothes for a few hours, and then left town early in the morning. The first time I stopped for gas in Alabama, I felt vulnerable, like someone was going to come get me and bring me back. I was hyper aware of my surroundings, and it was such a contrast to the slow nature of the backwoods gas station where I had stopped. I also got caught in a rainstorm at a rest stop later that day, completely soaked and thrilled. My first stop was in Vicksburg, Mississippi. I took myself to dinner at a cheap steak house.
The next morning I drove across the Mississippi River. It was bright and clear. I talked to my friend Siân on Skype for a long time, decompressing from NAB the previous week. I crossed into Louisiana (stopped at Southern Maid Donuts) and then into Texas. When I hit Dallas, I spent a couple hours at Bill’s Records, an amazing record store with a rich history. I was going to go to a favorite food spot in Dallas where I had been on a work trip, but a bad storm came in and I fled to my room and got Whataburger. There was a tornado warning for the area on my motel TV, but I had no idea what county I was in. That was basically the last time I experienced real weather.
The next day I drove for like ten hours, all in Texas. For the first time I really understood what it must have been like for pioneers traveling across the vast open spaces of the United States. From Dallas to the western edge of the state, it was big, open and flat. And windy. So windy. With the speed limit so high (80, I think) it was kind of exhausting to drive. But eventually I hit a stretch of mountain region (with no cell signal) and got to El Paso. When I was nearly to El Paso, I got stopped in border traffic since we were close to Mexico. While I was stopped, my phone jumped to a Mexican cell tower and welcomed me abroad, letting me know my new data rate was skyrocketing. I had to put my phone in airplane mode.
I ate really good food in El Paso: ceviche and octopus tacos.
The next day, I went from El Paso to Phoenix. A lot of people drive straight through to LA, but I didn’t want to be completely exhausted driving. I also wanted to stop for the night in Phoenix to meet up with my friend Lisa. Phoenix also offered the best Motel 6 with hardwood floors. I remember brushing my hair after a shower and losing a huge handful of hair and wondering if it was stress. (It was.)
The next day almost felt like a victory lap. It was a relatively short drive from Phoenix to LA which allowed me to spend a couple extremely nourishing hours visiting my mentor who lived in Palm Springs at the time. As I drove into LA, the sun was beginning to set over the basin, and night fell just as I arrived at my new home.
I had stayed on schedule, hadn’t been murdered, and got to talk to or visit some people I liked. When I woke up the next day and carried all my stuff inside to my new bedroom, life had a dreamlike quality. It was all very strange and magical. The first week I was in LA, I was crying over the fact I was in Hollywood or driving on the 405 or seeing the ocean. I couldn’t believe any of it.
AFTER THE MOVE
How long did it take to settle into your new place in your new area? In new job duties?
I feel like I settled in right away, but there was definitely a transition. For example, I didn’t own a bed or a desk. I finished freelance work sitting on the floor of an empty room. I was in LA a month before I got a gig, and then a full time job.
A few months later I was able to buy some of the furniture I had been eyeing, and I slowly added to it as I was able. I was happy to take it slow and get the items I really wanted, because a lot of the stuff I had left behind was purchased in haste.
What's your unpacking & getting situated process like?
I didn’t have much, so unpacking didn’t take long at all. The hardest part was probably figuring out the right way to store things in the closet space I had. It was a minor challenge, all things considered. I just knew unpacking as much as possible right away was important, so I did that. I didn’t want to live out of boxes anymore.
Did you feel homesick ever or miss your old town?
If you arrived 'hot' to town without a job, how did you manage to find work? -OR- If you came to your new area with a job in tow, how did that go?
I didn’t have a specific time frame where I needed to find a job or else, but I knew that ASAP was the goal so I could be completely self-reliant again. I took a lot of meetings with people just to remind them I existed and to learn from their experiences. A lot of groundwork I had laid over years came to fruition.
Eventually I got a full time job at the company I had worked at in Atlanta, and I was incredibly grateful. I had hoped to do the same freelance work for them I did before, but they kindly hired me and promoted me, and it set the stage for everything that came after.
What opportunities do you have available to you now (either that you didn't have before or have more of now) Do you find you have less work opportunities?
I have my entire life now. I have every opportunity I could ever want access to because I did this. I have so many more work opportunities and extracurriculars, and an incredible network of friends near and far to support me.
How has moving changed your life, for better or worse or in-between/uncertain?
My life is immeasurably better in every possible way because I moved. My advice to anyone thinking about relocating: if you put in half as much thought as I did over the years and still came out wanting to do this, then go for it. Share your challenges with your friends. Maybe the biggest mistake I made was not sharing some of the hardships with the people I trust most (because I wanted to bottle it up as long as possible) and I think it would have been better overall if I had bottled a little less.