Today’s Lesson: Come prepared.
Tony Robbins called Tampa “America’s best secret” and I think he is right. Moving here from Michigan is one of the best things Nicole and I ever did. On the other hand, there were a few things no one prepared me for and I did not find ahead of time on the interwebs. If you are considering a move from the North to the Tampa Bay area (which is a great move!), these tips might help you plan ahead (or at least decide how far you should plan ahead).
Here are 10 things I would have found helpful to know before we moved to Tampa:
1. When shopping for apartments, “luxury” is just part of the name, not a description. Nearly every apartment we looked at was called “luxury” and some were, but most of them just use the word as a place holder. “Luxury Apartments” is the same in Tampa as saying, “Apartment Homes”. On that note, even if it costs an extra trip to Tampa before you move, do NOT buy any apartment home based on the website or reviews. The diversity of apartments here is insane. Take a weekend and hit as many as you can. Every one is completely different.
2. Get a water filter. Maybe we were spoiled by the super clean water of the Great Lakes, but the tap water in Tampa tastes the way I imagine licking my cat’s butt would taste (but my cat seems to like licking her butt so, I don’t know, maybe cat butt tastes like cheesecake–if you try it, let us know). The city tap is not quite hard-water like from a well, but it is definitely not soft water. We bought a big Berkey. It was expensive (about $250) but worth every single penny–a necessity. I recommend this one. It is more than enough for a family of three or four and easy to maintain. Just pour the cat-butt tap water in and perfect water comes out. Additionally, you will want a $25 water filter for each shower head. Your skin will thank you for it. (Don’t get me wrong, by the way, the water is clean here, and drinkable, but it just tastes bad and stains all your glasses and dishes–too much iron maybe?)
3. Life is cheaper. Goods are more expensive. It is cheaper to live here–no city or state taxes, for example, but goods are priced higher. Our average grocery bill in Grand Rapids (for two yuppie vegans) went from about $100 per week to about $200 per week–yikes! You would think produce would be surprisingly cheap here since it does not have to travel far to get here, but you would be wrong. When you first move here, though, there are some crazy fees. Plan to have a few grand to cover outrageous license transfer fees (at $400+ each!), endless toll fees (buy a Sun Pass as soon as you get here), and other goofy fees (State parks, apartment pet fees, application fees, etc.).
4. Save up now for your new hobbies. It’s Tampa! You are coming here for the beaches and endless summer, and all the rumors and fantasies are true. It is amazing! Of course, that means you will pick up some new hobbies. No matter what they are, they will run you about $5,000 (for two). 2 decent Stand-Up Paddleboards with paddles, gear, and transport? $5,000. 2 Kayaks and all the needed accessories? $5,000. Scuba gear for 2? $5,000. A decent jet ski? $5,000. An entry-level sailboat? $55,000! Come on, $5,000? You wish. But you get the idea.
5. Everything is 40 minutes away. No matter where you live in the Tampa area, it will take you 40 minutes in regular traffic to get anywhere, even across the street. It is some weird effect or Relativity or something, but whether it is 5 miles away or 35 miles away, it will take you 40 minutes to get there.
6. Google Maps is wrong. Everything is 40 minutes away. Whatever Google Maps tells you, there is no algorithm to account for Tampa traffic (because of that Relativity thing, I think). In Michigan, if Google Maps says you will arrive at your destination in 25 minutes, you know exactly where you will be in 25 minutes. In Tampa, if Google Maps says you will arrive at your destination in 25 minutes, it is a filthy liar. Add 15 minutes to any time it gives you. Everything is 40 minutes away.
7. Get used to showering, like, a lot. Tampa requires two showers per day. Your usual shower and the one after sweating for the next 13 hours. If you happen to stay in air conditioning a lot, still plan for two showers. You will need your normal one and the one after the beach, anyway. Be sure to get that shower head water filter!
8. There are no “bad” areas to live. Maybe this is a relic from growing up near Detroit, but there are really no bad areas in the Tampa Bay area if you are apartment shopping. Stay within a 15-mile radius of Downtown and you will be good. We live in the “Westchase” area. I work in Brandon, Nicole works in Oldsmar, our favorite restaurants are in St. Pete, our favorite walking path is downtown Tampa, our favorite coffee shop is in Ybor City, and our favorite beach is Honeymoon Island, so we get around quite a bit. It is all nice. The one piece of advice I would warn you about, though, is to look up the hurricane evacuation zones for whatever county you are planning to move to. If you are too close to the beach, you might find yourself having to find a back-up place to stay for a few nights now and then (we are barely outside of it in Westchase).
9. Fuel efficiency matters. Remember, everything is 40 minutes away in regular traffic and when it is tourist season and you are headed to the beach, you can easily double that. Regardless, you will spend a LOT of time in traffic. We shelled out a lot of money for each of us to have a Prius but by the time the cars are paid off, we will have saved half the cost in what we estimated we would pay in gas (if gas prices never went up, which of course, they do).
10. You have to move here to work here. When we decided to move here, we job-hunted for nearly 6 months (which was fine, we were building up savings during that time anyway) but we heard over and over, “This is Tampa. Everybody outside of the state says they want to move here. No employer will take you seriously or pony up the money to bring you here when they can literally pick anybody. If you want a job here, you must have a local address no matter what.” We took a big risk and Nicole moved ahead of me with 6 months of savings, hoping she would find a job in that time. Once she had a local address, she was employed in less than 3 weeks and I was following her down here way sooner than expected!
If you are thinking about making the move, I hope that helps. If you happen to be vegan, be sure to look me up on FaceBook (or whatever social media you use) and Nicole and I will tell you where the best food is!