Please understand- it’s not that I think everyone should move to an island. It’s clearly a major life decision that required (at least on our part) thoughtful consideration and a lot of sweat equity. It was hard work. There were times we felt that we had lost our minds and that surely we weren’t supposed to be making this kind of a change. There was overwhelming joy when we sold the house coupled with a heavy feeling of sorrow that we were leaving the neighborhood we’d called home for almost seven years. There were tremendous ups and downs along the way.
But ultimately, we made it and after 23 days as residents on St John USVI, I am happy we stuck it out. We still have a long way to go and some steep hills to climb- anyone who’s ever been here knows I mean that very literally- but those experiences will give me great material, I’m sure! So, just in case you are considering becoming our neighbors on island, here are the seven steps to moving to paradise.
Step One- Travel… Fall in Love
Definitely get out and about and see the world a bit. While I actually have met St Johnians who moved here sight unseen, I have to say that terrifies me. You don’t know what you don’t know, right? We are beach people, and we’ve been to Jamaica, Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Los Cabos, St Marten, and Aruba. We honeymooned on Tortola in the BVIs. Only when we arrived on St John could we ever really see ourselves as residents. It just felt right. We felt called to be here.
Step Two- Declare your Intentions… With Caution
You have to be careful with this one. Telling people you’re moving to an island may evoke emotions that you aren’t ready to handle. Some people may cry, some people may try to talk you out of it, some people may dismiss the dream as unlikely at best. My advice is only tell the people who love and “get” you enough to understand and be happy for you. The next few steps are hard enough; you’re going to need some support. Now, having said that, you MUST tell some people. If you don’t put it out there, you may back out on yourself and your dream. It’s easy to give up if you don’t feel like anyone is holding you accountable. Clearly you don’t want to tell people at work, as they may tell you to pack up your things are get moving before you have everything lined up. It’s hard, but share your secret with a limited number of people and ask that they keep it to themselves.
Step Three- Make a Plan… Write it Down
I know this sounds broad, but I can’t really give a prescriptive list of exactly what will be involved in your planning phase. For us, we had to sell a home and quit jobs we’d held for nearly a decade. But we started making lists, and that always helps to keep you task oriented and moving toward the goal. I remember driving back to Charlotte after spending the holidays with Shaun’s family and putting pen to paper. We decided on an October move date, so we worked backward from there. We put “meet with the realtor” as the first step, and from that meeting, we added many details like: paint exterior of house, list the house, get out of town for the showings on the first weekend, etc. etc. We listed all the things that needed to be sold, donated, or trashed. We worked through all our stuff for weeks. Our list also included dog training classes, finding an apartment, traveling back to St John to find an island home, and quitting our jobs strategically.
Step Four- Hang in There… Meltdowns are Coming
Listing a home, going under contract, closing on the sale, and moving out of a home are brutal. Keep the end goal in mind. Look at picture of you in paradise, especially if it’s during the winter months that you’re in moving hell. Lean on your spouse, family, friends, pets- anyone who loves you- to preserve any bit of sanity you can hang on to. To make it better, plan fun outings, trip, dinners and any kind of event that adds fun to your life. You’ve got to have an outlet. What you’re doing sounds footloose and fancy free, but it is hard work to overhaul your live. Enjoy the time you have left on the mainland any chance you get.
Step Five- Find Good Temporary Housing… But Not Too Good
For us, it was nothing short of utopia. We scheduled multiple meetings to look at apartments in our area. We made it to only one and it was love at first sight. We moved into what I think is a little slice of paradise in Charlotte, NC near SouthPark mall, in a beautiful shopping center with adorable restaurants and boutiques, that is directly behind Whole Foods. I won’t even get started on how I so dearly miss the selection and prices at Whole Foods. That’s a different story for another day. The only thing negative I can say about living in a place like Post Park at Phillips Place is that it was too good. Too easy. It was like living in a quaint European village where you went to the market everyday, walked everywhere, ate healthy, had access to everything you needed… I can’t even go on because it’s too painful. The point is, downsize as best you can and move to a place if your house sells more quickly than expected. Try to only move what you need. Keep your list of tasks handy, and get busy moving forward.
Step Six- Go Back for One Last Look at Paradise… and Make it Count
I highly recommend traveling one last time to your island destination of choice. People say it’s impossible to find a place to live on St John before you move, but we disproved that theory. If I were moving myself, my husband, our two precious boys, and our stuff to paradise without knowing that we would have a roof over our heads, I am going to admit that I just don’t have that in me. The last trip we made to St John in August sealed the deal. We found a home, Shaun attended boat school, and we felt reassured that this island is where we were supposed to be. We became more excited about the hard work that lead us to this point.
Step Seven – Press the Submit Button
Everything has been done. You’ve told your friends and family. You told your boss. Your end date has been established. You are free of your mortgage. Your home in paradise awaits you. Book your one way ticket and press SUBMIT. You’ve officially decided to do what many people dream of doing but don’t have the guts to do. Pack your swimsuits, sunscreen, sandals, and get on that plane!
Ashley Cates, St. John USVI blogger.