December 14, 2020 - 11:31 am

Moving From the Big City to Traverse City

By 20Fathoms

With everything that’s happening in the wide world around us, many people are considering a move; in fact, many people are considering a move to beautiful Traverse City, Michigan. It’s a popular destination, especially for young families who are seeking a more balanced lifestyle, one infused with natural beauty, filled with outdoor activities, and centered around a supportive local community.

Ellie and her husband (pictured with their daughter) considered settling in Los Angeles, Beijing, or Nicaragua, but fell in love with Traverse City after a summer visit. ©Lora Reehling Photography

It takes a leap of faith to uproot your life and settle somewhere new, especially if you’re transitioning from an urban area to a place with a very different lifestyle like small-town, rural Northern Michigan. To provide some insight and answer common questions, we rounded up five recent transplants who made the move themselves from major cities to Traverse City. Their first-hand experiences have given them a unique perspective into the pleasures of putting down roots in a smaller city, while also shedding light on some of the minuses of living in a city with room to improve – just like any other community. So, before you list the house for sale, pack up your belongings, and share the news with your kids about their new school, read on to hear some first-hand accounts of what to expect from your Traverse City experience—the “good” and the “needs improvement.”

The Big City to Traverse City Experts

We spoke with five very helpful individuals. Ellie is a business development consultant, Ming is an IT director, Mike works in project management, Eric is an attorney, and Jody (not her real name) is a young professional. Their varied and perceptive comments about Traverse City helped shape our article, and we’re so thankful for their contribution!

A self-described “city girl,” Ming (pictured with her family) was first impressed by Traverse City’s breathtaking beauty, as well as the region’s emphasis on environmental protection and work-life balance.

Natural Areas and Outdoor Recreation Abounds

Unanimously, our panel of experts spoke about the awesome natural beauty of the Grand Traverse Region. Favorite places include Grand Traverse Bay, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the country vistas with undulating hills, and the springtime cherry orchard blooms.

“My fiancé and I fell in love with Traverse City after a summer visit when it was light until 10:30 pm,” said Ellie. “We did the Dune Climb and fell in love.”

“I’m a ‘city girl’ but my husband sold me on Traverse City with the breathtaking beauty,” said Ming. “My husband is environmentally-focused and we found Traverse City to be a good balance of growing business and environmental protection.”

Our experts also agreed that Traverse City is the place to be for outdoor enthusiasts. You’ll find plenty of publicly accessible natural areas; local outdoors groups; biking, hiking, and fishing; and safe running routs at every turn.

“One of my first experiences here was a run through downtown Traverse City on Front Street. It was great!” said Ming.
Ellie said, “We wanted a walking community with four-season recreation and a good place to raise a family, plus good restaurants, music, museums, and craft beer.”

With all this good, there are a few big-city amenities missing from Traverse City life. Comparatively, Traverse has limited nightlife, live music, and professional sporting events. While the area offers performances at Interlochen Center for the Arts, a minor league baseball team, and a lively downtown scene, these are admittedly on a smaller scale. The good news is there’s a great airport located right in town, and urban activities can also be found just a few-hour drive away. Our experts recommend taking advantage of these transportation opportunities and spending a few weekends away to enjoy these experiences.

That Small-Town Community Vibe

The positive sense of community in Traverse City was a key driver in the decision to make the move for several of our experts.

One of the best parts of living in Traverse is that, according to Jody, “if you support people in the community, people in the community support you. TC feels like what a community used to be like: shop local, stay local, keep your dollars here, help people out. It’s very different than the big city where I’m from.”

Ellie and her fiancé considered settling in Los Angeles or international destinations like Nicaragua or Beijing. However, they ultimately decided to move to Traverse City to be closer to family, along with all the perks that the area offered. “Traverse City has been a very welcoming community,” Ellie says. “We had our wedding on Old Mission Peninsula six months after moving here. It was a small wedding and I was so impressed how our new Traverse City friends clicked with our family as if they had known each other for years. It was 100% authentic.” She continues, “It’s a real-life fairy tale in Traverse City. We are so happy to be here and it’s as if the universe reconfirms daily that we made the right choice.”

Eric describes the community as interesting and eclectic. “There is a mix of artists, relocated professionals, blue-collar people, people who have been here for generations, and recent transplants.” Mike says that the area has people with “diverse backgrounds and experience,” although there is an overall lack of diversity in general. Diversity in Traverse City is improving, but slowly.

Making Friends in a New Place

Such a small community means that it can sometimes be hard for newcomers to meet new friends. Our experts recommend community involvement and Meetup groups as good ways to meet people in Traverse City.

“People are eager to help you find ways to get involved,” said Mike. “I’ve learned a lot about the area through Leadership Grand Traverse.”

“I’ve met people to hike with via meet-up groups and I’ve met some great people at TCNewTech events, as well as through work,” said Jody who especially recommends Meetup and Facebook groups for meeting people. “Traverse City is a tougher place for introverts as new relationships may not happen organically here, which is very different form the southern part of the country where I lived before. I’m not an extrovert, but I like the option to go out and meet people.”

In Search of a Work-Life Balance

For many of our experts, career opportunities and finding a new work-life balance were reasons to move here.

“I’m living the American dream,” said Ming. “Aim high and work hard. I’ve had a great mentor which has helped my career grow – but not too fast. In Hong Kong, the focus was always on academics with the pressure to get straight A’s – that’s all life was.”

“I was already a remote worker when we moved here,” said Ellie. “But my fiancé had to leave his job at a big ad agency in Chicago. He was able to find a job here in his field within two weeks.”

The Logistics of Everyday Life

Before you start thinking about making the big move to Traverse, be aware that the housing market in the Grand Traverse Region has become challenging for buyers in recent years. Our experts who moved here within the past few years found limited options for affordable housing and shared the following advice: “Be ready to make an offer NOW when you see something that fits your needs.” Local leaders are working on solutions to increase access to affordable housing in this desirable area.

All our experts with kids are satisfied with the quality and variety of school choices. Childcare can be more of a challenge, though. “Finding childcare can be difficult. I’ve learned to rely on my in-laws,” said Ming.

Our experts agreed that infrastructure such as traffic patterns and internet connectivity can be different than what you are accustomed to coming from a larger city. Said one expert, “After a while, a 10-minute wait in traffic can seem like forever and you forget about what it’s like to be stuck on an expressway for 45 minutes.”

They also recommend doing your research if you need fast, reliable internet connectivity as high-speed broadband is not available in all areas.

Wrap Up

Overall, our five contributors are thrilled with Traverse City and all it has to offer. This is an area where individuals and families can live a healthy lifestyle, distanced from the intensity of a more metropolitan setting. It’s a place where, if you live here any length of time, you will run into someone you know at the grocery store, chat about the activities your family is up to, or wonder at the great amount of snow we are getting this winter. All while enjoying a gorgeous small community, nestled along the shoreline of the beautiful Grand Traverse Bay.

For more information about living, working, and playing in Traverse City, visit Discover Traverse City (20Fathoms), Michigan’s Creative Coast, Downtown Traverse City, or Traverse City Tourism.

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