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January 14, 2014

Single Girl's Guide: How to Start Over

Hoping for a drastic change, Sophie Schulte-Hillen relocated 4,000 miles away.

Single Girl's Guide To: Flying Solo | Traveling the World | Building Your Own House | Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro | Driving Cross Country | Meditating for a Month | Spending, Splurging, & Saving

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After more than 15 years in New York City, I was five kinds of bored with the endless meet-ings and office politics of my copy editing job. I remembered how deliciously freaked out and wide-awake I was when I moved to the city at 17, and I wanted to reclaim that feeling at 32.

I needed to buy some time to explore new locations, so I set aside almost a third of my paycheck every month: no more cable, new clothes, or other nonessentials like macchiatos, cab rides, and second martinis. In less than a year, I had over $20,000. I quit my job and boxed up and stored my one-bedroom apartment.

First stop: Tanzania, where I banged out freelance ad campaigns between Serengeti safaris. London and the Canary Islands followed. I house-sat or couch-surfed at friends' places, traveling with one carry-on bag and paying for everything with my U.S. debit card, taking on just enough writing gigs to pay for flights and the occasional sublet.

Within a year, I'd wiped out my savings and needed to settle down. I chose vibrant, sexy Berlin, finding a gorgeous one-bedroom online. Meanwhile, out of sheer necessity, I got over my natural shyness: I chatted up people at the Laundromat, started cooking soup at a café for free just to hang out with the regulars, and gleefully humiliated myself thanks to my rusty German. I struggled to make rent at first, but after a few months, I had tons of Berlin-inspired story ideas with which to start my freelance writing business. I still get homesick, but I never regret my choice: I've built a new life completely on my own terms.

Want to Try the Expat Life?

Try it out first: ListingsProject.com is a small global housing listserv offering rentals and (bonus!) house swaps—a great way to try a new place.

Can you afford it? Check out local apartment listings in your new city to get an accurate rent estimate. Triple that number to determine your monthly budget. If you'll be looking for a job, give yourself a six-month buffer.

Make new friends with: InterNations.org, where you can find other American expats online. If you're relocating within the States, try Meetup.com to find groups near you that share your interests.

Also check out: Fantastic city guides with plenty of off-the-beaten-path advice at FathomAway.com.

My No. 1 piece of advice: Don't get into a serious relationship right after relocating. Build your own life first—don't slip into someone else's.

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