Identity

Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Big Moves: How Texas Became an Influencer Haven

The stars are bright, there’s plenty of light, and the state income taxes are non-existent.
Hannah Smothers
Brooklyn, US
May 19, 2021, 6:37pm
A photo collage showing the state of Texas wearing a cowboy hat, and with arms holding phones protruding from it
Collage by Cathryn Virginia | Images from Getty and Wikimedia Commons

It’s a tale so common, it’s becoming modern lore: Jhánneu, a low-waste and sustainability influencer, was paying loads in rent for a tiny, 231-square-foot apartment in Los Angeles, so she started looking for more space elsewhere. Specifically, she started looking in Austin, Texas. “As a content creator, you just need space,” Jhánneu told VICE. “You have so much equipment, like, you just need space. But I wasn’t about to spend three grand a month on it.”

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In Austin, she found an apartment “that’s, like, three times as big” and “basically the same price” as the tiny apartment in LA. She also found warm weather, a lot of young people, and a lot of immediately accessible hiking trails, swimming holes, and parks. Or, in other words, she thought she found all the things she liked about LA tied up in a small, compact bow several states away, and for way less money. She documented her move on her YouTube channel in January, titled: “I Left Los Angeles.”

Jhánneu is one of dozens of influencers leaving LA and New York City for Texas, and her YouTube video on the subject is part of a growing genre. Not only is moving to Texas a trend, but documenting your move to Texas in a YouTube video is now a trend of its own. I found Jhánneu’s video by searching something like, “moving to Austin,” a term that turns up handfuls of results from the past two years (fittingly, the first two results that turn up in that particular search are a video showing the pros and cons of leaving LA for Austin, and another video of a YouTuber explaining why he's leaving after only 18 months). YouTubers show their big move from one window-walled, starkly decorated apartment to another, much larger one. 

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Influencers aren’t alone in their decision to relocate. In a gradual reversal of Manifest Destiny, Californians have been picking up and moving to Texas (mostly: Austin) for years. That movement picked up even more throughout the pandemic, as more and more people drifted away from the big metroplexes of New York and Los Angeles in favor of smaller, midsize cities around the country. So many people and tech companies and Joe Rogans have chosen Texas as their new home over the past year that headlines question whether the state may be the new California

Yet, with clear eyes, full hearts, and a warped perception of what things cost, influencers are flocking to Texas (James Charles even teased it). What I wanted to know is… Why? And, why now? 

“I began to get tired of the expectations of New York; I love the city so much but I felt like I couldn't keep up with the pace anymore,” Anna Victoria, a fitness influencer with more than 67,000 subscribers on YouTube, told VICE. “I also found myself flying to LA a lot, and it was always a drain and a time suck. I wanted somewhere between LA and NYC that was more laid back and had lots of nature to explore. Austin was that perfect mix.”

In a November 2019 YouTube video about her move, Anna Victoria described the decision to move to Austin from LA as “a bigger deal than moving to China,” and listed “cost of living” and “no state income taxes” as pros, and “property taxes” (which are constantly rising in Austin) and “weather” as cons. The lack of income taxes is, conceivably, a huge draw for influencers and small business owners, like Anna Victoria. (And of the nine states that don’t collect personal income tax, Texas is the closest one to California.) When Rogan announced his move to Texas and his subsequent $100 million Spotify contract, news outlets emphasized how much more of his income he would keep, simply by relocating to Austin.

“I was able to get the apartment I wanted and really live the lifestyle that I was looking for, out in Texas.”

Over a year since her move, Anna Victoria said the biggest difference between Austin and LA is that Austin is “more relaxed.” She added that she just bought her first house “in the craziest market ever” (true) and has “absolutely no regrets.” 

Like Jhánneu said, getting more space for less money is a common theme of what influencers say they like about moving to Texas. Julia Price, a micro influencer with about 3,200 subscribers on YouTube, told VICE she was drawn to Texas because she noticed “a lot of Fortune 500 companies” were moving there, and the cost of living was lower. She looked at both Austin and Dallas and ended up picking Dallas, where, in a YouTube video about her move, she says she was “blown away” by the amount of space you can get for your money, compared to the Bay Area. 

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“I was able to get the apartment I wanted and really live the lifestyle that I was looking for, out in Texas,” Julia said.

Longtime Texans, of course, say otherwise; where influencers from California and New York see three times the space for the same amount of money, Texas natives see skyrocketing rent and a lack of housing. “When Californians leave the Bay Area in large numbers for Austin and Dallas, the cost of living goes up here, and overpriced housing markets on the West Coast relax a bit,” journalist Christopher Hooks wrote in a recent Texas Monthly story about Californians moving to Texas. “Texas cities are already struggling with rapidly rising rents and housing prices as well as an uptick in homelessness, and more and more natives are being pushed into outlying areas.”  

(Some new-to-Texas influencers notice the “uptick in homelessness.” In a video about the pros and cons of moving to Austin from Atlanta, Sonali, a YouTuber with over 28,000 subscribers, mentioned “a lot of homeless people” as a con.)

“I hope people in Texas don’t get the wrong idea that Californians are going to Texas, thinking it’s going to be the new California.”

Roxy Limon, an influencer with more than 122,000 YouTube subscribers, is a little more sensitive to the culture she’s stepping into. Limon and her partner are a few weeks out from their move from LA to a small town north of Fort Worth, where they recently bought on a plot of land on which they plan to build a barndominium, a new-fangled, HGTV-created habitat that’s part barn, part livable house. “I hope Texas never becomes California,” Limon said. “I hope people in Texas don’t get the wrong idea that Californians are going to Texas, thinking it’s going to be the new California. We love the culture, and we love what Texas stands for.” 

Limon and her partner are keeping their place in LA; their plan is to eventually live between both places, using the barndominium as a vacation rental. Limon and her partner went on two 21-day trips during the pandemic, in search of a new place to call home: Texas, and a swath of states along the East Coast. They ended up landing on Texas because it’s only a three-hour plane trip from California, where their family is, and because they “fell in love” with the rural area where they’re building their barndominium. “We’ve been [to Texas] several times and always just had, like, good vibes,” she said. 

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The glow of nearby LA is beginning to rub off on Austin, to the point that it might be “the new Los Angeles.” When Rogan said he was moving, he cited LA being “too crowded” compared to Austin, the fastest-growing city in the United States for years running. (Texans are hypersensitive to these comparisons; as Hooks mentioned in his story for Texas Monthly, Texas Governor Greg Abbott ran for reelection in 2018 on the vague campaign slogan, “Don’t California My Texas.”) While influencers are worried about being a plane ride away from the influencing hubs of LA and NYC, the confluence of them settling in Austin makes the move easier. At least one of Jhánneu’s new friends in Austin, she said, is also a formerly LA-based creator. 

Even if Austin isn’t “the new LA,” it certainly has the trappings an influencer might seek in the place they call home: The nature that everyone VICE spoke to mentioned is not only good for the brain, but provides a lush background for the exact type of outdoorsy photo that garners loads of likes on Instagram. It’s about as sunny in Austin as it is in LA, minus the smog. And with all the influencers moving to Texas, the lack of community and industry that some worry about is slowly becoming a non-issue. 

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There’s also, increasingly, an aspirational element to living in Austin. Just as some fashion influencers pivoted to farming, mid-pandemic, living in Texas—with all its open space, limestone-walled hiking trails, and countless flowing rivers—has new appeal, as coastal cities were riddled with shutdowns and outbreaks. It’s becoming more appealing to be an Austin-based creator, in other words, than an LA-based one. 

Not everyone is as sold on the move or the Texas vibes, finding that perhaps all the advertising for Texas was a bit misleading. While Jhánneu has enjoyed her first few months in Austin (she moved in January 2021), she said she was surprised to find, upon arrival, that the city is extremely lacking in diversity. 

“I mean, the diversity is not quite there yet; it has a long way to go,” she said. “New York and LA are definitely very diverse, whereas in Austin, that’s not the case.” The conservative state has also hit new lows in recent months: Just this week, the governor signed one of the country’s most restrictive abortion laws. Austin’s wealthiest voters recently voted to pass an ordinance that essentially makes it illegal to be unhoused within city limits. And when one of those unprecedented, week-long winter storms rolled through the state in February, the state-run power grid experienced a disaster-grade failure that killed more than a hundred residents. But it does still lack a state income tax, an appealing feature that influencers commonly cite in their Gone To Texas videos). 

Between the lack of diversity and some (correct) complaints about city infrastructure that’s not equipped to handle any weather but sunshine, Jhánneu said she’s not sure how long she’ll stay. What she’s sure about is where she’d eventually like to end up: Los Angeles.

Follow Hannah Smothers on Twitter.