30-year-old supercommutes over 500 miles to work in New York: ‘I'm the happiest I've ever been'

The hairstylist commutes from North Carolina to New York every other week.

Photo: Paige Bossart

Some mornings, Kaitlin Jorgenson travels 544 miles to get to a job she'll be at for 72 hours. She says it's the happiest she's been.

Her alarm goes off at 5:30 a.m., reminding the 30-year-old that she has less than an hour to start driving to Charlotte Douglas International Airport — otherwise, she'll miss her flight to the office. 

For the past 12 months, Jorgenson has commuted by plane every other week to her job at the Scott J. Aveda Hair Salon in the Upper West Side neighborhood of New York City from her home in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

Jorgenson lived in the same Brooklyn apartment for 10 years before deciding to move south. 

Her then-long-distance boyfriend, who owns a two-bedroom condo in Charlotte, invited her to move in with him— an offer she didn't entertain until last spring when her landlord raised her rent by $700. 

"If you asked me how long I planned to stay in New York before the pandemic, I would have said I was a lifer," Jorgenson tells CNBC Make It. "But after being there during lockdown, I realized I wanted to go somewhere I could be closer to nature and have more space … that didn't also cost a fortune."

Although Jorgenson was ready to leave New York, she didn't want to give up the career she had built there.

"As a hairstylist, when you move to a new city, you're not taking a small pay cut, you're restarting at square one because you're leaving all of your clients behind," she explains. 

For Jorgenson, commuting four-plus hours by plane twice a month was a much easier pill to swallow than spending more to rent the same 400-square-foot apartment she'd outgrown — and lose the clients she had spent a decade working with. 

Spending hours in the air to save $2,000

When Jorgenson first received her lease renewal letter in the spring, she compared the cost of renting an apartment in New Jersey or New York, versus moving to Charlotte with her boyfriend and taking a bi-weekly round-trip flight. 

The average apartment rent in New Jersey is about $1,950 per month, and closer to $4,178 in New York, according to data from Renthop. That doesn't include groceries, health care and other living expenses. 

All in all, Jorgenson estimates she would spend a minimum of $4,000 each month to live and work in Manhattan. That seemed ridiculous: Her job only required her to be in the salon three days a week. 

Jorgenson says her boss in New York was "fully supportive" of the move, allowing her to switch from working Thursday through Saturday every week to working Wednesday through Friday every other week. 

Jorgenson's supercommute costs her about $1,000 a month, including round-trip flights from Charlotte to New York's LaGuardia airport; parking at the Charlotte airport; bus and train fare; Ubers to LaGuardia; the spare room she rents from a friend who lives on the Upper West Side and food. 

Moving to Charlotte, Jorgenson estimates, has saved her at least $2,000 each month — commuting expenses and all. She declined to share the exact monthly costs of the condo she shares with her boyfriend, only to affirm that it's less than $1,000 per month split between the two of them.

Supercommuting, which the Census Bureau loosely defines as traveling "long distances" by air, rail, car or bus to work — usually 90 minutes or more each way — has become more popular since the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Companies embraced flexible work models, and people fled major cities.

A new paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that Americans who leave big cities risk hurting their careers, namely because the market for remote jobs has cratered. Corporate headquarters remain in cities like New York, Houston and Chicago, even as people fled such places for smaller cities and the suburbs at the height of the pandemic.

Supercommuting is a potential solution for professionals who desire the opportunities of a big city but don't want to live in an expensive housing market, says Jorgenson.

"It isn't a new concept, think about all the businessmen in suits who fly with a single briefcase for one-day meetings," says Jorgenson. "I just think the younger generation is learning how to make supercommuting work for our lives and ambitions."

A day in the life of a supercommuter

Every Wednesday Jorgenson boards a 7:30 a.m. flight to LaGuardia, returning on the first flight out to Charlotte on Saturdays, typically 7 a.m., according to receipts reviewed by CNBC Make It. She packs breakfast and lunch in her work bag to save money.

After landing in Queens around 9 a.m., Jorgenson catches a bus to the subway which brings her to a stop near the Scott J. Aveda salon. She usually has an hour to grab coffee and catch up with her co-workers before coloring and cutting the hair of 10 to 15 clients until 9 p.m.

Jorgenson follows the same schedule Wednesday through Friday, working roughly 12 hours and seeing about 30 clients while she's in New York. She charges upwards of $100 per appointment, which means she makes enough to cover her commuting costs for the month after one day of work. 

During the weeks she's not in New York, Jorgenson works part-time at Superbloom Hair Studio in Charlotte, a job with flexible hours that change depending on Jorgenson's appointment schedule. 

A longer commute, but more free time and a better work-life balance

Jorgenson says she's been lucky with her supercommute so far: All of her flights have been on time except for one canceled flight home she had in July 2023. 

"I had tickets to see the Barbie movie that night in Charlotte, too, so I was pretty distraught," she jokes. "I ended up taking a train from New York to Philadelphia and flying back to Charlotte from there and made it just in time. That's probably been the worst of my travels." 

One year in, Jorgenson says she plans to continue her supercommute for the foreseeable future, adding that it has given her more free time and a healthier work-life balance.

"I have at least a week off in between my work trips to New York, which gives me the freedom to see new clients in Charlotte, travel or try different hobbies," she says.

Just last week she returned from a surf retreat in Costa Rica and she's been taking pottery classes at a studio in downtown Charlotte. 

"I might be gone six days a month, but I also have a much healthier separation of work and home than I did before I moved," says Jorgenson. "People might think you're sacrificing more of your time with a supercommute, but for me, it's been quite the opposite."

She adds: "I've heard people say that if you move to New York for your career, leaving can feel like failure. But it's not if you're getting a better quality of life. Having a healthier distance between working there and the rest of my life, I feel like I'm the happiest I've ever been."

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