National Local Life

How to Navigate Moving to a New City Alone

Moving is like abstract art—two people can look at the same picture and see two very different things. For some, moving is a dreaded avalanche of memories, boxes, and failed attempts at the KonMari method. For others, moving represents a new lease (literally) on life and an opportunity for growth and adventure. If you’ve found this article, perhaps you're setting out on this journey solo, and I'm here to tell you all the ways in which moving to a new city alone can be a pretty picture.

Let’s be real—there are very valid reasons to be wary of moving alone. I mean, how many boxes can one person carry up a flight of stairs by themselves? While some questions like this one have easy answers—hire someone, use the elevator, ask for help—others are more philosophical in nature. We’re not actually worried about physically moving furniture here; We’re talking about moving. (But if you want advice on actually moving, we have that too.)

Let’s examine some common fears: Will I make any friends? Will my neighbors be nice? How will I get around? These are valid concerns, but you most likely dealt with these things in your current city—so don’t worry, you’re going to be alright. 

A highway bridge winds into Downtown Austin over a river
Moving alone can be stressful, but being prepared can ease those worries.

Do Your Homework

Whether you’ve always longed to move to New York or you received an unexpected promotion that’s landed you in Phoenix, it’s good to know what you’re getting into. Do you have any friends of friends in this new town? Any extended family? Start with the super basic questions that might lead you to early connections. It also never hurts to do some research on the local sports team and any rudimentary history of the place. Don’t worry—you’ll have time to do the obligatory tourist rounds once you land. 

Be a Friend

No matter what irons you have in the fire in your new city, make time to communicate with old friends and loved ones when you need to have deeper talks, and don’t expect every new friend prospect to work out. Leave room for the possibility that a friend of a friend or a friend of a well-liked coworker might actually be a better match for you than the person you met first. Give yourself space, and remember that you can’t control other people, but you can control your own openness to new relationships. And whatever you do—don’t cancel on someone more than once if you ever want to hang out with them again—it’s a sure-fire way to burn up any chance of forging a new bond.

You can control your own openness to new relationships.

Otherwise, be yourself. You might not automatically land in the right social circle at first, but the more people you meet, the more you will be able to refine your search and eventually forge strong friendships that will see you through this transition until you look up one day and you're the friend welcoming a newcomer into the fold.

Get a Library Card

This one comes from an episode of the popular podcast, Call Your Girlfriend called “New in Town.” The theory behind this suggestion is the idea that your wallet should match your life—local transit passes, coffee shop loyalty punch cards, local art house movie theater membership cards, etc. For the literary-minded, the library card doesn’t just facilitate free reading, it also confers entry into a physical space where you can meet like-minded people.

Get Lost

While there’s nothing in the world quite like transit stress, lean into this newfound mystery by giving yourself permission to get lost. Take some time early on in your move to dedicate a Saturday or Sunday to simply meandering. If this is conjuring scenes from “Emily in Paris,” you’re on the right track. Keeping personal safety in mind, exploring a new city on foot is a great way to find holes in the wall that may well become your regular haunts. 

Become a Regular

This tip almost never fails, but it requires an investment of time and money—something you might have in excess early on in a new city when your social calendar is a little light. Pick a coffee shop, bar, or restaurant that feels homey to you—a place that feels like it’s within your comfort zone, and ask yourself “do people like me hang out here?” If the answer is yes, go there at the same time of day every other day for two weeks. Okay, the specific numbers don’t actually matter but become a regular.

No matter what, settling into a new place takes time.

Strike up a conversation with the barista or bartender (this will happen naturally if you're an introvert who they've seen more than twice in the span of a week). This is a great way to get recommendations about your new city and get a sense of the cultural vibe without having to go out on a limb with a stranger. Plus, you'll inevitably get a free drink out of the deal at some point along the line.

Give Yourself Time

No matter what, settling into a new place takes time, so don’t beat yourself up if your calendar isn’t bursting at the seams after three, six, or eight months. Between the obligations of work and a personal life, new friendships don’t always blossom overnight, especially in adulthood, but that doesn't mean you’re not making progress.

The Elephant in the Room

While these suggestions would theoretically be useful during more ordinary times, there’s no denying that the current COVID-19 pandemic has put the brakes on public gatherings and any tools for making new friends. If anything, it has driven us indoors, which is great for health and safety, but the exact opposite of what one needs to settle into a new city. That said, one day soon there will be one less barrier to a smooth transition to your new place. Good luck!

Our Other Guides to Moving to Cities Alone:

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