5 Tips for Getting to Know a New City Before You Move There
Thinking of moving to a new city? Here's what you need to know.
So, you’re thinking about moving to a new city. Good for you! But also: take a deep breath, because this is a big deal. Whether you’re moving for a job or just looking for a fresh start, uprooting your life to relocate somewhere new is exciting, yes, but it’s also a complicated and daunting endeavor.
How do you decide if a certain city is the right place for you? How do you get a feel for what a place is truly like beyond the tourist spots? What information do you need to gather to make a relocation decision or prep for a big move, and how do you find it? (Besides searching for the city on Livability, of course.)
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I have moved to new cities across the country on a few different occasions, under very different circumstances. Once, as a tourist-turned-resident (I decided within a few minutes of landing in Nashville for a weekend visit that I was going to move there), once as someone with a fairly good level of familiarity with my new city, and once totally sight-unseen, chasing a job offer to a place I’d never been.
Along the way, I’ve gathered some tips and tricks that might help you on your journey. If you’re trying to decide if a city is right for you, here are five pieces of advice for assessing a new place as a potential home base:
1. Explore like a local.
While downtowns and tourist-y areas can certainly tell you a lot about the vibe of a city, to truly get a feel for a place, you’ve got to venture beyond the shiny main streets and into the areas where residents actually live, work and play. How do you do this? You get curious. You ask baristas and Lyft drivers and bartenders and concierges for insights into local life — what to eat, where to hang out and how to see the city through the eyes of someone who lives there.
Here are a few questions I love to ask locals when I visit a new place:
- Where do locals hang out on the weekends?
- What’s your favorite park that’s not crazy-crowded?
- Which awesome parts of town do tourists tend to miss?
- What’s the best “hidden gem” in the city?
- What’s your favorite dive bar/brunch spot/locally-owned boutique?
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2. Gather info as you get around.
You don’t just learn about a city by visiting different places within the city — you learn a lot by physically getting to and from those different places: How easy is it to get around here? What public transit options are available? How accessible and well-connected is the city?
I am a big fan of walking as much as possible when I’m visiting a new place — there’s truly no better way to get a feel for a city than pounding the pavement.
If you take public transit, take note of how easy it is to use and if it would be a feasible alternative to a car. If you take a Lyft or Uber, ask the driver how they like living here and what advice they’d give to someone considering moving to the city. If you rent a car, don’t shy away from rush hour traffic — that’s a big part of day-to-day life, and valuable information to know before you move.
(Pssst! Looking for a place to live where you’ll never have to deal with traffic? Check out these cities.)
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3. Find a connection (trust me, you have them).
When you’re pondering a move, it’s crucial to connect with locals to get accurate information and insights into what it’s like to live there. You might think you don’t know anyone in a certain place, but you almost certainly know someone who knows someone, and thanks to social media, it’s easier than ever to find those connections.
When I was preparing to move to Sacramento, I posted on Facebook, “Hey friends! Do I know anyone who lives in Sacramento? Or anyone who knows anyone who lives in Sacramento?”
I didn’t think I had any connections to Sacramento, but my inbox lit up with connections and recommendations and introductions.
Within minutes, I not only had a list of people to reach out to with questions, but also a makeshift community of people to meet up with when I got there. You probably have a stronger network in your new city than you realize. It’s always worth asking.
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4. Reach out to the experts for help.
A lot of people don’t realize that cities are competing for new residents right now — and that means, more than ever, cities and chambers of commerce are finding creative, proactive ways to help people relocate.
In Iowa City/Cedar Rapids, potential new residents can get connected with job opportunities and even get a local “wingman” to help them make friends. In Vermont, you can add neighborhood tours and job interviews to your weekend vacation itinerary (and even get paid up to $7,500 if you decide to move). In Muskegon, job seekers can take advantage of career listings, apprenticeships and training via West Michigan Works! In Pueblo, the chamber of commerce assists new residents with information and networking and even runs a popular meetup group for newcomers.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to the city, visitors' bureau or chamber of commerce to see what assistance they might be able to offer you. You might be surprised.
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5. Get lost.
You need to gather a lot of information when you’re preparing to make a big move. It’s tempting to come at this process from a very logical place: gathering information and data and organizing it into binders and itineraries and pros and cons lists. But here’s the thing: being happy in a place isn’t always a quantifiable or logical thing. A lot of it comes down to just, well, how a place makes you feel.
So if you have a chance to visit the place you’re considering, make some time to put your lists and maps and binders aside and just get lost. Wander around, take wrong turns, talk to strangers and see what you discover. You might stumble upon a place or a person or a moment that makes you realize: yes, this is home.
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