How to Start Over in a New City: 6 Lessons I Learned the Hard Way
From making friends as an adult to finding the perfect job, here's what you need to know about starting a new life in a new place.
Starting over in a new city where you don’t know anyone is exhilarating, life-changing and, at times, heartbreaking — and it’s something I think everyone should do at least once.
These Are the Top 100 Affordable Places to Live in America
But once you’ve moved to a new place, how do you adjust and thrive? Once you’ve figured out the basics like setting up your internet service and not getting lost on your way to work, what do you need to know to navigate a new life you’re building from scratch?
I’ve started over in new cities with varying degrees of success. From creating a new routine to making friends as an adult, here are some lessons I’ve learned (the hard way).
1. Become a regular.
Being surrounded by newness is thrilling. When you move to a new place, every moment of every day brings a sense of discovery and surprise. New people! New restaurants! New smells and sights and sounds!
Revel in this constant stream of novelty, but make room for a bit of regularity and routine. Choose a coffee shop or bar you like, and go there often. Get to know the baristas or bartenders. Let them get to know you.
By doing this, you’re laying the foundation of your new community and your day-to-day life. This will anchor you and keep you sane. Trust me on this.
2. Be almost comically aggressive in your efforts to make friends.
Making friends as an adult is hard. When people ask me how to do it, I always say the same thing: you’ve got to be ridiculously, consistently, comically aggressive in your efforts to connect with people.
That neighbor whose car has a bumper sticker you agree with? Invite her over for tea. That person you chat with after yoga? You should definitely see if they want to grab lunch after class one day. That barista you’ve got a good rapport with? You need to ask them what they do for fun (and see if you can tag along).
I have actually said, "I like your shirt. Want to be friends?" to a woman I met in the bathroom of a Taylor Swift concert. This is the level of shamelessness that building a social life from scratch requires.
The bottom line? You need to hang out with lots and lots of people to find the ones you click with. You won’t click with everyone. That’s OK. But in order to find your tribe, you need to leave your pride (and sometimes your dignity) at the door, and be the initiator of your own social life.
The One Word That Will Help You Make Friends in a New City
3. Say yes to everything. (Literally everything.)
This goes hand in hand with tip #2: in addition to all the social invitations you’re extending, you also need to say yes to every invitation that comes your way. This includes verbal invites, formal invitations and flyers on coffee shop bulletin boards.
Do you want to go to your barista’s spoken word poetry reading? Yes.
Do you want to help your coworker paint her living room? Yes.
Do you want to go to a free aerial yoga workshop? Yes.
When you say “yes,” you are opening yourself up to experiences and people and activities that will define and inform your new life in this new place. Take this weird, new, undefined phase of your life as an opportunity to try a bunch of new things and meet a bunch of new people and see what sticks.
4. Don't wait for The Perfect Thing.
Moving to a new place usually comes with a lot of expectations about what your new life will look like, and the perfect job/partner/house/social group that will define that new, perfect life.
I’m here to (gently) encourage you to let go of your focus on The Perfect Thing, and instead be open to all the unexpected opportunities you will encounter in this new place. When a door opens for you, no matter how offbeat or seemingly random, walk through it and see where it leads.
Following this advice, I have worked part-time at boutiques, volunteered for political campaigns, done copywriting for bands, created chalk art signs for coffee shops and attended supremely awkward themed parties at suburban mansions.
None of these things were the ultimate perfect thing, but every single one of them led me to another opportunity or person who got me closer to it — or to something even better.
Don’t be picky about opportunities. Don’t get hung up on the perfect thing. Walk through every door that opens — and I guarantee you’ll be surprised and delighted at where it leads you.
6 Travel Writers on How They Chose Where to Live
5. Don’t be ashamed to be a tourist.
In the effort to assimilate to a new city, I think a lot of people tend to skip over the “gleeful tourist” phase and go straight to the “unimpressed local” phase. You lose something when you do this. Here’s the thing: you moved to this new place for a reason. It’s a cool place that's worth exploring.
The first six months I lived in Nashville, I went to the Grand Ole Opry probably once a month. A lot of locals have either never been or think it’s kind of corny (which it totally is), but it gave me a couple hours to sing along to country songs in a historic venue and think, “Wow, I live in Nashville.” (It also helped me learn the lyrics to “Rocky Top,” which has proven to be a CRUCIAL skill as a Tennessee resident.)
6. Stay curious.
Even as you become more comfortable, don’t stop asking questions or being curious about the place, the people and the culture of your new home. I’ve lived in Nashville for six years now and I still ask people I meet, “What's your favorite hidden gem in the city?” or “What do you love about living here?”
Hold on to that sense of curiosity and discovery, and many years after moving somewhere, you’ll find it still feels new and exciting. And perhaps most importantly, you'll never forget why you moved there in the first place.