Moving to a new city is exciting and stressful in equal measure. There are local dishes to taste, people to meet, and new sights to take in. But the process of settling in and making it feel like home isn’t always smooth sailing: Once the novelty has worn off — and wear off it will — you may feel lost, frustrated, and unwelcome.
It’s perfectly normal to experience an emotional dip a few weeks or months in. Learning to love your new city and working out how you fit in takes time, but there are some things to do to speed the process up. From finding friends to eating in dubious food courts, here are 10 ways to feel at home in a new city.
1. Eat somewhere you’d never normally eat.
When we’re in a new city, it’s tempting to either follow the crowds or try the latest influencer-endorsed eatery. But do this, and you’ll probably end up sharing your dining space with tourists. The only true way to get a real flavor of the city is to eat somewhere off the beaten track. Try choosing places you’d never normally visit, like food courts in bus stations and shopping malls or eateries in quiet neighborhoods with no reviews on Tripadvisor. You never know — you could stumble on a new favorite dish or unsung delicacy. You’ll also get to experience the city in your own way, which will make it feel more like home.
2. Spend some time in the supermarket.
I’m a huge fan of visiting grocery stores in other cities. With their ubiquitous fluorescent lighting, white-tiled floors, and multicolored shelves, they’re comfortingly familiar — no matter where you are in the world. The big ones rarely differ in format, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed and homesick, try heading to your nearest store to bask in the soothing blandness of it all.
On the other hand, if you head to a smaller supermarket or specialist grocery store, you’ll get more of an insight into how the locals live their lives, including what your new neighbors eat for breakfast, the beauty products they love, and what they turn to for junk food. You can try some genuinely local flavors and, if you’re lucky, discover a new favorite snack or drink.
3. Get there the hard way.
Moving to a new place is an opportunity to shake off the reminders of who you are and what others think of you. Getting lost in that place is a way to take that one step further. When you go out for a walk in a new city, shun your usual coffee haunts, wander away from the crowds, and head to wherever it is you’re going on foot. Making your way through the city slowly will help you engage with your environment, rather than skimming over it.
To get the most out of this, I like to put my phone away and try to remember the route instead. It takes a little more effort, but you’ll feel a sense of achievement when you do reach your destination. Doing something challenging or scary — even small things, like reaching your destination the hard way or striking up a conversation with a stranger — can boost feelings of self-confidence, which makes it easier to deal with setbacks and stress.
4. Find somewhere you can be alone.
Cities are rowdy places full of distractions, which can feel overwhelming. Spreading your attention too thinly also makes it harder to really get under the skin of a place — something you’ll need to do if you want to call it home. Instead of following the crowds, why not go in the opposite direction, sit down, and take it all in. Finding a calm, peaceful spot will help you feel present and build an emotional connection with your environment.
Even in the world’s biggest, bustling metropolises, there are places you can go to be alone. Think libraries, lesser-visited museums, and matinee screenings inside cinemas. You could also try parks, canals, and graveyards — morbid, perhaps, but also leafy and quiet.
5. Create a workout schedule.
Jogging, cycling, and swimming are all great ways to see parts of the city away from the tourist trails. But beyond that, exercise is beneficial because it encourages our body to produce endorphins (feel-good hormones) that help us overcome feelings of anxiety, loneliness, and stress that are a common byproduct of being somewhere unfamiliar.
According to health psychologist Dr. Kelly McGonigal, “Exercising outdoors has an immediate effect on mood that is extremely powerful for depression and anxiety. Because it induces a state in your brain that is very similar to meditation, the state of open awareness.” Studies also show group exercise can help promote social bonding — meaning it’s a great way to meet people, and you’re more likely to form a positive relationship with them.
Does the same go for bonding with the place you’re in while working up a sweat? Well, there aren’t any studies on this, but speaking from personal experience, I always feel attached to places I exercise in because I associate them with feeling good. It’s worth a shot.
6. Learn to notice the little things.
Statues, plaques, and monuments always have a story to tell. Rather than pass them by, try stopping to read what’s written down — especially if it’s on something that looks unremarkable. One website, Read the Plaque, offers an interactive map with thousands of fascinating examples from around the world.
As well as stopping to read things, try paying extra attention to neglected buildings, ruins, and building sites — they often tell you about the way a city was and how it’s changing. Another way to notice the small things is to ask yourself, “What don’t people want me to notice?” Then, go look for it. This could be something pretty but not flashy enough to make it into a guidebook. Or downright ugly things, like derelict buildings, security cameras, and roundabouts. Everything you notice helps you build familiarity with your new environment.
7. Join community pages.
Making an extra effort to get to know your neighbors could spark a friendship that helps you feel more at home, but failing that, join online groups on Facebook. You’ll hear about meet-ups, swap shops, and street parties that’ll be full of other people keen to meet others. If you’re in a country where you don’t speak the native language, joining things like expat groups can provide a haven where you can share stories and ask for help.
8. Find your people.
One of the hardest things about moving away from your hometown is leaving friends behind. Not only that, but the thought of making new pals — especially as an adult — is daunting, not to mention difficult. While it does take effort, finding your new crowd could be easier than you think. The trick is to look out for events and groups where people share the same interests as you. Join a book club, volunteer, or sign up to social apps like Meetup, which advertises activities and groups in your area. Slowly but surely, you’ll begin to form bonds with the people around you. By spending time with others who do things you also enjoy, you’ll find a place in that scene in the city, which will help you feel a sense of belonging.
9. Find something you love to eat.
When people go traveling for more than a few months, especially to somewhere that’s culturally very different from their home, they often turn to familiar foods to help them feel less homesick. This is fine, but it’s a temporary fix that could leave you pining harder, especially if you can’t get the dish you’re craving — or worse, it’s close but not quite right. You’ll never entirely get rid of your cravings, but you can find comfort in finding a new favorite. Pay a visit to the restaurants and fast-food joints near your new house or apartment, and spend some time picking out delicacies from the local supermarket. The more you try, the easier it’ll be to distract yourself, and the closer you’ll be to finding a new favorite.
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