Whether moving to a new city for work, family, opportunity or necessity, relocating is always a huge upheaval. Even if, like me, you’ve done it so many times that if people ask where you’re from, you end up talking at them for half an hour, leaving them totally bemused because they were only making polite conversation. But I invest my heart, soul, and -it has to be said – belongings – into a place relatively quickly, and when it comes to moving again, it is always hard. But there are ways to make the best out of it, so I thought I’d share the things I’ve found help to preserve my sanity.
This is especially important in large cities, where in one day you can see maybe a thousand people, but not talk to a single one of them, except to order a latte in Starbucks. If you’re of an introverted disposition, socialising with new people may sound like your worst nightmare, but building a sense of community and a real-life social network is important for everybody’s mental health, introvert, extrovert or anywhere in between. Meetup is a good place to start: simply type in your new city, your interest, and in no time, you could be sharing your hobby with a group of like-minded people, whether you’re into book clubs or boot camps. If meetups don’t appeal, then you could join a club directly, or sign up for an evening class in French, life drawing, cookery, or whatever skill you’d like to learn, and again it’s a great chance to meet people with similar interest, who you can bond with over slightly lopsided cheese souffles. I’ve put this first because I really believe it’s the most important. I once went to a French conversation club on my first evening in a new city, before I’d even unpacked a single box.
There is a world of difference between being a visitor somewhere and being a resident. I walk a lot, especially when I am new in a place. By getting out and exploring the local area, I’m able to quickly develop a sense of propriety, the feeling that this is my area. In places like Lima, this made me feel safer. By knowing the local streets, I didn’t look like a lost tourist and was able to quickly get to where I needed to be. In London (perhaps not any safer than Lima, but since it’s my native culture, it feels that way), it allows me to have a sense of identity and neighbourhood. I’m on friendly terms with the staff at the local bar (from taking my parents and friends there for lunch, not just drinking, I hasten to add!) and I have a cafe where I write which feels like mine. Walking around and finding out how different areas of the city interlink gives you a much better understanding of the place too. In the last few weeks, I think I’ve probably seen more of London and have a better understanding of its geography than many people who’ve lived here for years.
I could, at this point, start crooning: ‘Wherever I lay my hat, that’s my home’ - but I don’t wish to distress you. Still, I think it’s important to have a few treasured possessions that have the power to instantly make any dorm room, shared flat, or actual, grown-up house, feel like home. For me, unsurprisingly, though a little ironically, these are things I have picked up from my travels. A painting of Peruvian women, currently stuck on my wardrobe. A little soft-toy Nessie, who has ‘Happy Ness’ emblazoned on his stomach and sits at my desk. Paddington Bear, who has travelled with me across the world. A string of wooden hearts, brought back from France. These things are familiar, and help wherever random place I happen to be feel a little more like home.
Invite friends and family to visit
If you’ve relocated to the other side of the world, they may not be able to visit immediately, but they certainly won’t turn down an offer to your sun-soaked new home. Maintaining links with the people you’ve left behind can do wonders for your happiness – plus it allows you to do all the ‘touristy’ things in your new city that you’d never do otherwise. Also, if you’ve found it a little hard to settle, showing off everything that’s good about your new home and location will make you feel more at ease with being there. Plus, there aren’t many problems that a good friend and a cup of tea can’t solve.
First I’ll make it clear that I only advocate this option in conjunction with the ones above, and certainly not at the expense of them. But we can’t ignore this huge advantage of our time (and let’s face it, there are rather too few of them). The ability to chat to people, in real time, to see them on screen if you so desire, can do a lot to allay homesickness and can keep you connected with people and places that you love. And if you’re anything like me, the new city you’re currently in will soon become a place of nostalgia, relegated to the realm of Facebook and Skype, as you move yet again, and start the whole process over.
I don’t always like being a nomad, but I think, for now at least, it’s part of who I am. And when I think about the alternative – staying in one place forever – well, I think I’d rather move.
What are your tips for moving to a new city?