Moving cross country? How to survive and thrive in a new city

A few key things to know before up and moving across the country, or the world.

Whether you're going away to school, moving for a significant other or a job, or just wanted to make a change in your life, moving to a new city definitely has its ups and downs. Let's start with the good: moving to a new city is incredibly exciting. For the first year or so, you feel like a tourist and view everything through an adventurous lens. Suddenly, museums that boast items like the World's Largest Ball of String or arenas for the local minor league sports teams are magnetic, even though in your old city you would have passed them by without a second glance.

Exploring the great outdoors is always enjoyable, especially if you've moved to an area with a climate that's completely different from what you're used to. If you move to a warm area from a cooler one (read: one that gets several feet of snow each winter), depending on your personality, you may be thrilled that you no longer have to mummify yourself to leave the house, or you may be mourning the lack of cold-weather activities. I'm the former - when I moved to Singapore and the locals complained about the heat, I would just smile and wiggle my unencumbered toes in my flip-flops. I often sent photos of my bare feet back to my family (who live in Philadelphia) when they were experiencing yet another brutal snowstorm. Needless to say, these were not well received.

Another great thing about moving to a new city is exploring the local eats. Even cities that don't have a reputation for an exceptional culinary scene will inevitably have some great haunts that dish out reliably delicious grub. When choosing a new restaurant, take recommendations from new acquaintances with a grain of salt. I've been disappointed more than once after getting a hot tip. The key is finding people who share your palate preferences, because what someone else thinks is top-notch, you may find less than appetizing. (Pizza, I'm looking at you.) This is when sites/apps like Yelp, TripAdvisor, OpenTable, and others come in handy. Blogs can also be quite informative. My strategy is to Google "best [cuisine] in [city]" and read the blog posts first. Then I cross-reference the ones that sound interesting with their profiles on the aforementioned sites. If the stars align, I'll test it out.

Going to happy hour is great way to dip your toe into the restaurant scene without spending a wad of cash for a so-so meal. I've gotten a great taste (couldn't resist) of what a full experience would be like at a restaurant by dropping by its happy hour. Scope out the dining area as it gets close to 7 pm. Is it filling up, even on a Tuesday evening? Try out a happy hour appetizer or two. Is it what you expected, or better? Ask the bartender if it's a good place for a meal. Their tips don't generally depend on ordering food, so they're more likely to be honest. If all signs point to yes, it's time to take your relationship to the next level.

Cultural activities are another thrilling element of a new city. Sign up for email newsletters on local goings-on from the tourist bureau, or drop by a locally owned grocery store or coffee shop. They usually have cork boards somewhere in the back (generally near the restroom) festooned with posters for 5k charity runs, festivals, and local artist shows. And whatever you do, keep an open mind. Just because axe-throwing doesn't seem like your thing doesn't mean you won't enjoy it.

Take advantage of local museums, art galleries, and other places that offer low-cost or free activities. Tour of a brewery? Don't mind if I do. Sushi demonstration at the neighborhood grocery store? Sign me up. Presentation on corporate depreciation accounting methods at the local college? Uh...I'll get back to you on that one. But you get my drift.

Volunteering to get to know people and your new surroundings is tried and true. You don't have to sign up for a big commitment; there are plenty of opportunities for one-off sessions or even monthly/bi-monthly engagements. Volunteer Match has an incredible database of opportunities from all over the world. You'll often find opportunities posted on the aforementioned cork boards. Take a gander next time you're waiting in line for the loo to see if anything strikes your interest.

Sounds awesome right? Most of what you'll encounter in a new city truly is exciting and stimulating, which is why I recommend doing it at least once in your lifetime. However, like most things in life, there are a couple of caveats.

First, the act of moving is a real bummer. As anyone who has ever moved in their life can attest, it's universally inconceivable how much stuff you accumulate over time. When I moved from a one bedroom house to my new digs, I literally took an oath never to purchase furniture, appliances, or any type of decoration ever again, simply because it was such. a. pain. to pack them all. And this was just from a one bedroom.

When you move to a new city you also have to find all new professionals for your health and personal care. Finding a new primary care doctor, dentist, hairstylist, mechanic….it's exhausting. Not to mention difficult. Again, I have found the combination of referrals and online reviews to be the best way to identify such individuals. Some have less risk than others; a bad haircut is easy (if slow and painful) to resolve, a lousy dentist...not so much.

Another small annoyance is simply not being familiar with the local geography. I honestly don't know how people survived before Google Maps and GPS. The last time I looked at a map was when I was orienteering leader for the day during an Outward Bound trip in college—let's just say it didn't end well. The problem with Google and GPS is that they often take you on a circuitous or downright absurd route, one you would never have chosen for yourself if you were familiar with the area. However, once you make enough wrong turns and familiarize yourself with your new city, navigating once again will become second nature. Pro tip: intentionally get lost somewhere and see if you can navigate your way out. Consistently relying on a computer is a crutch that will ultimately delay your ultimate goal of becoming self-reliant.

You'll most likely experience multiple conflicting emotions when you move to a new city. The key is to embrace the good parts and look at the less than desirable elements as an opportunity for growth. Except for the actual move. That's a nightmare no matter what. Just reward yourself with a big ole glass of wine when it's done and call it a night.


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