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January 4, 2019

How to make a new city feel like home

 James
Alyssa James

Whether you’re moving across town or across the world, it’s tough to make a new place your home. But what even is home? The various metaphors and proverbs that attempt to explain home illustrate that it isn’t necessarily a place. Rather, it’s a feeling we build or create with people, objects, and experiences. In short, home starts with you.

Whether you’re moving for love, work, or adventure, here are seven tips for getting a head start on turning a house into home:

1. Hang on to meaningful objects

What is one thing that always makes you feel at home? Maybe it’s a candle or photos of your friends and family. For me, it’s a French press – in my last four countries, I’ve either taken one with me or bought one upon arrival. Starting my day relaxed, with a good cup of coffee and a book is a sure-fire way to get my homely feelings flowing.

Anything that brings consistency and comfort will do. Keep it at the top of your bag so it’s one of the first things you unpack.

2. Start with what you know

Moving to a new place is unsettling because it feels like a loss of control over your surroundings. Take that back by recreating the things you already know bring you joy. I love to dance, so I’ve joined dance classes from Martinique to Mainz. If there’s one thing I could count on, it’s that plié means the same thing in every ballet class!

If you’re enthusiastic about football, join a local club. If you love knitting, find a local knitting group.

Over time, you’ll build relationships, feel like part of a community, and begin to develop your social life. Once you feel settled, you can start pushing your comfort zone and discover new things.

3. Make the big city small

Moving to a city like London or New York can be incredibly daunting. They’re big, they’re famous, and you move in with high expectations about what your life will be like and who you can become. On top of that, there’s also a lot of pressure to see and do everything. Here’s a tip: You can make your new city as big or as small as you need it to be.

I spent my first few weeks in Barcelona getting to know my area: the park, the grocery store, the beach, my dance classes, the local restaurants and shops. Once I got comfortable in my own neighbourhood, venturing outside of it was exciting, rather than intimidating.

Go to the same coffee shop every morning or shop at the same farmer’s market on the weekend. Consistency and familiarity will make you feel like you’re creating your home within the city.

4. Find people who share your experience

There’s a lot of hype around ‘living like a local’ and meeting locals when you move or travel abroad. The truth is that in a city, you’re most likely to befriend people who are like you.

When I moved to London and started working, I wasn’t just new to my company – I was also new to the city. I was still finding my bearings and discovering the nuance of the place. Though none of the people on my team were Londoners, they had long settled into apartments, relationships, and social dynamics. My friends became other expats who had arrived around the same time or later.

Head out and find people who are new to the city, whether through meet-ups or moving into a co-living building like The Collective. You’ll find that your shared situation and the experience of discovering the city will bring you together.

5. Take the bus

While it’s tempting to jump on the train in a big city, consider taking the bus when you have time. There’s something about travelling at ‘ground level’ that helps you take everything in and become more familiar with your surroundings. You’ll also begin to develop a mental map of the area, whereas underground you don’t get a good idea of your bearings in the city.

In Toronto, I always recommend people ride the 501 Queen streetcar, one of the longest tram routes in the world. You’ll through time and space from The Beaches through historic Corktown to trendy Parkdale and all the way to the well-manicured High Park.

On the bus, you may turn down a street you haven’t seen before, notice different street art, or discover a tranquil park. Since you cover larger distances, the city will start to feel familiar – the essence of home.

6. Wander

Have you ever watched a baby interact with the world? Everything is completely new, and they approach every experience with curiosity and openness. Reactivate that new-born spirit in the discovery of your new city.

One of the first things I do in a new place is go to the grocery store. Food can tell you so much about a culture and the neighbourhood you live in. I saunter up and down every aisle, checking out what’s familiar and considering what unfamiliar things I would like to try.

Get out your walking shoes, go out, and get lost. Moving to a new city is a time of discovery, so enjoy some natural light and use all your senses to find the fascinating!

7. Introduce Yourself

In cities, there is a strong social pressure to not start conversations with strangers (Londoners are the worst!). But when you’re the new to a city, it’s the best time to start conversations with people because you have a great opening: “I just moved here, do you have any suggestions for…”

Once you start, you’ll find opportunities to meet people everywhere. If you share an elevator with someone in your new flat, introduce yourself. If you see the same person walking their dog at the same time as you, introduce yourself.

Taking the time to break the ice and introduce yourself when you first arrive means people will drop their guard. It also gives you a strategy for breaking through the shroud of loneliness that often envelopes big cities. At best, you’ll make a new friend; at worst, it won’t be awkward when you need to borrow a vacuum.

Whether it’s a barista knowing your order, or simply enjoying the comfort of seeing tulips in your room, remember that you can make home anywhere – home is within you. 

Learn more here about how at the The Collective, we do our best to give our members a smooth landing into London life. 

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