11 Tips to Avoid Feeling Lonely in a New City
Being lonely in a new city is a feeling many expats are familiar with.
You may arrive with a job, a place to live and have a few acquaintances knocking about, but there’ll still be moments where you’ll feel alone. It takes time to settle into a new city – six to twelve months by all accounts. Sometimes you’ll slip right into the pace of life your new city offers… other times it’ll take a lot longer for you to feel at home.
There will inevitably be times where you’ll feel lonely, but luckily, there are things you can do to distract yourself, until the feeling passes (along with steps you can take to increase your social circle, so that these moments become far and few between).
After having lived in five different cities during my twenties, this is what I do whenever I move somewhere new, in order to feel less alone and more part of a community.
Aggressively pursue everyone you know
Well, this has been my number one tip for making friends in a new city. I hit up everyone I know – old school friends, friends of friends, the second cousin of someone I worked with for three months at my after school job in 2005 – if we have a tentative link, it’s getting exploited, no buts about it.
What about when you don’t know anyone? Well, there are still ways and means, my friend.
I moved to Doha in 2014 and knew absolutely no one. There was a rather lovely Kiwi girl at my work orientation, one of those types of people who is effortlessly cool and immediately liked by everyone. I eventually convinced her to hang out with me and add me to a Whatsapp group of other freelances at my work. Bang – I was suddenly meeting people and within three weeks had made friends with two girls who I count amongst my nearest and dearest to this day.
This is a practise that requires you to really throw yourself out of your comfort zones. Yet, it pays off in the long run – I can assure you of that.
Lose yourself in fiction
This may be a point for the bookworms alone, but as someone who likes to read, I find novels to be a great comfort in a new city. You pick up a book and for a few hours you can escape elsewhere, walk a few miles in another person’s shoes and forget any problems you may be facing in your own life at the time.
I highly advocate joining a library when you immediately move to a new city. Not only are they usually beautiful buildings to hang out in, but many have free Internet to boot. Plus if you’re a reader, you’ll save yourself a tonne of money – I’ve borrowed over 60 books from my library this year and saved myself hundreds of cash dollars in the process. I know, I’m a crazy kid who needs to reign themselves in, damnit!
Moving to a new city is both scary and stressful. Be nice to yourself. You deserve it.
Take yourself out for dinner. Buy those new shoes you’ve had an eye on. Replace your old camera lens so you can take quality photos of your new city. Get that pretty doona cover for your new bed. Try out that community acupuncture centre down the road. Get your nails did.
There’s a whole range of things you can do, to suit any desire and budget. Give yourself things to look forward to throughout each week – it’ll make it easier to settle in.
Pick up a hobby you never would have tried at home
Here’s an opportunity to try something completely different.
Join that German language class. Learn how to crochet. Do a class in anthropomorphic mouse taxidermy. Join a choir. Start sketching nude people at a life drawing class every Wednesday night. The choice is yours!
You’ll not only be trying something new that you may have had an interest in for some time – you’ll be meeting likeminded people. More opportunity for awesome friendships to form. Who knew you’d ever bond with someone over your shared love of moulding stuffed dead animals into humanoid positions? Life is beautiful.
Join a sports team
As someone who cites yoga and swimming as their main form of exercise (VERY SOLITARY ENDEAVOURS), this is a point that has been less helpful, but I can see the merits in it.
If you’re an athletic type, or you can successfully complete a sports game without running into a brick wall and knocking yourself out (I may or may not be speaking from experience), then join a sports team! Soccer/football, other types of football which don’t actually feature much foot action yet get called football nonetheless, netball, basketball, tennis, squash, salsa dancing, chess (okay, that’s not a sport, but it involves human interaction, so whatever).
You’ll not only meet new people, you’ll be getting fitter in the process. Well, not if you’re playing chess. I guess you’ll be sharpening your mind, so that’s something.
Indulge in local art
I recently read a fantastic book by English writer Olivia Laing called The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone.
Laing described moving to New York by herself, only to have one of the most lonely experiences of her life. She spent a lot of this time researching the art of other lonely characters such as Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol and Henry Darger. Their art spoke to her, in ways that helped alleviate her loneliness.
And I agree – art is a wonderful, wonderful thing to get lost in. It pays tenfold to take yourself regularly to art galleries around your city, as well as exploring the urban art that is on offer (if you live in cities like London, Melbourne, New York, etc you’ll never run out of public art to look at).
Take yourself out to the movies, often
Here’s another form of fantastic escapism, for those less inclined to read (or who like both watching movies and reading books. You’re allowed to like both).
I personally love exploring the cinemas within the cities I live in, particularly as it’s something you can easily do yourself. Although I wouldn’t recommend going to see the latest blockbuster at say, 7pm on a Saturday night unless you truly couldn’t give a crap about being alone.
Either way, it’s a pretty simple way to kill a couple of hours. I like being a member of the cinemas I frequent – I feel both a sense of belonging and as though I were part of some cool club.
Well, duh you may say. If you’re living in a new city, particularly one in a foreign country, it’s probably because you have some sort of interest in travel. Maybe. Just a bit.
So, get out there! Live in the UK or Europe? You’ve got an entire continent just waiting to be explored. The USA is one of the most diverse places you can travel to. Canada is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. Asia is mostly ridiculously cheap to travel in. Australia has a lot going on and is only a hop, skip and a jump away from NZ, which packs a lot in for a tiny country.
Explore different areas of your new city
If you can’t travel abroad, or outside your new home of choice – get to know your new city a bit better!
I lived in London for two years and loved poking around new areas of the city, as well as my own “hood” – a city that old always had something new to discover.
I live in Melbourne now and make sure to explore new corners of the city every chance I get – every neighbourhood is different in its own way and has something new to offer. I also regularly try to walk down different streets in my own suburb – it helps keep it fresh.
Pick a house that you’re actually going to feel at home in
Where you live (and who with) is so integral to helping you feel at home in a new city.
It took me a year when I moved to London to find a place that I could call my own, where it didn’t feel like I was encroaching on anyone else’s territory. But lord, did it make a world of difference. It definitely helped that it was exactly the kind of place I’d imagined living in when I pictured my life in the city.
So, shop around when looking for somewhere to live and pick a place that has a vibe that sits well with you (and comes with housemates who aren’t batshit insane). It’ll be worth it in the long run, trust me!
Invest in the odd thing that’s going to help you feel at home
Some people do the minimalist thing well, but I’m a
hoarder nester and always like having a few items of comfort around me. Books, plants and trinkets all make the list – art and photos are a big one too.
Just don’t go crazy, lest you want to end up shipping seven boxes home (mostly filled with books) like I did when I moved from London back to Australia. Whoops.
At the end of the day, time is key. You’re going through a massive upheaval and it makes sense that you’ll feel disorientated and lonely from time to time, in varying degrees. But it’s a feeling that does pass and you’ll be living it up with your new pals, in your new city before you know it.
Do you have any tips you’d like to add for settling into a new city?
Other articles like this:
13 Reasons Why You Should Never Become an Expat
Which is Harder: Moving Abroad or Coming Home?
The Downsides of Moving to your Dream City
What They Don’t Tell You About Moving Overseas
How to Survive Christmas When You’re Far, Far Away From Your Family, Friends and Pets
Was Moving Overseas a Big Mistake?
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This post contains affiliate links to books I’ve read and therefore recommend.