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4 Tactics For Becoming an Unconventional Tourist

The following is a guest post. My love of unconventional travel started when I was 12 years old. My dad had decided that, of all the ways to spend Christmas, we should go on a cycling tour around Cuba. And so we did it. We figured out how to...

I Hate Hair: Reasons Why Shaving Your Head Skyrockets Confidence

Welcome to #DifferentLifeStories, where Without Boxes is sharing how people are living differently right now in the real world. Enter Aron James: Hair loss is something that happens to our grandfathers. It is the sign of the wisdom that comes with old age; a rite of...

How to Be a Solo-Female Hiker: Put One Foot in Front of the Other

Welcome to #DifferentLifeStories, where Without Boxes shares how people are living differently right now in the real world. Enter Hayley Turner (a.k.a. Little Foot): I can still remember everything about that day, from waking up and walking 12 miles by noon, the dogs...

Do You Really “Find Yourself” When You Travel?

"I know this sounds cliché, but I have to ask—do you really 'find yourself' when you travel?" the girl asked me. Her young friend crouched next to my table, gently stroking the cats as they slept. Café Neko is a small coffee shop in Vienna that allows cats to wander...

When Not Everything Goes as Planned, It Still Goes: A Story About Finding Your Passion

Welcome to #DifferentLifeStories, where Without Boxes is sharing how people are living differently right now in the real world. Enter Jen: As a kid, I was told that I was lucky that I already knew what I wanted to do with my life. From age four, I knew I wanted to be...

The Digital Nomad’s Roadmap – A Complete Guide: Successfully Live, Work, and Travel Anywhere

So you wanna be a digital nomad. I’m not surprised: the future is bright for freelancers and location independent workers. Statistics show 40% of Americans will be contingent workers by 2020. That’s a lot of potential for digital nomads! Yet there’s no hands-on guide...

Limitations: Why the 9–5 Job Doesn’t Need To Stop You

Over the years I’ve had a number of conversations with people who talk about cool things they want to do, see, or make. A lot of these conversations end with “Well, I’d love to do it, but unfortunately I have XYZ,” and many times those XYZs are very valid limitations...

Stealing Second Base: From Side Gig to Self Employed Full Time

Welcome to #DifferentLifeStories, where Without Boxes is sharing how people are living differently right now in the real world. Enter Katherine Stimson: “You can’t steal second base with one foot still on first.” In the spring of 2010, a Facebook ad posted by a total...

Dreams Are Like Pirate Treasure: Hard to Find, But Worth the Risk

All dreams start somewhere and typically, no matter the size of the overall dream, most dreams start small. Let’s say yours is to feel better at work every day. You focus on sitting up straight in week one. Week two finds you taking a 10-minute walk at lunchtime. Week...

Hacking Life In A New City Alone: An Extensive Guide

Life alone in a new city is a rough prospect. We’re all out here trying to make it, looking for tips on how to make this work as best we can.

Trust me – I’ve moved to new cities plenty of times by now, and quite often alone. It can be rough but the results can also be so worth it. My first big move was in 2013 and looking back, I am happy to pass on the lessons I learned in hopes it makes your transition a bit smoother.

By the end of this article, you should have a good view on how to prepare yourself for the journey to the new city, as well as steps to begin building a new life for yourself once you arrive. Let’s dive in!

How I Moved By Myself to Austin, TX

“Do you mind if we sit here?”

Two women ask for the seats next to mine. They’re in town for a business conference, and chose to explore the infamous 6th Street of downtown Austin. I was simply there to watch the open mic night.

My new friends sitting next to me at the bar gush, having heard my story. “You’re so brave! I have always wanted to travel and live like that.”

It feels odd to say, but I’ve been told this (in more or less words) hundreds of times over the years. It’s really become quite the list at this point:

  • Exploring the states on a 7 month, 48 state road trip in 2012
  • Moving out to Austin, TX on my own in 2013
  • Jetting off to see the world on a 9 month tour in 2014
  • Taking a solo bicycle tour in 2015

By now, people certainly seem impressed with my credentials in bravery. I almost take it for granted. But there’s something you should know.

Everyone is afraid of change. Everyone is afraid of the unknown.

The real secret is that I am afraid, too.

No matter why you’re doing it, moving to a new city on your own is a journey in self-discovery. Finding yourself is terrifying. Yet, learning to rely on yourself is next to impossible. At least, not when you’re surrounded by the people you have depended on your entire life.

With this in mind, I’d like to share with you this How To guide I’ve written for anyone else trying to hack it in a new city. It’s a lot easier to find your way with the help of someone who has done it before you. (This is not a one-size-fits-all guide. But, I hope it will offer insight based on my experiences after much experience doing it myself.)

So, how do you handle moving to a new city all on your own?

Step 1: Pick Your New City

Picking a new city

For one reason or another, you’re ready for a change. You want a new city, something interesting and distracting. Somewhere you’ve never lived before.

(Pardon this very USA based segment of the article.)

Most of you probably have a good idea about where you want to be.

For me: I wanted to move somewhere 1,000+ miles away from home, preferably get off the West coast (since I’d been there my whole life), yet keep the friendly and open-minded vibe that my current city had to offer. I am from San Diego, CA and decided on Austin, TX. I do not regret my decision.

Here’s a list of my top 5 favorite US cities (that I would live in) with my thoughts on why you would maybe choose them as your destination of choice:

  1. Austin, TX
    Open minded and quirky. The city tagline is “Keep Austin Weird”. Lots of hipster places, but you can find subculture for almost every niche imaginable. Great place to be if you’re into food, live music and local business. Affordable, but rapidly growing.
  2. Portland, OR
    A really green Austin, TX on the west coast – with more of an emphasis on biking and local art rather than music. Amazing bookstores, strange local cuisine, and more of that hipster vibe. Mostly affordable.
  3. San Francisco, CA
    Cool all year round, in danger of getting swallowed in a tsunami, but one of the most diverse and fun places to be. Incredibly expensive, but features amazing food, photo opps, and fantastic people watching. Great place to be if you’re looking for a career in tech and like the fast lane lifestyle.
  4. Asheville, NC
    A small granola city on the East Coast, optimal to live in if you have any kind of restrictive diet. You can feast on gluten free, low sugar and locally produced food of all kinds – and it’s all delicious. Somehow manages to feature great live shows from great bands. Perfect if you want a small town, sustainable-lifestyle experience.
  5. Richmond, VA
    Fascinating architecture, affordable rent, and incredibly bike friendly drivers – conveniently located near Washington D.C. and thrilling outdoor experiences. If you don’t mind an East Coast lifestyle, enjoy friendly people and revel in quiet local businesses, this is the place for you.

(I’ve been to many, many more cities and would love to talk about them with you if you’d like some insight. Feel free to ask me about anywhere in the USA in the comments of this post – or share about your own favorite cities!)

Step 2: Know What to Expect on Arrival

Arriving to new city

It’s only a small step in the journey, but actually getting to your new city is a more emotionally traumatic experience than one might think.

You may be taking a plane, a car, a moving van, or any number of options up to packing and hiring removals (find out more about the ones I’ve picked)… Here’s a quick overview on what you might expect.

1. Somewhere to sleep

Presumably, no matter how last minute, you’ve found somewhere to stay when you arrive. Whether it’s an acquaintance, a friend of a friend, a CouchSurfing connection, a hotel room, or a hostel, it’s best if you have somewhere to sleep. The last thing you need is to be scrambling for a 24-hour Walmart parking lot to sleep in by yourself.

Stay in touch with whoever you’re staying with, so that they’re ready for your arrival when you actually get there.

2. Be prepared: Know your route

If you’ve never been to the city at all (or even if you have), it’s best to have a printed map of the general area you’re headed as well as written directions – in case the GPS on your phone gets slow or your reception dies. In a new city, you never know where your cell carrier may flatline on you.

When I arrived in Austin, it was late at night and I was practically delusional after 2 days of driving alone with no company, radio or air conditioning (summer in Texas, mind you).

I didn’t have any of that preparation and there were several times I wished I had. Reception got shoddy, I panicked, and generally freaked out …until thankfully everything worked out okay.

3. The emotions of showing up

Getting somewhere entirely new when you’ve lived your whole life somewhere else is a bizarre experience.

Sleeping in what will be your new city, when you have no realistic idea of what it’s like or what you’ll find or who you’ll know or where your life is headed… it’s overwhelming.

That said, it will be a relief to arrive, after the anticipation of travel and wanting the move to be over with. Congratulations on your arrival!

Step 3: Find Balanced Repetition

Explore coffee shops

When you’re in a new city, everything you do is new. If you’ve made much of a geographic move, even grocery shopping will be at a new chain with new brands.

Finding where the best place for your necessities is a matter of trial and error. We are creatures of habit, so once you find a particular location for product X, you’ll find it difficult to branch out and find it anywhere else (even if it makes more sense to).

You have to learn to branch out.

When you first arrive, make it a goal never to hit the same convenience stores, coffee shops, gas stations or restaurants within the first few weeks. Try everywhere in reasonable driving distance. Try locations in apparent hot spots around town.

Once you’ve gotten a good feel for different locations, then start picking your favorites and frequenting them. The trick is not to pick a favorite too early. Familiarity all too quickly masks whether or not it’s actually the right place to be.

Step 4: Discover the Unique Culture

Downtown Austin skyline

If you haven’t traveled in very many cities, this will be a little trickier. There’s a lot of things that every city has – they all claim them to be unique, but in reality they are tourist traps that you can find almost anywhere.

What you want is local chains, local events, and local areas of interest to discover and enjoy. You want to find the things that makes your new city truly different from anywhere else.

The trick is… How do you find these things?

  • Locals!
    Talk to people who have lived there forever. Locals know what’s what.
  • Obvious points of interest.
    A quick Google search along the lines of “Must see places in [your city here]” will usually generate a great list of ideas. They won’t always be the most unique places, but they’ll show you the places everyone knows about.
  • Read a community newspaper.
    (Almost all are available online these days) …or a find website that highlights local events. For example, Austin has a great site called Do512.com, which is how I’ve found things like free improv shows, local bands, and hole in the wall venues I never would have known to look for.
  • Explore at random.
    Be willing to walk around by yourself and take in the view. Go somewhere self-evident, like downtown, and just explore. Poke your head into interesting stores, discover how all the streets connect, and let yourself get lost.

Here’s some generic online tools to generate ideas from:

Step 5: Learn How To Make Friends

Find local events

When you’re in a new city, you suddenly realize how much you took all of your friends and family for granted.

Start by apologizing to everyone back home for doing that (sorry everyone), and then get ready to wander way outside of your comfort zone.

Here’s some ideas and tips for making new friends when you’re totally new to a city.

1. Get comfortable with yourself.

If you’re not comfortable with hanging out with you, how can you expect anyone else to be? You have to be okay with hanging out alone.

Go sit in a park and journal or draw. Learn to eat out at a restaurant by yourself. Wander a library or bookstore (if those still exist at the time you are reading this). Check out a farmer’s market.

I’ve heard the argument that some people feel like a loser doing these things alone. You’re not a loser, you are a freaking adventurer in new territory! Own it, and worry less about what people think of you. Everyone I’ve talked to is actually really impressed by the fact I go out by myself.

The takeaway: Learn to be entertained somewhere by yourself without being glued to your electronic device.

2. But where to find friends?

You can find new people just about anywhere. Sit in a coffee shop, sit at a bar, go to an open seating restaurant.

Seriously, make it your goal to talk to a stranger at least once every couple of days. Find out their name, whether they are from the city, and ask for advice on what you should check out (locations or events). It’s a simple non-creepy conversation where you can learn about the city, and if you’re hitting it off with the person, you’ve made a new friend! Congratulations!

Either way: No harm, no foul.

The more you talk to people you don’t know, the easier it will get. The more you talk to people, the more opportunity you open for friendship.

Still not comfortable? Try arranging a public hangout with people online. Here’s some sites I’ve used for this with success:

If you have a specific interest, there’s often events going on for your niche. Just talk about your interests with people, and you’ll be surprised at what they may be able to direct you to.

Someone I met on CouchSurfing told me about a freelance event happening in my area right when I got to town – where I then made some great contacts for future work. Someone I met on Craigslist told me about a parade happening that weekend, which I attended and made new friends at.

If you’re 21+, as stereotypical as it seems, going out to some neat local bars is another easy way to make some new friends. Sure, it may cost you a few drinks, but that makes it easier to just take a shot at saying hello.

When all else fails? Try a random job that you always thought would be intriguing to experience. I tried car sales, and met a really awesome guy that is now my best friend in Austin and my new roommate.

*** Disclaimer: Please use common sense when meeting people online! Read this. ***

3. How to actually make friends!

Beggars can’t be choosers.

That’s a phrase I think we’ve all heard before, and you should take it to heart when you’re trying to meet people in a new city.

Here’s my philosophy behind how to make lots of friends and open up your world to the potential of awesome people:

Be genuine.

Genuine people are attracted to other genuine people.

Don’t try to fake who you are or what you’re about. You’re in a new city, you don’t need to try and please people who don’t like you for who you are.This isn’t back home where you’ve been ingrained into the same group of people that you kind of have to get along with for the sake of the fact you’ve known them forever.

Don’t judge people (instantly).

Be yourself, but try not to judge other people instantaneously. You don’t know their background, their story, what they’ve been through, or why they do what they do.

You don’t have to like everyone, but try to avoid things like hate and anger. Judging people isn’t worth your time, effort or emotional investment. Give people a chance to see that you’re a safe person. You may find that once they realize they can be themselves around you, you may like who they actually are.

Remember: People lead to other people.

At the end of the day, you’re really not in a position to be picky about your friends. Even if you’re not going to become really close with someone, unless there’s a good reason to shut them out, don’t.

Here’s the funny thing about people: They know other people. The more people you know, the more chances you have to meet these other people. Who knows? One day, these connections may introduce you to your new best friend, a new lover, a great job, your new roommate, or your life partner.

Anything is possible.

Step 6: Do Things You’ve Put Off

New city activities

You’re in a new city! Ride the wave of excitement and take the opportunity to do things you otherwise put off over the passing years.

Always meant to go kayaking? Go kayaking. Meant to hike more? Use it as a chance to explore your new city.

Whatever it is, find the best way to combine your interests with getting to know your new city. Now you’re knocking out two birds with one stone!

Not to mention – these are great activities to invite people to, and opens up the opportunity to meet new friends with like interests. There are so many things to try, groups to join, people to meet and sights to see. Your possibilities are endless.

Do it cheap:

You can usually find great deals on coupon sites that will make these things affordable. My favorites are:

Meetup.com and CouchSurfing.org are great ways to find people to go with. Learn a new skill, try a new adventure, and have fun – even if you wind up going by yourself.

Step 7: Accept That Everything Is Temporary

It’s easier when you remember that everything in life is temporary.

The people you meet could be single-serving or wind up being really important to you. The place you’re currently staying may only turn out to be where you live for a couple of months. You may leave your job for one reason or another within a matter of weeks.

I find that I stress less when I plan on the fact that nothing in my life could be the same from one day to the next. Stability is a farce, which is why finding solace in it creates such a shock once something goes wrong. Like my mom always said: Plan for the worst, hope for the best.

Expect nothing, hope for everything, work your ass off for tomorrow, and do the things that make you happy today.

Creating home.

Home is where you feel safe and loved.

I’ve been creating my own new Austin family. I feel comfortable, confident and familiar with the basics of Austin. I am happy.

Anne Dorko Austin TX

My takeaways for building your life alone in a new city: Stick with it. Learn to like yourself and be independent. Be genuine. Explore geographically. Branch out and talk to new people.

You know what’s even harder? Moving somewhere you don’t speak the language. To learn more about moving to a foreign city, check out the complimentary guide by clicking that link.

Have you ever moved to a city alone? What advice would you add to mine?

Anne Dorko
Live streaming musician. Risk taker. Mindful queer. Digital media producer. World traveler.

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24 Comments

  1. I’m a fan of volunteering when I’m trying to meet new people. I’ve built homes, served food, prepped a community garden, moved people, planted trees, and more. (I once helped shovel snow out of a walk-in-fridge on a ship). Volunteering lowers the suspicion people normally have of a newcomer.

    Reply
    • Anne Dorko

      This is a great idea! I was doing a bit of this in San Diego before I left, but haven’t gotten into it here yet.

      Reply
  2. I am thankful for your article. I am in my late 40’s and moved away from the only ‘home’ that I have ever known. Leaving my parents, my siblings, and one of my kids (one moved away, one is in college). I needed a change more than ever. Though I didn’t move to a completely “unknown” city, or where I knew no one, I still feel completely alone. My sister helped me move, and all my friends and family are very excited for me. I try so hard to stay off the ledge of doubt. I thank you for all your tips. I have actually started a blog on my move and searched out others who did the same before me.
    Thanks!

    Reply
  3. Thanks for the tips! I’m about to relocate from Indiana to New Orleans where I know nobody. I’m excited but still worried I won’t find the types of friendships I had. Volunteering is a great idea.

    Reply
  4. Awesome article, Anne! I’ve traveled to a couple places solo but only for a few days at a time. For example, went to Seattle for 5 days and while there, I treated it like I was going to move there and just started talking with random people. It was awesome! Though nothing major ever came about, I met some really friendly people who were happy to explain the local area.

    I, too, have lived in So. Cal my whole life and desperately need a change from the familiar. I’m seriously considering moving to Austin, Boulder or even Chicago. Would love to ask you some questions about living in Austin and the different neighborhoods sometime. Let’s talk!

    Reply
    • Anne Dorko

      Hey Corey! Thanks for dropping by!

      Feel free to send me a message to anne@withoutboxes.com with your questions about Austin. I’m in the middle of some crazy life events so I may not be able to reply immediately but I’ll do my best!

      Reply
  5. I want to move but my family wants me to go where family is and it is kind of frustrating me. No where I want to go or can afford to has any family. I feel like I could do it but I want to move in October and I just want to get out of here! I’m not anxious but I know its time to move on. Thanks for the tips.

    Reply
  6. I’ve actually just moved to Austin myself and found this blog on a google search on what to do in a new city when you’re by yourself.
    Your advice is really great and since you do live in Austin, I was wondering if there are any particular places you think I should visit?

    Reply
    • Anne Dorko

      Hey Sam – this totally depends on what sorts of places you enjoy visiting. What are your likes/dislikes? Music preferences? Hobbies? That’ll help me point you in the right direction. 🙂

      Reply
  7. Wow, all I wanna say is thank you! Your text really inspired me and I really wish to live something like you did. I just moved out for college and I now have been in a new city for 5 days. I didn’t have a lot of friends back home and my goal here is to meet new people. I’ve always been a shy person, but surprisingly, I actually feel comfortable talking with strangers here because I actually want to make connections! After college I plan on leaving to Europe all by myself for a couple of months or moving to a bigger city, and this right here just gave me the motivation to pursue my goals. Thank you! (Sorry if my sentences are a little messed up, english is not my first language!) 🙂

    Reply
    • Anne Dorko

      That is really awesome, Kara! I’m so glad this post helped you. I hope you’ve been finding yourself growing as a person and in confidence as you explore your new town. And beyond, to Europe when you get there!

      Feel free to write in with your progress as you go 🙂

      Reply
  8. Thank you for your article. I actually just moved to San Diego from another small town in California. I have had a lot of trouble just putting myself out there and being myself .. but thank you ..

    Let me know if you have any recommendations, or things I can do in San Diego?

    Reply
    • Anne Dorko

      Leticia! Thanks for writing in. San Diego is a huge city and there is loads to do! It all depends what you’re into and what you want to do more of!

      Reply
  9. Wonderful article! I just moved to a new city and this is the first time I’m actually all by myself. It is pretty intimidating at times and I’m not a very outgoing person. I find it hard to talk to new people. It’s just about this fear of not fitting in, I know it’s weird. Hopefully this article should get me going. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    Reply
  10. I’m so glad I found your blog! I’m moving from Seattle to one of the Carolinas in April 2015 and I’m excited but nervous. My family is in South Carolina but I’ve been looking at North Carolina and it looks like there may be more job opportunities and since I am in my mid 20s that’s a pretty important factor. I will also need to be somewhere with a great university. I’ve been looking into Wilmington, NC and was wondering if you’ve been there before and what you think of it? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

    Reply
    • Karinn, I just moved to Wilmington from Portland this January! (Hence googling ways to make friends in a new city..) So far, I love it, I lived here last summer too, and I can tell you there is a lot to do here in the summer especially. Adjusting to a smaller city has been the toughest thing so far, but it has more than everything you need. The beach is really nice, and downtown is really fun. There’s always a lot of really friendly people out when the sun is shining! If you end up moving here, I hope you like it!

      Reply
  11. Really nice article! I recently moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico and I’m from England. I’m still adjusting myself so this post was kind of helpful. Thanks!

    Reply
  12. Dear Anne,
    I just moved to Austin from Miami FL and I literally googled ‘I just moved to Austin and I’m lonely’ LOL.
    I’m pretty darn thankful that your blog came up. I’ve been going through a slew of emotions as I’ve literally just left everything and everyone I know for a new job. Professionally this is quite possibly the best decision I’ve made since graduating college. Personally…I’ve had some serious doubts.
    Lately I’ve been feeling overwhelmed bc I’m not originally from Miami so once I moved there and got settled everything was great but now that I have moved to Austin, which seems to be light years away from everything I know, it’s been really tough…tougher than I thought.
    At this point I am kind of in a state of disarray. My job is the one constant that I have been clinging to for dear life. Nonetheless I am trying to embrace this change.
    Thank you for your advice. I have spent most of my free time hunting for an apartment but I think I’m going to do a bit more exploring to get to know the city before I decide exactly where I want to live.
    Thanks again for sharing your bravery.
    xo

    Reply
  13. Nailed it. This post is timeless! Thanks for the perspective.

    Reply
  14. Thank you…needed to hear it.

    Reply
  15. I thinking of moving from Denver after living here from 45 years. I have made friends over the years, but its really hard for me. The article is really helpful.

    Reply
  16. Thanks for this. I just moved to the Seattle area from Nashville and was feeling a bit overwhelmed. You helped put things in perspective.

    Reply
    • Anne Dorko

      Hi J! I’m glad to hear this helps. Please feel free to contact us with any questions you have about the process! We’re here to help.

      Reply
  17. Awesome! I’m moving to Las Vegas from Connecticut. Great Tips!

    Reply

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