Anxiety swallowed me whole the first time I moved to a new city. I wrote in my journal a few days after I’d landed in Rabat, Morocco’s capital: “He pierced through me with the tip of his fork, precisely in the pit of my stomach. The four spikes, they incited this tingling sensation—like butterflies, but not quite so sweet. And then it was dark. And I couldn’t see where I was headed, where I would end up. Anxiety had consumed me.”
I call that culture shock. I’d left all comforts behind—the ease of being surrounded by my native language, restaurants where servers know just how pink I like my burgers, pizzerias that save me the last penne slice before closing up shop, and even pharmacies that know when someone in my family falls ill, not because they’re refilling prescriptions, but because they get our holiday cards and we talk. Having familiar faces on every corner is what makes a place feel like home—and those faces are why memories are memorable.
I’ve since moved to Manhattan and am preparing to move to Brooklyn on my own, too. Naturally, moving to any new country, city or neighborhood unaccompanied and unsuspecting of what lies before us is intimidating. But it’s not difficult to meet people to make new memories, simply because you’ve got everyone to meet. Regardless of how near or far you’ll be, or of how long you intend to stay, here are ways to get yourself assimilated and make some friends or, at the very least, contacts while you’re at it.
- Consider CouchSurfing.
I’ve called out CouchSurfing before, and I will always stand by it. Again, avid backpackers know CouchSurfing; the remainder of the human population is bemused by its concept. It’s essentially a free social networking site and hospitality service for over 14 million locals and travelers committed to sharing authentic experiences.
Members create profiles and offer up their couches/spare rooms/entire homes to each other—all of which is for free. It takes a lot of the work out of meeting new people — oftentimes like-minded people — and can quickly turn strangers into new friends. Travelers use it to meet locals, wander off the beaten path and cultivate insider experiences; hosts use it to swap stories, learn from new people from inimitable backgrounds and ensure that visitors love their cities as much as they do. You can also just use CouchSurfing to meet up with locals, attend traveler events in cities across the globe or start discussion boards to research destinations. Whether you’re just visiting or moving there, CouchSurfing is a solid start.
- Take advantage of social media.
Use your social circle to connect with friends of friends on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. Make it known that you’re visiting or moving to a new city, and simply ask if anyone’s out there or knows anyone out there. People will comment, message or tag their friends in the area—after all, social networks are designed for social networking.
Plus, through Facebook, you can ask friends for tips by turning on “Recommendations” on your posts, and Facebook will map them out for you and save them all in one place. This is a surefire way to scout out local hotspots where you might find like-minded people to meet. Likewise, utilizing the “Explore” tab to find “Nearby Places” and events in your area will help you meet people with common interests.
- Join Meetups.
Meetup is a website with a corresponding that brings people with common interests together. It’s tagline: “What do you love? Do more of it with Meetup.” Its sole mission is to bring people together in thousands of cities around the world because, “when we get together and do the things that matter to us, we’re at our best.”
Hence Meetup gathers groups to do, explore, teach and learn the things that help us come alive. You can scope out all types of get-togethers across a vast gamut of categories: outdoors and adventures, technology, sports and fitness, photography, food and drink, language and culture, music, film, dance, book clubs, you name it. Discover local meet ups or, if you’ve got an idea for something you don’t already see, create your own.
- Become part of a club team.
Sports inherently bring people together and help forge friendships because team work makes the dream work. Most major cities offer club teams you can join, ranging from super competitive teams to those that are entirely for leisure. You have options that span the usual football, soccer and kickball to corn hole, skee-ball and drinking games in sports bars.
Zog Sports, for example, operates in Atlanta, Los Angeles, New Jersey, New York, San Francisco and Washington DC, and boasts 100,000 participants who have donated over $3,000,000 to over 2,000 charities by playing—at the start of each season, every team selects a charity and, at the end, Zog Sports donates 10 percent of net proceeds, 100 percent of happy hour bar contributions and an allocation from its sponsors to the charity pool of the winning teams. Sports with this company range from bowling to bubbleball and beyond, but check out all of the options in your new neighborhood.
- Volunteer in the community.
If you don’t have the dollars to pay to get yourself on a club team, you can still donate your time. Check out websites like VolunteerMatch.com or search local nonprofits in your new city and reach out to them to inquire about potential opportunities.
You can get involved with anything from administrative work and farming to helping the homeless and playing chess with seniors. Whatever you choose, you’re likely to begin meeting people with similar beliefs and life goals as you, since they’re spending their free time the same way you are.
- Don’t skip out on outings with new coworkers.
If you’re moving to a new city and have a job lined up, take advantage of company events, especially if you’re feeling down about your social life. Make it a point to network the office and get to know your coworkers—this is a group or people you’ll be spending every day with whether you want to or not.
Coworkers are quick friends or, at the very least, peers and contacts you can talk to about the place you now call home. And oftentimes, you’ll meet more even more people through them. If it feels appropriate, you might want to get an after-work get-togother or happy hour going yourself, and simply ask someone else in the office to recommend a local spot to check out.
- Get off your phone.
Whether technology is breaking or making our society is a nuanced debate. In many ways, it brings people together by making the world a much smaller place; you can connect with friends and friends of friends in all corners of the globe instantaneously, and you can learn about places to which you’ve never been and people with whom you’d never otherwise engage.
On the contrary, people are too often consumed in their technology and their virtual lives begin to overrun their real lives. If you’re always stuck with your nose in a screen, you’ll seldom meet people authentically and you’ll miss out on the conversation opportunities that are around you at the present time. Sometimes it’s a good thing to leave the technology at home, get outside and, instead of Yelping the best local coffee shop, asking someone on the street for some help. Maybe you’ll make a connection from doing just that.
- Opt for roommates.
This goes for traveling and for moving. If you’re traveling, consider staying in a hostel or in a more social hotel, where you’re bound to meet other solo travelers. If you’re in a hostel, and don’t mind the noise, staying in a shared dorm room will introduce you to bunkmates and roommates who might want to explore the city with you.
If you’re moving to a new city, consider living with a roommate for at least the first month or two you’re there. Even if you don’t hit it off with your roommate, they might be a good person to hook you up with coveted local tips on places you wouldn’t otherwise know about. Also consider subletting before you sign a lease on a rental, so you can get to know the area before settling on a place.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.