Moving to a new city is a big deal. Even when it’s to an exciting shiny new place, there are all kinds of challenges that arise – logistical, existential, social, financial. I know it. In 2018 I stacked the must-keep belongings from my abundant Australian life, much like jenga rods, into a cramped 25-foot storage unit. All that remained were two prohibitively heavy suitcases ready to lug across the world to Los Angeles. As my plane landed, I squared my shoulders and got ready to, once again, arrive. You see, I’ve moved before, and so I’ve had repeat opportunities to practice arriving. This was the furthest-away move, but in my experience, the ways to do it well remain essentially the same. Here are a few of them:
Know your why
Sometimes, you’ll wake up in the depths of the night and not remember where you are or how to switch on the light, or why everything sounds different and unfamiliar. It’s normal, as you recalibrate to everything being new. The one thing to hold onto tightly is why you’ve moved. Have a clear reason for your move and nothing will be quite as impossibly difficult. Not going to lie, you’ll have moments that seem insurmountable, but you’ll take a breath and remember your purpose in moving. The crazy of resettling will diminish in a heartbeat. Until it arrives again, and you remember your why, again.
Become a regular
When I returned to a favorite cafe in Sydney after six months away, Laurie and Tali remembered my order and my name. We shared food stories and Tali showed me a Sydney sunset photo that made me almost want to move back there. Not really, but almost! This warmth is, of course, their job but make the most of it. Form connections. Keep going back to the same places so that you learn names and share stories together. Because the thing is, we humans are made to connect with each other. So connect. In Los Angeles, I go regularly to a sweet little wine bar nearby and my heart sings at the comfort of being there, of knowing people’s names, of belonging, and of serendipitous conversations that invariably unfold.
Speaking of serendipity, it is everywhere. Embrace it by being open and courageous. One of my closest friends I met by inadvertently eavesdropping on her conversation in a cafe last summer and introducing myself. Now, I can’t imagine life without her in it. Not one but three or four Uber drivers I met are now friends because we talked and realized threads of shared interests that tied our lives together. Likewise, networking events, museum conversations, meet up groups, eye contact across crowded rooms. The world is full of people ready and waiting to meet you, so smile, say something like It would be fun to stay in touch or I feel like we should know each other and then offer a gentle invitation to do just that.
You’ll invariably encounter roadblocks when you move. Here in the United States, opening a bank account and getting a credit card had me feeling like I was 16 again, with no credit score, flimsy proof of my Californian address, and having to beg for a credit card despite a few decades of rock-solid reliable finances in Australia. A few of my go-to questions for situations like that are: How did you solve this problem last time it happened? This reminds them that they’ve fixed this before and they can do so again for you. It’s positive, yet firm, and an excellent way to counter the stalemate of them saying nothing can be done. The other question I love to ask is What else do I need to know about this? It’s a nice, wide-open line of inquiry that can elicit all kinds of extra information and advice.
Moving to a new place can create sensory and cognitive overwhelm, in which even apparently simple things propel you onto a learning curve, a rollercoaster that can be exhausting to ride sometimes. The newness is often fun, exhilarating, and let’s face it, one of the highlights of making an across-the-world move, but sometimes you’d just like to know how things work. Sometimes this has me craving the known, and it’s an excellent remedy I promise. For me, my go-to familiar places are IKEA and a little Australian-owned cafe where I can order a flat white coffee. Once the jaws of IKEA swallow you up, everything is the same as home. The unpronounceable furniture names, the Swedish meatballs, the sudden-onset desire for homewares you never knew you needed, but now simply must have. It’s deliciously familiar, just as it is to cup your hands around a flat white coffee.
Signing up to volunteer whilst still blearily in the fog of jetlag is one of the best decisions I made upon arriving in Los Angeles. Immediately, I had the regularity of training and then museum shifts, the privilege of being an insider at an iconic and inspiring place, and a crew of like-minded peers and future friends. Volunteering is always a good idea, but volunteering as part of your arrival strategy can be a lifeline. Also, check out local Facebook groups and make connections to build community. I joined a bunch when I arrived which enabled me to start a bookclub with a dozen or so people, mostly strangers. This meant my apartment was filled with amazing people every other week, and I felt like I’d lived here for years, not moments.
I’ve asked a lot of people about their moving stories and the consensus seems to be that it takes about five years to feel at home in a new city. For my money, that is far too long to wait. Belonging doesn’t take time as much as it takes cultivation, so garden, and do it now. Your future self will be grateful for every tough moment eased and every beautiful memory created. Every step you take will be a little easier because you’ve put yourself on the inside track of arriving, right where you’re meant to be.