On feeling comfortable in new places

It can take some time (2.5 years?) before you really feel comfortable living in a new city. Some people jump right in, others need time. Even though I’m pretty nomadic and love things like bikeshares and coworking spots and Amazon Prime for purposes of pretending I live in places I don’t, I’m emotionally more in the latter camp.

I moved to San Francisco yesterday to try it out for a bit, and even though I’ve been all over the area on previous trips I haven’t been a good explorer these past 24 hours. For example, today I made the conscious decision to take a right hand turn for the sole purpose of breaking my one-street life thus far. It’s Catherine D’Ignazio’s thesis in real-time — she’s working to create a Fog of War for real life to encourage geographic serendipity.

I’m chatting with a friend in a new city going through the same thing. Her city is colder and darker. But I told her I’d write up my list of shortcuts to feeling like you belong somewhere. Here’s what I’ve got:

  • Go for runs and get lost until you don’t get lost any more
  • Buy a bike / get on the bikeshare and drastically expand your radius
  • Allow yourself a period to be an Obvious Tourist: hit the obvious museums and sights and do the obvious things so you have a shared understanding with everyone. Also because sometimes these sights, while cliche, are actually some of the coolest things about that city. I avoided the Tower of London until my last day living there, clearly failing to recognize that it’s a functional medieval castle sitting there in downtown London with its own crows.
  • Invest the time and money to take a couple of daytrips outside the city — knowing the region is a shortcut to feeling like the city’s your home
  • Swim in the river. In DC, this meant doing the Nation’s Triathlon. In Boston, I wasn’t really in tri shape, so it meant flipping our Tech dinghy a few times a few months prior to the Charles River being declared swimmable. The point is to form positive memories related to major geographic features.
  • Take a walking history tour (or art walk). Maybe I’m a nerd. Maybe the twice-weekly history walks we did in London infused this in me. But I don’t truly feel home somewhere until I can spout off the fun facts about how the Starbucks we’re in used to be a Pagan temple.
  • Work out of some coworking spots, public libraries, and other shared public spaces (rather than say, your studio sublet)

What obvious things am I missing?

Also I spent the plane ride making a Bingo board of fun places and experiences to achieve. What should the prize be when I hit Bingo?

3 thoughts on “On feeling comfortable in new places

  1. ride public transportation to the end and then back to where you started! talk to bariste and bartenders about what they think you should check out! if you have a friend in sf, ask them to show you their version of sf!

  2. Awesome post, I love thinking about this kind of stuff and the shortcut list is pretty cool.

    >What obvious thing am I missing?
    People. Denise hit on it when she mentioned talking to barista’s/bartenders/friends around town for things to check out. When I was looking to further explore DC I kind of thought of it like this: people and places are connected. You go somewhere to meet people to introduce you to new places where you’ll find new people, and so on. So for instance, go to a ton of gallery openings, and you’ll meet artists around the city, who may introduce you to new places they like. And then open it up to all sorts of events, things you wouldn’t normally check out, things that would take you to new parts of the city- you’ll certainly have different conversations and meet new folks as a result. I found it’s not just about personal wandering to see new things, a big part of it is the people you’ll find who can guide you.

    Happy adventures in SF!

    1. I definitely left out the critical people piece. I’ve been spending my first week reaching out to friends and friends-of-friends for dinners and such, and it’s made all the difference in terms of not feeling lonely. But I like how you phrase things here, about finding your way into new circles and fields (and places, as a byproduct). Thanks!

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