Solo in an Unknown City

Abroad or not, moving to a new city on your own can be a daunting prospect. Especially in the post-university years. Suddenly the friends that were in the next room, next house or next street are flung across the country – or globe – and it can be quite an adjustment.

There are a few ways of dealing with this. For me spending weekends visiting people, or having them visit me, was the best – but of course this costs money on train or plane tickets. However, it’s great to have places to stay in new cities (or countries) as well as seeing your friends. The other would be Skype evenings (good WiFi is vital when I move to a new place) and while impromptu is always nice, it’s also good to plan these with a quick message checking when your friends are free. You can make it more of an evening by both agreeing to have a glass of red wine, or dinner, or simultaneously watch a film.

Living abroad, I think, can emphasise the difficulties of moving alone to a new city. I want to try new things and, of course, I want to vaguely fit in. I am eating Italian food, which I do love, trying to train my quiet voice to speak louder, trying to study and listen to Italian every evening, to drink espresso and so many more little things. Fitting in, trying new things and conversing in ways people will understand (and hear!) is important and fantastic when living abroad, however I think it is important to remember that you are living there, you are not a tourist. Therefore it’s okay to hang onto a few things that you know and love, and not lose yourself completely (though this is probably just stubbornness on my part). For instance, I have tried espressos but I prefer cappuccinos and americanos so one Friday morning I set off early to work to track down the only american-style coffee in Naples (giant cup – Italian coffee, perfect). Two months and I could still eat pizza and pasta every day with ease, however I do try to vary it with the odd stir fry. I  am trying to read in Italian (kids books! And comics) however with dinner, or days that I need it, I am reading Good Omens or Jane Austen because while I am trying to learn, I am not going to stop relaxing by reading the books I love.

Another aspect of this is being a woman alone in a new city. I would be very happy to hear about the perspective of others on experiencing a new city, however with my limited world-view (in the female corporeal form) I am afraid I can only give this perspective – and there are a few things I’ve noticed.

First – I spent more money on a private room at the hostel I was in. Stressed and in a new city – with a suitcase I was not sure would fit in a locker – I did not want the added unease of worrying over my potential room mates, especially as I was in the hostel indefinitely while I looked for a room. If someone was a bit odd towards me… well there was no one I knew around (yet). A new – male – colleague mentioned a few times how much they enjoyed their first month in a shared dorm in a hostel while they were room hunting. I haven’t had the heart to mention why I did not find the prospect so great (not that I wouldn’t stay in a shared dorm in future, it’s a great way for affordable travelling and most times a lot of fun).

Second would be my first night trying to get to a restaurant at 10pm at night after very little sleep. I ended up being overcharged (of course) for a taxi as both family and new colleagues insisted it was the best way, despite the simple route I had found on Google Maps. New to the city, I thought it was right to take their advice (and still do). However, having lived here for a couple of months, and knowing how simple  and short the route is, I would now definitely walk.

Leading on from this, the comments from family to gauge the safety of the city, did I see women walking alone? Did it feel safe? Was it busy? While good things to consider and good advice, it needs a caveat – nothing is your fault. Be careful, however never is any unwanted attention your fault. Never, ever. I know this, however in the kind calls to be careful from worried family and friends – sometimes I felt that this important message was lost.

This has all been very negative and so, fourth, all the friendliness I have met with as a new person in the city. People are so eager to tell me about Naples, speak to me in English or patiently wait while I attempt Italian, invite me to meet friends and for drinks or dinner. I have wondered a few times whether someone back home would get as friendly a reception, especially struggling with English. I hope so. Also, as a counter to my previous depressing points, being a smiley woman means I think that I am perhaps more approachable, by colleagues and just general strangers, so I think this has helped me make friends which is important when somewhere new.

For further reading, this is a post that I read a while ago but it has stuck with me. It is about another person’s experiences in Italy, and I’d definitely recommend reading it (and the blog in general).

Good luck if you are currently moving to a new city, and don’t forget to enjoy whatever city you are in – there is always something touristy to do! Feel free to leave some solo city living advice in the comments, I’m sure I could use some.



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