3 Ways to Feel at Home in a New City

3 Ways to Feel at Home in a New City

 

I read somewhere that you can literally die of homesickness. Isn’t that crazy? Well, I’ve been here for two months and I can say with confidence that I haven’t died yet. You know why? Because I’ve found a few simple, active ways to cope with being in an unfamiliar place. Of course this extends beyond the obvious, “get a job” and “make new friends.” Spoiler alert: making friends is much harder as a grown-ass adult. No, I’m talking about stuff you have control over and you can do right now. 

Three Ways to Feel at Home in New Place 

1. Find a coffee shop 

I never liked working at home. I spent a lot of time writing in cafes. I just think better outside my own home. So it was important to find one as soon as I got to San Antonio. When I’m looking for a new coffee shop, it must meet the following requirements:

It must be five miles away or less and easy to get to (no crazy highway shenanigans)

It must be inviting

This means I feel comfortable spending time there. I can’t feel like the employees are judging me for going to this cafe three days in a row. 

 They must have free tea refills

 I’m a tea-addict and I chain-drink tea when I’m concentrating. I’d be broke if I had to pay for each glass

It must be the kind of place where people spend time on their computers

 I can’t be only one “loitering” (as Nick calls it) on my computer for hours on end.  So not like a Whataburger. Sorry, I’m not that rogue!

img_1571
Bird Bakery (totally a favorite, but not close enough to home to make the cut)

Have I found this place yet? Well, I’m working on it. I have three contenders and I’ve been rotating which one I go to each week.  While I haven’t singled out one, at least now I have three places where I feel comfortable going to write.

2. Find a default favorite restaurant 

A default restaurant is essential. A place where I can slip into a booth and don’t even have to pick up a menu because I already know what I want. Life is crazy sometimes and I don’t want to think. I just want to sit and eat. In Savannah, that place was Wang’s II, a Chinese restaurant I’ve been going to since I was 12 years old. It was my dining room away from home. In San Antonio, that place is Whiskey Cake. It’s a farm to table place with a 1930’s industrial flair. I love it because it reminds me of Savannah. Locally sourced food is very big and Savannah, so I go to Whiskey Cake when I miss Savannah food. They have the yummiest salads. One has a fried poached egg on it. Need I say more?  And the whiskey cake is hands-down the BEST restaurant dessert that I’ve ever eaten.  It’s hard to feel homesick when you’re stuffing your face with cake. 

img_1865-2
Warm Kale Salad at Whiskey Cake.

3. Find a yoga studio/fitness class/church  

My mom is a retired military wife. One of the first pieces of advice she gave me when I moved was “Find a church.” Church isn’t for everyone, but I understand what she meant. She meant: find a community of like-minded people. For me, that means finding a yoga studio. When I lived in Savannah, I practiced Yoga 3-4 times a week. It was my stress release. It was something to ground me during my stressful workload. It was a safe space. 

In San Antonio, there are so many yoga studios it’s downright daunting. I’ve narrowed it down to two in my general neighborhood and I’ve tried one so far. While I’m not positive Half-Moon Power Yoga is going to be MY go-to yoga studio (only because they don’t have a shower and I’m totally spoiled from Savannah Power Yoga), it was welcoming and I got to talk about yoga with other yogis again. I still plan to try Southtown Yoga Loft and I’ll then I’ll be back to Half-Moon.

But here’s something I’ve had to come to terms with in the past couple weeks: I’m not going to find a yoga studio that is just like the one I left behind. It’s just not going to happen. For example, I practiced Baptiste yoga exclusively in Savannah. In San Antonio, I’m finding that very few of the studios are exclusive like that. You know what that means? I’m having to try something different. It’s a little scary at first but it kind of feels amazing. I’ve been going to this lunchtime class and it’s a slower flow than the Baptiste I’m used to. And they call different poses than I’m used to. So it’s not Savannah Power Yoga, but it still made me feel relaxed and centered at the end. And that’s kind of why I love yoga. It didn’t matter who the teacher was or where I was. It just mattered that I was on my mat. That part still felt like home. 

Maybe yoga isn’t your thing. Maybe it’s CrossFit or maybe it’s Jesus. The point I’m trying to make here is: find a group of people that have the same interests as you. It doesn’t matter if you’re from different cities. Yoga is a universal language. So is Jesus. Find a commonality with people in your new city and you’ll feel more at home. I promise. 

Isn’t there an easier way? I don’t want to leave my house 

Another way to feel more at home in a new city is the “fake it till you make it” approach. In Texas that means you wear cowgirl boots everywhere you go. Casually name-drop popular Tex Mex restaurants in conversations with strangers. Boy, will you have them fooled! But of course the problem with that is that you’ll know you’re faking it. You’re the one who is still going to wake up in the morning and feel homesick. Even if you slept in a Texas t-shirt the night before. It just doesn’t work, trust me.  It’s much better to find real, sustainable ways to make yourself feel more at home. For me, that’s finding safe spaces. Places I can go that, while new, feel at least a tiny bit familiar. 

San Antonio, TX: A vast, hungry, and unknowable city.

San Antonio, TX: A vast, hungry, and unknowable city.

The city of San Antonio is a set of Russian dolls. Only in reverse. The further you go, the bigger everything seems to get. I’ve been here for two months and I’m surrounded by Targets and Super Targets. Strip malls unroll along the sides of the freeways like a runaway spool of ribbon. The Official Grocery Store of Texas seems to be the HEB as they are ubiquitous. If you haven’t been lucky enough to encounter one, an HEB is a mix between a Kroger and an Ingles for you fellow east-coasters.

HEB is a San Antonio landscape staple. Don’t worry if you miss your turn on the way to HEB, there’ll likely be another in two traffic lights. And if two HEBs within 6 miles isn’t enough, there’s the mecca of grocery goods: The HEB Plus! The only thing differentiating them from the regular HEB is the promise of more excitement. Hence the exclamation mark. They say everything is bigger in Texas but so far I can only tell that everyone is hungrier. Texans are consumers. They gotta get the stuff. Every neighborhood in San Antonio gets its own Starbucks, HEB, and a select variety of shops and restaurants: A Taco Cabana, Whataburger, token chain Italian restaurant, and maybe a Barnes and Noble or an Ulta if you’re lucky.

This is an occurrence you won’t find in Savannah. If you want to go the Barnes and Noble, you drive to the side town where there’s a Barnes and Noble. You go to the goods. Not the other way around. Why is it different in San Antonio?

It’s probably because of the roads. After living in San Antonio for one month, I finally got up the courage to drive on I-10. Of course there are about a half a dozen other freeways looping and snaking over and under this major highway. In fact, if you punch the “avoid highways” option into Maps on iPhone, it’s going to get very confused. The highways are the arteries of this city. They’re all connected. If you don’t take a highway you’re basically telling Maps that you want the best route via hot air balloon or Ostrich-back. Trust me, if those were actual transportation options, I’d take one. Because you will have a near death experience every time you get on I-10.

I drive a tiny Honda Civic that can barely accelerate to 70 mph without hesitation. Everyone else in the surrounding lanes? They’re driving Monster Trucks. And they like to drive them aggressively.

img_9382

Since taking up driving in this city (it truly is unavoidable if you’re employed), I’ve had this overwhelming sense that I could die in this city. On a highway specifically. Granted, I’ve come to terms with my own mortality before. But not on a daily basis. It’s peak rush hour and I get a Starbucks craving. Do I go? Is it worth the risk? Do I really want to die today in the pursuit of a Venti sized beverage? Maybe it’s time to start drawing up a will.

I know San Antonio isn’t as overwhelming as I can make it sound…But it really is. I try to think back when I first moved to Savannah as a preteen. Did Savannah feel so strange? How did I get to know it so well? How do I know all the shortcuts? Where to eat on a Friday night.  Where to get my haircut. Where to take out-of- town guests for touristy fun. I don’t know how I know all this stuff about Savannah. I just do.

I want to wake up one morning and know all of this about San Antonio, too but I feel like I’m on a bad speed-date. And it’s been like 15 years since I’ve been on a date.  I’m grasping at straws. Whenever I pass a rack of San Antonio magazines and food guides at HEB, I’m always tempted to grab a whole stack. I feel like I need to study up. I need to learn everything I can and then maybe I can rid myself of this Dorothy-in-Oz feeling I’ve had since the second I got here.

But I know it’s not that simple. You can’t just read magazines on a city and expect to understand it, just like you can’t just read someone’s dating profile and suddenly know their whole life story. You should just be there. Explore as much as you can. Even if you accidentally get lost or almost die on the freeway. I’m sure if I keep doing that I’ll eventually find San Antonio. And suddenly, it won’t seem nearly as big as I thought it was.