Living Alone in a Foreign City: what you need to know.

How to best prepare for your year abroad.

Before I went on my year abroad to Paris last year, I had never lived in a city.  Having been brought up in a small town, I had gone to school in a small town and then migrated to university in the even smaller town of St Andrews. So naturally, the prospect of living alone in Paris was slightly daunting.  An alien environment, with not only a foreign landscape but also a foreign language, is a fight or flight situation.  

So, with this in mind, I wanted to share my best pieces of wisdom and advice with those of you who are heading off on a year abroad or graduating and travelling to a new city for the first time.  It would be odd if you weren’t slightly anxious or uncertain of what to expect or how to prepare. I hope this helps some of you! 

  1. Paperwork galore 

There is no such thing as too much paperwork when it comes to moving abroad.  Particularly if you are moving to France, you can never have enough copies of important documents.  For example, some countries like you to have a copy of your driving licence to register for a phone contract, a written letter from a previous landlord when applying for a job or apartment-hunting, or three copies of your last electricity bill!  The general rule is that more is definitely more, so make sure to make multiple copies of absolutely everything. If you need some guidance around documentation, check out the FCO site where you’ll find 225 countries/territories listed, with some great advice around safety, entry requirements and much more. 

Photo: Pixabay

2.   Familiarise yourself

I know this might sound obvious but with our dear friend, the internet, you are now afforded the opportunity to become extremely familiar with where you are going to live before having even touched down at the airport.  Old-school as it may seem, it is also a good idea to buy a guidebook, to have some concrete advice on where is best for everything. The Lonely Planet books are my favourite and the Streetview function on Google Maps is a really useful tool to help you visualise your daily commute, Saturday jogs or Sunday strolls. 

3.   Safety First (…or third)

Your priority should be to appear as little like a tourist as possible, as in doing so you will become less of a target for pick-pockets or worse.  Try to avoid constantly looking at a map on your phone whilst walking, and try to walk with purpose too. If you find yourself lost, then stop in a safe place, or a café, and familiarise yourself with your route. As long as you appear to know where you are heading, you will blend in.  Furthermore, make sure to avoid taking public transport home alone after midnight or walking the streets late at night, for very obvious reasons. If you absolutely have to, always ensure that someone knows where you are and alert them when you have arrived home safely.  

4.   Home alone

Again, more common sense but something that is easily forgotten: make sure to close all windows before leaving your accommodation and ensure that doors are locked both when you are out but also when you are at home.  It’s really good to get into a habit of doing this and, above all, it will make you feel safer. 

Photo: Pixabay

5.   Making friends

Beyond paperwork and keeping yourself safe, making friends is arguably the hardest part of moving abroad.  The only real advice I can give is to put yourself out there.  I was lucky enough to find some friends who were doing the same job as me, but I also joined a choir and grabbed every opportunity to meet new people.  It is absolutely not easy – uprooting your life and moving to another country, but every new experience will improve your linguistic abilities and build your confidence.  It’s also worth remembering that you’re not alone! There will be lots of people just like you. There are some great networking sites such as MeetUp, which operate around the globe and host a number of different activities and groups to help you get out there. I thoroughly recommend it. 

I hope some of these tips have helped to appease any worries about moving abroad to a new and unknown foreign city.  For more advice or information feel free to contact me or visit https://travelaware.campaign.gov.uk/. 

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