10 apartments that I’ve held my breath and crossed my fingers walking into, because I’ve had no idea what to expect.
10 locks that I’ve had to learn how to jiggle just so, so that I don’t wind up sleeping on the floor outside my door.
10 of the most uncomfortable sets of pillows I’ve ever had to deal with in my life.
10 closets without enough hangers.
8 different air conditioners that may or may not shoot out black smoke when you turn them on (… two of the apartments didn’t have them.).
10 WiFi networks that my computer has eventually figured out how to “join automatically.”
10 bathroom sinks with nowhere to put my 15-step skincare routine (if you know me, you know this is a biggie).
10 shower heads that drip instead of flow.
10 washing machines that I’ve had to learn how to use with directions in languages that I don’t understand.
10 different times that I’ve had to figure out where to get coffee, groceries and tampons.
10 different “first nights” that I’ve fallen asleep in a new bed for the first time and wondered, “will this ever feel like home?”
The first 24 hours in a new city are always exhilarating and overwhelming. It’s like just when I’ve started to figure everything out (aka when I stop getting lost on the way to work and the baristas and security guards start to know my name) my entire life is uprooted. “Living” in a place for a month is different than “traveling” to it: there’s no “concierge” button to press when you need advice on something. Think about all of the routine things you have to do on a daily, weekly or monthly basis—working, grocery shopping, cooking dinner, doing your laundry, going to the drugstore, working out, cleaning your apartment—and consider the fact that we (as in, remotes) have to do those things too. When we arrive in a new place, it’s like starting from scratch. We walk into our apartments after hours-long travel days with bated breath, figure out the WiFi password, go through the awkward “which room do you want” conversation with our roommates, then frantically attempt to get our shit together enough to make it out in time for dinner. It almost always turns into a wild night out to “get our bearings” (read: distract ourselves from the fact that we’re all a million miles outside of our comfort zones, again) that usually involves frantic Yelp searches and wandering around aimlessly until we find a bar that looks expat friendly.
Last night, my first in Córdoba (a small college town in Argentina, which I had never heard of until this year), I had a minor meltdown. I was exhausted from a 12 hour travel day (and, ok, a lot of wine the night before) and just wanted to curl up somewhere comfortable. The apartment I walked into, I quickly learned, was not going to be that place. It smelled like mold, and required the unlocking and re-locking to get into for “safety.” The comforter on my bed looked like something out of a bad horror movie set in a vacant motel, and the bed itself was so stiff that there was literally zero chance of my ever being able to fall asleep in it without downing three glasses of red wine first. So I went out to dinner, thinking it would help make me feel better, but then started to feel sick so I walked home by myself. Of course, because I had no idea where I was going and 1% battery on my phone, I got lost. SO there I was, in the rain, alone with a dead phone and no idea where I lived. It sucked.
My first night in Kuala Lumpur, I forgot to eat dinner, then walked four laps around my block before I realized I was directly in front of my apartment.
My first night in Ho Chi Minh City, we went to a restaurant where the most “normal” (I hate that word, but you know what I mean)things we could find on the menu were boiled squid and pig intestines. Plus, they didn’t have alcohol.
My first night in Phnom Penh, I cried myself to sleep to the sound of dogs fighting outside my window.
My first night in Belgrade, I got kicked out of a taxi because I couldn’t tell my driver where I lived.
My first night in Buenos Aires, I got locked out of my apartment and had to sleep with a friend.
You’d think that by the tenth time I’d be used to the idea of touching down in a city and immediately pressing “reset” on my life, but it still jolts me every time. I still wake up that first morning having to remind myself to take a deep breath, that it’s a new day and I will figure it out — usually faster than I think. To help manage the inevitable freakout, I’ve gotten into a sort of “Sunday arrival routine” that helps a little bit, and usually looks like this;
- Unpack immediately. Try not to freak out about the lack of storage space.
- Wake up, meditate, and write a list of “goals for the month” in my journal. Every month, these goals include “meditate more” and “be better about writing in your journal.
- Go for a long run through the city to get my bearings. This almost always turns into a slow walk in which I stop every three minutes to take a picture or make note of a place I want to eat at when I’m not “running”
- Go to the grocery store to buy cereal, almond milk and chickpeas; Wonder why it is so hard to find fresh produce everywhere besides Whole Foods.
- Go to the drugstore with a very specific list of toilet paper, body wash and paper towels. Almost always forget at least one of these things.
- Join the gym, where I will at least pretend to go 5 days a week for the rest of the month
- Go to the workspace and get a kickstart on “work” for the week, AKA spend three hours Googling “things to do in Córdoba” and scrolling through the city’s Instagram feed to see what looks cool
It isn’t perfect, and isn’t exactly the most *~*fun*~* way to get intro’d to a new place, but it helps me feel slightly less freaked out when I go to bed on night #2 than I did on night #1. And then, by the time night #7 rolls around, I don’t have to think as hard about where to go to pickup a bag of spinach or how to get my door unlocked. By night #15, I don’t have to stare at my Google Maps every time I want to go anywhere without getting lost. By night #21, I start to feel like I’ve actually managed to figure things out. And by night #30? It always does feel like home.
And then just like that, it’s wheels up and the first night all over again.