Remote Year: Switching Cities & Settling In

Bows & Sequins sitting on her computer in a nap cubby at Comunal Coworking in Lima, Peru. Her leather slides are on the ground and she's typing on her gold MacBook on her lap, wearing a Sail to Sable cashmere cardigan, white tee by Mott & Bow, and cropped jeans with a raw hem from Old Navy.

As I was in my bathroom getting ready for bed on Sunday night (you know the drill… nighttime skincare routine, flossing, examining my pores, roots, and unruly eyebrows, etc), I yelled out to Arielle in her bedroom about how much more ready I feel for this upcoming month here in Bogota. (Living with me is a real treat, I’m sure. 😂) But in all seriousness, I got to thinking about why…  Why were my Sunday Scaries not as bad? (And if you’ve ever done Remote Year, you know that the first Sunday night in a new city is like your usual Sunday Scaries x10.) What did I do this weekend that made me feel more settled? Did I do anything last week that helped make this transition smoother? How can I make sure to repeat this in coming months?

As you know from this post earlier this week, our second city was a hard one for me. (Overall, the good definitely outweighed the challenges, but said challenges were roughhhh.) The month started off rocky and I felt like I just couldn’t get my footing for the rest of the month. (Read the full post for more details on all of that!) A lot of it was out of my control, sure, but as someone who thrives with routine and structure, I know there are definitely things that make me feel more at home and help me get settled faster.

It’s funny, I’ve been trying to write a post about Remote Year transition days for the last two or three weeks. (Pretty much since I got to Medellin in early October!) And to be honest, it just wasn’t working… the post felt blah, and my manager, Ray, (who also happens to be an author, nbd) said it didn’t really sound like my writing. And he was right… I saw it, too. So I’ve just been sitting on it, waiting for the words to flow. And as I was brushing my teeth on Sunday night – it hit me. No wonder I couldn’t naturally speak to switching cities with ease, as I wasn’t necessarily following all of my own advice. I’ve been experimenting with my tips for getting settled in a new city for as long as I’ve been traveling, well before I ever came on Remote Year. And now that I’ve been on this adventure for 2+ months, I’ve definitely been refining my tried-and-true list of tricks that make me feel at home much more quickly! With a very successful transition weekend now under my belt, I feel like I can speak to all of this so much better, and so much more authentically. Even if you aren’t planning on doing a Remote Year program, keep reading – these tips for getting settled can definitely be applied to regular travel, too!

First things first… Your flight. While getting up early isn’t always fun, getting to my destination as early as I can is always preferred. If it’s possible, I would so much rather get in when it’s light out versus when it’s dark. Simply being able to see my surroundings makes me feel so much more familiar! I’ve come to realize that it really does make a big difference, for me at least.

On the Remote Year front… Transition days can be fun, but they can also be long, depending on where you’re going or if you get a bad stroke of travel luck! Although the flight from Lima to Medellin was not that long (~3 hours), we unfortunately got pegged with a cancelled flight and another delayed flight so I didn’t end up arriving to my apartment in Medellin until 8pm or so. Whereas here in Bogota, the flight from Medellin was less than an hour (and went off without a hitch!), so I was at my new apartment around noon!

On “Transition Days,” everything from start-to-finish is taken care of by Remote Year. When we were leaving Lima, a van picked me up from my apartment and got me to the airport, and when we landed in Medellin, a van was waiting to pick us up at baggage claim to take us to our new apartments! Last week, I got an email outlining all of our travel info for this past weekend – what time I was getting picked up on Saturday morning, our flight confirmations for MDE to BOG, our airline’s baggage policies, our new addresses and work space info in Bogota, etc. And I gotta say… it’s pretty damn nice not having to figure out or organize anything!

When I got dropped off at my apartment that first night in Medellin, I got my keys, my SIM card for the new country, and a little slip of paper with my full address written out. And it was the same song and dance here in Bogota this past weekend! I didn’t have to worry about a single thing. (Side Note: Addresses are so dang confusing here in Colombia… I’ll explain that in my “things to know before you go” post in the next few weeks.)

My next piece of advice — Unpack. No matter if it’s a hotel or an apartment, or if I’m staying three days or thirty, I completely unpack. Meaning, I remove every single item in my suitcase, as soon as I get to my accommodations. Clothes get hung, workout clothes folded on a shelf, other things put in drawers, shoes lined up, bedside table gets looking cute… I get organized first thing and find everything a new home in my apartment, as it really helps me feel more settled. Plus, it’s so nice not to feel like I’m living out of suitcase! (Before starting this journey, I really had no idea what to expect in terms of bedrooms and closets, but I’ve been very pleasantly surprised with my closet spaces so far in Lima, Medellin, and Bogota! It’s felt so good to have everything hung up and organized.)

Same goes for my bathroom and toiletries! There’s nothing I hate more than digging around through a bag… Seriously, it’s my biggest pet peeve*. I prefer to have everything out (or in a drawer or medicine cabinet) so I can find it and use it easily! I had a cupboard under my sink in my apartment in Medellin, and have lots of storage space in my bathroom here in Bogota, and it’s been so nice to spread out. It’s kind of crazy how the little things that you’re used to taking for granted make such an impact, isn’t it?

*Another side note: When I’m doing my makeup when I don’t have much counter space (even in Chicago!), I put a towel down in my sink and dump everything out of my makeup bag so I don’t have to dig around, haha. I swear it saves time and then I put everything away as I use it! Someone recently saw me do this and was kind of amazed by this “life hack” when you don’t have much counter space, so I figured I’d share, JIC.

Get Acquainted — What does that look like? On our first Sunday in Medellin, we all met for our City Orientation at our new workspace, Selina. We met our Medellin Operations Manager, Juan, and our Medellin Experience Manager, Ana. We went over so much of what you need to know for a comfortable month in Medellin – toured our new workspace, addressed safety concerns and best practices, mapped out the nearest grocery stores, you name it.

When we got to Bogota on Saturday, we had a few hours to get settled in our apartment before meeting our new Experience Manager, Cata, at our new office space, WeWork. We learned about our neighborhood, got recommendations for cafes and weekend festivities, and had the opportunity to ask any and all questions to help us start the month off on the right foot. Since we got in to Bogota so early on Saturday, we got to do our orientation on the same day, which I thought was so beneficial! That’s not always the case with travel schedules and the distance that you’re traveling, but it was much appreciated this month.

You know I’ve traveled so much on my own (you can read more about that here!), but it’s been such a nice change of pace letting someone else handle everything! Such a time saver, too… I haven’t had to spend hours scouring Airbnb, haven’t had to book any flights, haven’t had to find a reliable place to work, haven’t had to do as much research before getting to a city, haven’t had to handle any of those tedious details. Which leaves me with a lot more time both before and after I get to a new city.

Next up… Get outside and get a workout in, if you can! Depending on the time of day, the first thing I do once I get unpacked is get outside. Plus, exercising and being active is a sure-fire way to beat jet-lag! If it’s daytime, I like to wander around on foot to get the lay of the land around my apartment, hotel, or Airbnb. If it’s dark out, I’ll try to do this first thing the next morning! For whatever reason, knowing my surroundings, what’s in the area, and where things are makes me feel so much more settled. If you’re a runner, go for a run to explore the area! Or if you have access to a bike, roll around.

Another plus side to getting out on foot is also finding my quick “go-to” spots. Where’s the nearest coffee shop? Any restaurants that look cute that I should add to my list? And let’s be honest… Any cute backdrops for Instagram outfit posts? You get the idea.

And finally, let’s talk about the pre-work that I always do before I get to a city! As mentioned, when you’re on Remote Year, you basically have to do nothing before you get to a new city. No accommodation scouting, no neighborhood researching, no logistics what-so-ever. Which leaves me so much more time to do the research that I actually enjoy doing!

Before I get to a city, I always start making “my map!” I’ve been making city maps using Google’s “My Maps” feature for the last 3.5 years whenever I travel, and it’s honestly been such a game changer. You can pull these maps up on your Google Maps app, so if you’re ever out wandering around without a plan, you can see if any of your hotspots or recommended places are nearby. And it always helps me plan out my days when I can visually see different areas and the stops I want to make! From my experience, uou can maximize your time much better by exploring one neighborhood or area at a time.

Whenever I start my city research, I start a new map to catalog recommendations. (I have maps started for places that I have no immediate plans to visit, and I’m always adding to my old maps for cities that I’ve visited already in case I ever go back. For example, if I see an awesome spot on Instagram or am reading an article that mentions a specific place, I add it to the map.) I’m a very visual person, so it’s so much easier to see everything on one custom map, versus using excel, Google docs, etc. I mark my apartment and work space, along with coffee shops, restaurants, stores, cafes, and workout studios that I want to try. I color-code everything by category so it’s super easy to read! You can also add notes about each place that you add to your map. Plus, spending so much time on the city map before I get to that city really does help me get familiar with the area. Then, once I’m in a city and crossing places off of my list, I change the color of the pin to grey. (Don’t forget you can download the custom maps to your phone to use on the Google Maps app!)

Side note #145: I’ve made some of my maps public before, like this one for the Amalfi Coast, so you’re able to download it to your phone when you’re traveling. LMK if that’s something you’d like to see more of!

In terms of what else I did and didn’t do this past weekend… I didn’t go out on Saturday night. Our group was about split in half — half of us stayed in, and half of the group went out to our welcome party. I was exhausted from a busy last week in Medellin so my roommate and I decided to order pizza and watch The Help. (Such a good movie!) Then on Sunday morning, we got up and checked out a spin studio, Cyglo*. (Which we absolutely loved!) And it’s so close to our apartment, about a 5 minute walk. Yaaas! 🙌🏼

PS: A random little note on finding Cyglo that further exemplifies everything I’ve been trying to get across here… As I was doing my fun research the week before we got to Bogota, I came across Cyglo and thought it seemed awesome, and similar to SoulCycle. I saw they happened to be doing a Halloween promo that was a full month unlimited for just under $100 USD. So instead of calling the studio and trying to speak (and understand) Spanish to get the deets, I just messaged Cata, our experience lead here in Bogotá. She confirmed that Cyglo is awesome and called to get all of the info I needed and reported back.

PPS: If you’re ever in Bogota (or Medellin, they have a studio there that I didn’t know about!), you have to check out Cyglo! I’ve gone every day so far and it’s amazing. Much like SoulCycle, they’re super helpful to get you set up on your first visit and one of the girls at the desk at the location by me speaks English, too. The environment is super friendly and very clean and modern, shoe rentals are included in your class price, they have showers, and they usually have dogs in the lobby. 😍 (Customers literally leave their dogs with the studio staff during the class their taking so it’s fun seeing the little dogs run around.)

Anyway, back to the subject at hand — I’d love to know some of your tips and tricks for settling in and feeling at home in a new city!

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  1. 11.8.18
    Lyss said:

    Yes yes yes to getting more Google Maps! I would love to see a post on your process/google map hacks. I’ve used it for a few trips and they’ve been a lifesaver. I just feel like I haven’t played around enough to know the best way to use them (i.e. doing layers vs. color coding everything)

  2. 11.8.18

    SUCH a great post!! Thank you for sharing these tips, they’re so helpful. I’m a total advocate for unpacking asap when I land somewhere new, I really think it makes such a huge difference to how settled I feel!!

    Rebecca |

  3. 11.8.18
    Rena said:

    I’m doing absolutely the same as you: I always unpack – even my cosmetics! When this is done I go outside to discover the new area. Wonderful you felt this time much better.
    xx from Bavaria/Germany, Rena

  4. 11.9.18
    Tracy said:

    Yesssssss on the Google Maps!!! Such an awesome idea – would love to know the color coordination you do, etc. Plus…if you could “dumb it down” a bit as far as how to download your map, how you were able to name it and keep one map separate than others, etc. I travel a lot in the Midwest and would love to have this!!

    Ps – I’m loving going through your travels and journey with you…you’re doing a great job!

  5. 11.9.18
    Jill said:

    Please do a map for Mexico City. I can’t wait to see what you have to say about it. I want to do there SO BAD, but admit I am a little afraid to go alone.

  6. 11.16.18
    Laura said:

    Amazing tips! I can’t believe how much you’re packing in to this time. No wonder you’ve had some exhausted moments!

  7. 12.3.18
    Carla said:

    This was super helpful and I plan on doing a ton of traveling come the new year so I love the Google maps idea!