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Moving Solo to a New City at 23

Five things I learned by relocating myself to Amsterdam.

By Leona Françoise CaanenPublished 11 months ago 8 min read
Keizersgracht, Amsterdam. Image credit: Leona Françoise Caanen.

What Amsterdam is like

Living in Amsterdam is quite dreamy. Of course the city has some harsh realities (try finding housing without connections… borderline impossible), but, it truly is a fantastic place to live as someone in their 20s. There's always something to do for those who are social butterflies, and there's plenty of quiet and green space for those who prefer to spend time alone. The city is filled with cute cafés, great (vegan) restaurants, and, probably my favourite part, the international community is incredibly welcoming.

Of course Amsterdam, like any other capital city, can be swarmed by tourists who either come for the city's history or it's leniency towards different kinds of pleasures and substances. Yet no matter what you come to Amsterdam for, as a tourist, to work, to study, or just because, you're guaranteed to have a good time - the city has something for everyone.

Why I moved

In February (2022) I decided to alter the course of my life and move to Amsterdam. While my roots are Dutch, which has somewhat facilitated the process of integrating, I haven't actually lived here since I was 10. As a remote-working 23 year old who had been living with her family the last two years during the pandemic, I was eager for a change. Having an acquaintance (now good friend) in the city who hooked me up with a place to live, I decided to embark on this new adventure. I had no idea what it would be like to live in the Netherlands again, mentally preparing myself to only stay a year and then move or travel somewhere new.

Within a week of living here I was already convinced to stay longer than a year. Something about the city's energy and this little cocoon in my room of which I was making a home made me feel grounded in myself. I think the courage of going on this adventure alone only added to this feeling.

The reason I moved to Amsterdam, besides having the fortune of working remotely as long as I have my laptop, phone and a decent internet connection, was to taste life. I've been brought up internationally ever since I left the Netherlands and this instilled a desire for adventure in me. I wanted to go out and explore, meet new people, travel and write about all that I was experiencing. The small Caribbean island I was living on had served its purpose - being with my family during a strange time in the world - but now it was time for me to leave the nest once again.

I was off to Amsterdam

Five things I've learned from moving somewhere on my own

Moving somewhere new and alone comes with it's fair share of challenges. You have to learn to navigate the city and it's ways, learn to take good care of yourself, have the courage to put yourself out there in friendship and in love, and maybe, most scary of all, you have to dare to create a home by yourself. Doing that requires a certain level of self-believe and self-love - two things that aren't always easy.

There are also many exciting things about moving somewhere by yourself and truthfully I don't think the challenges and the adventure can exist without one another - all of it makes the ride interesting and will inevitably shape you into understanding and creating yourself.

1. Making the city my own

Becoming familiar with the city you're living in feels like a must, but also as something that can make or break your relationship with it. Considering Amsterdam is quite the bike-oriented city, it helps to know the street names. Luckily the more you cycle around the easier this becomes. Orienting myself in the city is much easier now that I walk or cycle everywhere.

I've also made it a point to spend time going to cafés or museums by myself and getting to know which places I like to sit by myself - whether with a book or to write, or simply to people watch. There's something very grounding in being able to enjoy going out and about into the city by yourself - it really starts to feel like you have your place in the busy city dynamic.

2. Making friends "from scratch"

No one tells you how intimidating it is to make friends when you're new to a city. If you're fortunate you have an infrastructure that allows you to meet people more easily, like work or university. The end result is that you'll have to simply put yourself out there - strike up a conversation with someone nice, find events through MeetUp, or see if you have any friend-of-friends that you can link up with and through whom you can meet people.

I put myself out there, met friends through other friends, asked semi-strangers for coffee, and dared to show up to events alone, like I did with football, through which I now have a few new friends. At the end of the day you'll find most people are kind-hearted and open to helping you or connecting with you on your journey.

3. Administrative stuff

Getting a bike, organising your health care, insurance, budgeting groceries and other expenses. It's figuring out how to make time for errands and for administrative things that need to get done, even when you don't feel like taking time out of your day to do so. Most organisational activities require a lot of waiting around, making it feel like you're wasting your time.

Yet maybe most scary of all, is being prepared for everything to go to shit. It usually doesn't, especially not if you're taking good care of yourself, but life is unexpected and you never know what challenges and learning opportunities it will throw on your path. Better to be prepared than to be blind sided by life's crazy roller coaster. It makes dealing with the consequences of your actions a little easier in the long run.

4. How to take care of myself

Living alone anywhere demands you to take care of yourself - to know when to go out or when to stay home, to exercise or to rest, to eat healthy or to enjoy something you've been craving. When you move to a new city it can be hard to keep this balance. Trying to make friends and getting to know the city can easily result into a lot of eating out, staying up late, and completely depleting your social battery. It's important to know when to say no and when to take a moment for yourself.

Taking care of yourself in a new city is a balancing act of pushing yourself to go out there and create something that is all your own, and knowing when you need a breather, a quiet night in, or simply a home-cooked meal, made with love. It's figuring out this balance and not being too hard on yourself if the scales tip too much to one side or the other. Hector, from Hector and the Search for Happiness said something along the lines of "sometimes living a balanced live means being out of balance."

5. Trust the process

I tried not to have too many expectations or ideas about what it would be like to live in Amsterdam, but I did have a feeling that it would be a fun adventure. So far I haven't been wrong, although much has come in a very unexpected shape or form. Moving here, I was eager to simply experience life as a woman in her early twenties: go out with girlfriends on the weekend, dance the night away and maybe have a hook-up here and there. To spend my work-week divided between my two jobs: writing and consulting, and somewhere in between the fun, plan my next getaway.

Within a month of living here I found girlfriends who easily and quickly started to feel like family. The equal division I had wanted in my work was non-existent yet I managed to write and publish my second book while also being promoted in my consulting job. And then, most unexpected of all, instead of trying the hype of dating and swiping right or left, I fell head-over-heels in love.

Much didn't go as I thought or expected it would, and yet I couldn't be happier. I let myself be taken along on life's ride and in turn, it introduced me to people who's souls understand mine, to new adventures and experiences, to a healthy and heart-warming love, and new, bigger dreams for my own future and that which I'm hoping to share with others.

As I'm about to head back to the small Caribbean island for the holidays, I felt like it was a good time to reflect on what this exciting journey of the past months has been like. Moving somewhere new, without a support system or much else can feel overwhelming. But doing it and somehow managing your way through the adventure feels incredibly rewarding. As if you can feel yourself grow the more you put yourself out there and the more you listen to yourself. I can comfortably say that I've really gotten to know myself and truly enjoy who I am becoming, no matter the unexpected hardships and adventures.

I cannot wait to see what another year in this city holds - yet I know no matter what it brings, it is a home I have crafted and moulded for myself.

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About the Creator

Leona Françoise Caanen

2x published author. World-traveller. 25-year-old, living in Amsterdam. I love to write about the things that really matter, but I also, occasionally, enjoy challenging myself with something that is more out of my comfort zone.

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