When I found out I’d been accepted for a film internship with the American Film Institute’s Directing Workshop for Women over the summer in Los Angeles, California, I was excited… and scared. But mostly scared. Because I didn’t know anyone in L.A., and I had never been there. I didn’t even know what the time difference was between North Carolina and California. (I have since figured that much out.) I’m from a very small town, and while I’ve been lucky enough to do my fair share of traveling, I’ve never actually moved to a completely new city by myself. I was intimidated, and I knew I was going to have to get a little uncomfortable if I was going to have a worthwhile summer.
The internship turned out to be a great experience, but it wasn’t an easy one. Rather than sitting at a desk and working normal hours, I worked as a production assistant on a number of short films throughout the summer. I got to meet celebrities, walk the red carpet, and indulge in luxuries I’ve hardly dreamed of. Some days, I was so busy that I barely had time to eat or shower, but there were other times — one week to two week long times, even — when I had nothing at all to do for my internship. If I wanted to do something, it was up to me to find it.
For recent college graduates and young adults especially, moving to a new city alone doesn’t seem so out of the question. We’ll be forced to go wherever our job offers take us, whether we have friends or family in those places or not. So whether you’re moving to a new city for a job or simply contemplating a solo trip to help you “find yourself,” here’s what I learned from my summer of solitude.
Don’t be afraid to be alone:
One of the hardest things for most people is simply being by themselves. At home, I go to movies by myself all the time, and most of my friends think it’s crazy. In L.A., I had to do more than go to the movies. Because I didn’t know anyone and I lived by myself, I had to do nearly everything by myself. At least at first. And it was amazing. Sure, there were times when I ached for a friend to crack a joke to or share a moment with, but exploring a new place on my own turned out to be a freeing, fulfilling experience, one that everyone should be more open to. I found myself talking to strangers more, making friends more easily, and feeling more and more empowered. Of course you should keep your safety your top priority, but don’t be afraid to do things by yourself that you might not normally do. Go to museums. Rent a bike and cruise down the beach. Go buy and enjoy a burrito even though you’d already had dinner.
Forget about what people might think:
When I asked one of my close friends why she didn’t like going out by herself, she told me that she “didn’t like the way people judged her.” While it’s easy to feel as if people are staring at you when you ask for a table for one, it’s more likely that no one’s even noticed. People are busy enough with their own lives to make judgments on yours. Besides, who cares what they think anyway? Bring a book to the restaurant. Bring a notebook and work on a short story you’ve been meaning to write. I too felt uncomfortable the first time I took myself out to dinner alone, but after a few trips, I started feeling more comfortable. Instead of feeling as if people were judging me when I walked into a restaurant by myself, I started to feel important and brave. There’s so much value in learning to enjoy your own company, and spending a summer alone is a wonderful way to do it.
A big part of my trip this summer was focused on networking. I’m considering moving to L.A. after graduation next year, and if I want to jump into the entertainment business, I’m going to need to have some contacts lined up. Before I left, I asked just about everyone I knew if they had any friends in L.A. Most of them did, and most of them didn’t mind passing along contact information. Then came the tough part: getting up the courage to actually contact and meet with people. It wasn’t easy, but I found that every person I reached out to was friendly and willing to sit down and chat with me. Through these meetings, I made new friends, trusty professional contacts, and learned a lot about L.A. and working in the entertainment industry. Amanda Palmer, a singer and writer, talks a lot about the “art of asking.” Most people, Palmer says, are willing to do a lot to help you if you simply take the time to ask for help. I’ve found this to be true, and there’s no better time than when moving by yourself to a new city to learn the art of asking. The worst thing you can get is a no. You’ve got everything to gain.
Step out of your comfort zone:
Some of my favorite moments of the summer came from doing things that I normally wouldn’t do. I went hiking often. At home, you would rarely find me outside, but hiking in L.A. proved to be a great way to stay in shape and see gorgeous views of the city. Just because you don’t enjoy something at home, doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy it somewhere else. Give things a chance, even if you have your doubts. (Except for big loud dance clubs. I’ve found that those suck everywhere.)
Do your research:
Before moving to a new city or setting out on a big trip, make sure you know a little about the place you’re going. Obviously there’s no need to do extensive research (unless you’re just that excited), but a little prior knowledge goes a long way. Is the city you’re visiting known for its wine? Schedule a wine tasting. Maybe the best view of the Hollywood sign requires parking in a lot that fills up by 8 a.m. Know what you’re getting into in order to have the best experience possible. Also, download Yelp. That might be my number one piece of advice, actually. Yelp is going to be your whole life in a new city. Research your meals. Go to weird little hipster cafes where people post rave reviews. It’ll make a world of difference.
Make an effort to make friends:
Just because you start out on your journey alone, doesn’t mean you have to stay that way. Though it might seem impossible to walk up to someone in public and start a conversation that could lead to actual friendship, we live in a beautiful age of technology that means you don’t have to do that. There are countless apps that offer ways to meet people. (I’ll include a list of a few I’ve used!) There’s also a lot of promise on Facebook groups and even threads on Reddit. One of the best things about being a recent college graduate or young adult traveling alone is the fact that there are others like you — plenty of them! You’re not so alone at all when you realize that most people want to make friends with you also, and when you make even the smallest amount of effort, you’ll find yourself with a reliable friend group in no time.
There will be days when you just want to sit in your apartment for hours binge-watching Futurama, feeling inexplicably sorry for yourself, and ordering embarrassing amounts of takeout. I know. I’ve been there. Those days are fine, valuable and sometimes necessary, even. But don’t let yourself get stuck in a rut. Remember why you ventured out by yourself in the first place. You’re not there to sit around wasting time. You’re there to have a good time. To learn about a new place and yourself. Above all else, do things that are going to make you happy. That’s the most important thing in the end.
Some apps I used to meet people in L.A., and some that I’ve heard good things about:
- Meetup – http://www.meetup.com/
- Nearify – http://www.nearify.com/
- Supper Club – https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/supper-club-app/id732081898?mt=8
- City Socializer – https://www.citysocializer.com/new-york/meet-people#
My summer in L.A. was a lesson in learning to enjoy my own company. I made great new friends, had amazing experiences, both with other people and by myself, and found new ways to challenge myself and explore the world around me. I wouldn’t trade it for a thing, and I hope you’ll allow yourself to step away from where you feel comfortable and find your own special experiences. I wish you nothing but luck.