Do you remember that 2009 movie with John Krasinski from The Office and Maya Rudolph from Saturday Night Live? She was pregnant and his parents suddenly decided to move overseas so they had no family tying them to where they lived. So they went on a roadtrip to all these different cities — where their friends lived, her sister, his brother and so on, trying to find their new home, testing each place to see if it fit.
In the end, they returned to her parents home, the empty house she had avoided since her parents died in her twenties. They would start their family here and make their own community. It would all be okay.
I saw this movie when I was pregnant with Cole and Drew and I have joked that we’ve since been on the world tour of “Away We Go” trying on different countries instead of cities, dabbling in new cultures instead of old relationships. We traveled to about two dozen countries since then and each time I’ve wondered, “Could I live here, is this the place?”
The answer was either: no, hells no, or maybe. But never a ‘yes’.
Drew and I have both learned some things about what we’re looking for in a home, even though we’ve never found the perfect place.
Here are some the factors we’re considering:
Beauty is overrated
The most beautiful places tend to be the least friendly to long term living. Whether it’s poor infrastructure like the satelite-only internet on many tropical islands, the drug and alcohol problems of the locals (beautiful often means no industry, which means no jobs, which means high unemployment rates) or a big local vs. expat divide, often augmented with a lot of temporary residents, friends who will float in and out of your life for a few weeks then they are gone forever.
I noticed this in Chiang Mai, and I completely offended someone when I was at dinner with a bunch of travelers. My friend leaned over and asked, ¨Have you met the X-couple? They are just down the table over there.”
I was half-joking but I said, “What’s the point? They’ll be gone in a few days.”
That didn’t go over well, but that was my growing feeling. I became jaded to making new friends because investing hours and days into a friendship that would dissolve a week later was exhausting. I think the locals become jaded too, so it makes it especially hard to make friends in places with a highly mobile expat population. You aren’t a real person until you’ve been there for a few years.
Of course some beauty is still important
I think having access to nature and having a beautiful view are important, but I guess not at the price of having a home so overrun with tourists that you can never fully enjoy it.
Weather really does matter
I have been in denial of this, but after so many attempts at living somewhere that’s too cold (Beijing in January) or too hot (Mexico in the summer) Drew and I have come to embrace that fact that I can not tolerate winters that dip below freezing and he can not tolerate long stretches of weather over 90 degrees. And it would be best is it was sunny for at least half the year.
Living somewhere with good weather is like liquid joy. It just makes you happy. It softens the edges. It’s like 30 minutes of walking — nothing drastic but you just feel better.
We like living a city, but not too much of a city
I lived in the megoplex of Dallas – Forth Worth and it was insane trying to drive everywhere. I get overwelmed by cities I can’t walk around in, I need to be able to explore on my feet. I want to walk out my door and walk to the market. If I have to take a metro to get around, that’s okay too, but living in concrete isolation with no car is the worst, it’s like forced agoraphobia.
It can’t be too small either
I liked some cities in Nicaragua, but it seemed too tiny. In Bali, even after the first week, I was running into the same people all the time. Once you visited all the best restaurants and cafes, you’re sort of left wondering, now what?
Language and Culture
I would like somewhere that speaks either a romance language (Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, or Catalan) or Arabic or Mandarin, just because I’ve spent so much time studying these languages, I’d hate to lose them.
Close to writing assignments and an international airport
For my writing career, it needs to be somewhere that has a good market for freelance writing, like Europe, Asia, the Gulf coast, Oceania, etc. There isn’t as much writing work for Central/South America (I know someone is going to contradict me in the comments) but from what I’ve found is that outside Hawaii and Carribbean, Europe is the big travel writing market with smaller markets for Asia, UAE, South Pacific and so on.
Good health care and good schools
Of course most places have great private hospitals and schools, even if the public ones are sub-par, so this is rather easy to accomplish.
Where should we live?
If Cole is in school full time, I’ll have 6-12 weeks of vacation time during the year and a 2-3 month summer break (depending on the country and school) to travel with the family. That’s plenty of travel! So given that we’re talking about living somewhere long term, for the next 20 years or so, where do you think we should live?
Image: Luis Hernandez