“If You Could Live Anywhere," How Do You Choose? Read On!
It started with the “digital nomads” of the late 1990s. Then the van-lifers of the early 2010s. Small groups of adventure seekers were going off the grid, unshackling themselves from mortgages, car payments, and daily commutes to the office.
If you were creative and had a laptop and even a modest nest egg, you could conceivably quit your 9-to-5 grind job and hit the road, working from anywhere in the world there was internet connectivity. Those who did were pioneers of a simpler, independent lifestyle. They were glamorized on social media and their stories told in tantalizing magazine articles illustrated with photos of carefree 20-somethings happily tapping away on their tablets and smartphones curled up in a palm-shaded beach chaise.
They became wandering copywriters or bond traders or affiliate marketers or voice-over actors or UX designers or online language instructors or you-name-it, working online from anywhere.
Easily relocating from Chicago to Prague or the beaches of Costa Rica or a village in Ireland -- wherever the cost of living was low and Wi-Fi or internet cafes available – was a good way to see the world and combine work and leisure time. This was a picture postcard lifestyle for a fearless, lucky few that made the rest of us work drudges green with envy.
Then along came COVID-19 and the rest of the working class was suddenly forced to set up office spaces at home on dining room tables, navigate the intricacies of Zoom meetings, and drastically redesign their work lives, often with kids and pets underfoot.
Suddenly for many people, the abrupt shift from working in a downtown office cubicle to working from a basement, RV, or a treehouse in Spain, has become the new norm. Jobs in many professions are no longer place-based. If you want to work for a travel agency located in Seattle, or web design group on Philadelphia you don’t necessarily have to move there.
Now many of us can live anywhere we wish and still keep our current jobs. But if we can live anywhere, how do we possibly decide where the best place is for us to be?
Enter writer Melody Warnick.
Her first book, “This is Where You Belong: Finding Home Wherever You Are,” explores the concept of “place attachment” – falling in love with where you are and becoming a real part of that community, rather than simply living in it. We included a portion of her true-or-false questions for determining your attachment to where you’re currently based in our “Where Do You Belong?” post from last September.
Warnick’s latest book, “If You Could Live Anywhere: The Surprising Importance of Place in a Work-from-Anywhere World,” (Sourcebooks, July 2022) is designed to help the millions of us who now have the freedom to relocate and find the best place in the world to call home. It’s jam-packed with U.S. and international location facts and figures, along with practical ideas for customizing relocation strategies to suit our unique needs and improve our lifestyles.
There's even an up-to-date list of towns and cities that are enticing people to move there with big cash incentives and area employment connections.
In her book, real scenarios of friends and acquaintances who have transplanted their lives, or are in the process of doing so, bring these often-mind-boggling moving decisions to life. Warnick spoke with us last week about the life-changing opportunities of being suddenly "location-independent."
I think that COVID-19 was a wakeup call for many people to intentionally rearrange their lives and finally relocate to a place they love or do something meaningful that makes them happier. Retirees, students, families. And many are becoming “Anywhereists,” as you call them, not just because they can, but because they want to enjoy a new way of life. What are your thoughts about that?
I think it’s a trend that’s only going to grow—and honestly, I love that people are becoming intentional about finding a place that can help them achieve the life they want. Places aren’t cures, but in my mind the right place can help us prioritize our own values—and that can make us happier.
Where did you grow up?
Fullerton, California, a SoCal town that I describe as being one click north of Disneyland. And indeed, Disneyland featured heavily in my childhood. It was a lovely place to grow up in many ways, and weirdly, I didn’t move a single time until I went off to college. Perhaps that’s why moving around later was so mind-blowing.
Now that many of us no longer have to live where we work but can live where we like we’re faced with a very exciting, but rather daunting life decision. “Should we finally live our dream of moving to Key West or Montana?” is suddenly a possibility that many of us never planned for. What’s the very first thing you advise someone to start transitioning their dream to reality?
Decide whether you actually want to move. Being location-independent somehow gives you this sense that you’re wasting your life if you don’t relocate. And yet there’s a lot of value in the emotional and social investments you’ve already made in whatever community you’re living with. Don’t throw that away without cause. I include some exercises in “If You Could Live Anywhere” that help people think deeply about whether a relocation is right for them; readers can get a free download of them by signing up for my newsletter at my website, www.MelodyWarnick.com.
I’m a sucker for those 50 Best/Happiest/Cheapest Places to Live-type lists, but many seem like so much click-bait. Are they worth considering? It seems like they are always changing.
I’m a sucker for them too, and you know, they’re not a bad starting place. Part of the challenge of choosing a place to live is, how are you supposed to know about a great little town across the country that you’ve never heard of? Clickbait lists can point you toward places that weren’t on your radar. They shouldn’t be the end of your research, but IMO they make a good beginning.
Are you the type of person who thinks, “I could so live here!” whenever you visit a new place?
Oh, 100 percent. It’s ridiculous. I’ll pick up real estate guides in gas stations and hunt for prices on Zillow. This summer I did speaking engagements in South Dakota, Indiana, and Iowa and each time came home to my husband raving about how I could definitely move there.
Both of your books are irresistible reads because they talk about real opportunities for living our best lives in places where we feel we belong. You are a kind of lifestyle strategist. How did this become a theme for you?
After a very non-geographically mobile childhood, I went through a period in my 20s and 30s where I was moving every few years—and I became obsessed with the ways my life did (and didn’t) change after each relocation. I’m fascinated with how people relate to their places, how being place attached can boost our well-being, and how humans have the power to impact their communities for good, and that’s become the thing I talk and write about most of the time.
Now that traditional office life is a thing of the past for many of us, and that built-in social group of work friends is gone, it feels like people are becoming even more isolated from each other in real life. How do we change that?
It’s not your imagination. We’re definitely getting more isolated. Sixty percent of adult Americans say they feel lonely some or all of the time, and I think COVID only intensified those feelings. For remote workers, I advocate signing up for a coworking space to recreate the feeling of having colleagues. But in general, I’m all for socializing with neighbors in whatever capacity suits you (someone in my neighborhood organized a potluck for Sunday) and making efforts to find people you connect with in your town by, say, volunteering or joining a sports league or attending a church. Making adult friends can feel as nerve-wracking as dating, so you just have to be brave.
Do you ever see yourself moving to someplace different than your current home?
I really love Blacksburg [VA]—a lot. We’ve dug in so deep here that it’s hard for me to imagine finding another town where we’d be just as happy. And yet at the point where both our kids are off to college, in another three years, I’m guessing my husband and I will at least consider the thought. The nice thing is that after writing my books, I know exactly what to do to both find the next place and settle in there.
What’s your next project?
I tell people that writing a book is a little like giving birth—you have to forget the pain before you’ll consider doing it again. For now, I’m working full time as a writer at Virginia Tech, the university in my adopted hometown, and fantasizing about writing a novel.
Tip: Share this post with anyone you know who is dreaming of moving to a new city!
Photos (from top): Main Street, Shutterstock/Kenneth Sponsler; Working from the Beach, Envato/DragonImages; author photo and book cover, MelodyWarnick.com.