Location, Location, Location

When people ask about my hometown, I always say, “I grew up in the forest.” It’s the truth- I could only see my neighbors in the winter when the deciduous trees were bare. In the summer, I would walk a few miles to and from a local lake to go swimming. In the winter, I’d build snow forts. Days were spent climbing trees and following a creek to my friends’ houses.

At eighteen, I moved to a small coastal town in the redwoods. I chose it because I liked a picture I’d seen of the redwood forest and because I wanted to live near the ocean and get a degree in journalism, although my degree later changed (and hasn’t been much use).

Redwood forest, Humboldt County

While I loved the area, the job prospects weren’t great. I am not a natural entrepreneur, so at the time I thought my only option was to get a “regular” job. One with benefits. I applied to countless jobs. I bought an interview outfit, to be prepared. I ended up getting a job offer at the one place I said I’d never move, a back-up to a back-up. I accepted the offer and worked like a good little cog. The smog and concrete were suffocating.

I moved north, to a suburb in Oregon. I liked how one of the main roads was flanked by trees and dropped down into Portland. It felt magical. I took a pay cut at first but then was able to switch jobs to get benefits. I taught yoga. I ran. I drank coffee in hipster coffee shops and went dancing all night and got up early to go hiking on the weekends. I loved my life and how I was close enough to a good-paying job and nature.

The cities grew. The green spaces became fewer and further apart. Drive-thrus took over. No longer did I hear crickets and frogs at night. I stopped teaching yoga. I stopped hiking. I no longer danced.

I met my husband and we talked about traveling and adventure and living now. We moved abroad and got to experience the joy of discovering a new place and culture. I ate snails from a local river. I walked through slums. I met people who cared about me, not my net worth or job title. I felt free. Life brought me back to the States and again to a “regular” job. It was stifling.

In late 2021, I’d decided to leave the suburb for good. My husband and I sold our house and moved into an apartment. Working in jobs we disliked, but that paid well, we visited a small coastal down every weekend (and sometimes after work), looking at every house that came on the market in our price range. We bid on single wides and a house with a bathtub outside the house and places that were small and places that were big. We wanted a small house tucked away. Fewer houses were coming on the market. We badly wanted to leave our jobs, but knew that if we quit them, we’d have a hard time qualifying for a loan. We were getting outbid on the small fixers we could pay cash for. We ended up with our current house, which was a year of endless work. Bats. Rats. Pink walls. Gross carpets. Termites. Home.

I am back in a small town. I walk to the beach. I ride by bike often, even in the rain.

In January, my husband and I went to Puerto Rico. We wanted to visit somewhere warm (and use flight coupons before they expired). I loved exploring the small island of Vieques and driving around the mainland. The El Yunque rainforest was beyond words and the ocean was like I haven’t seen anywhere else.

We talked with locals and expats alike, all over the country. I was amazed at how many of them told us we must visit the small town of Luquillo. It’s not on many highlight lists for tourists. Yet, we found it was our favorite place, just like everyone else. We asked people why they didn’t live there. The answer? Money. They found a more profitable hotel to purchase in Cabo Rojo. They had a job in Fajardo or San Juan that paid well. So, they sold their piece of paradise or rented it on AirBnB and planned to retire to their little town. When? Oh, 10 or 15 years in the future.

I had made the same decision, until I’d had enough. Until I realized that I could never buy more time.

Today, I make less money but am rich in life. I garden. It’s easier to go for a bike ride when I get antsy than go clothes shopping. At night, I go outside and look up at the stars. I watch the clouds as I sip hot chocolate.

I’m curious: if you could live anywhere, where would it be? The city? The mountains? Anywhere specific? Would the only requirement be where you can walk to go fishing daily? Share your thoughts!

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