How to Find the Best Place to Live

March 6, 2015

by Ravi Raman

Imagine yourself living in the place of your DREAMs.

Perfect weather. Perfect home. All your favorite people, places, and things close by. Go ahead, take a minute and SOAK it all in.

Now look around at wherever you are NOW.

What aspects of your current living situation make you happy and what aspects are in need of change? How to find the best place to live?

I’ve spent a lot of time asking myself this same question.

I’m wrapping up an EPIC 18 months of world travel. It’s been a blast, and it seemed like only yesterday that I was sitting in an office crafting product management strategy for Microsoft (my former employer). Now I spend my days chasing the sun with plenty of exercise and high-quality sleep.

As much fun as long-term travel is, I am very ready to settle down again. I’m looking forward to having a community of friends and a list of go-to spots for shopping, eating, hiking, yoga and running. I’m also worn down from being constantly on the move.

Being so mobile for so long has given me the rare opportunity to not only envision where I REALLY want to live but actually take ACTION to make it happen.

Lot’s of people dream of quitting their job and traveling around the world. Few people actually do it.

Well, I actually did it!

I can honestly say that it was worth it, but after over a year of being on the move, I’ve had enough…at least for now! Travel is in my bones, but it has a time and place. Anyone who says they can travel forever has probably never thought about what it would take (financially, physically and mentally) to actually do it.

Over the past year and a half, I’ve been to dozens of NATIONAL PARKS, half a dozen COUNTRIES and slept over 80 nights OUTDOORS under the stars.

I’ve been over countless HIGH MOUNTAIN PASSES, wandered through numerous DESSERTS and ventured out in FRIGID COLD (mountains of British Columbia, CA in the winter) and SUPER HOT (Death Valley, CA) climates.

All the MOVEMENT can be and has been exhausting. I am looking forward to having a reliable internet connection, with running water and proper cooking utensils!

The challenge for me now in settling down, is in choosing the best place to settle down in.

Having gone through the pain of selling a lot of my stuff (including my car), renting out my house and severing my ties to my old neighborhood of Kirkland, WA (just outside Seattle, WA USA) – it’s a question I could no longer ignore.

What is the best place to live?

I racked my brain for a while trying to decide.

Do I go back to the familiar Seattle, WA area? Do I try living in an exotic locale abroad? Do I move to a place closer to my family on the Eastern Coast of the USA? Do I try maximizing job opportunities in the tech industry by moving to the San Francisco Bay Area? Do I move to a quirky but cool smaller town like Bend, OR or Durango, CO? How about living in a tropical paradise in Thailand – like the beaches of Ko Lanta or the hills of Chiang Mai?

There is no secret formula to answering this question, but I came up with a useful approach that might work for you as well if you ever find yourself in the same boat; trying to decide where to live.

How to find the best place to live:

1) “Best of” lists

For starters, many magazines have their lists of “Best Places to Live.” I’ve particularly paid attention to Outside Magazine’s list as their content best matches my lifestyle interests. Men’s Health also has a list.

There also are lists of “Best Places to Work” that are useful to cross-reference with the “Best Places to Live” lists, particularly if you are very career-oriented (though I urge you to really consider the LIFESTYLE you want to have FIRST and CAREER SECOND, crazy concept I know).

Browsing these lists typically shows me some spots that I haven’t considered before. They are great for brainstorming potential spots and getting you thinking about new places that are pretty darn cool but wouldn’t have normally gone out of your way to visit (e.g. like Asheville, NC; a cool hippy town nestled in the Smoky Mountains that I visited last year and often ranks high on many Best Places lists).

It’s worth taking a look at magazines you like and see if they have such a Best Places list. If they have one, it will often be updated annually – so check out the old Best Places lists on their websites for more perspectives.

2) Ask your networks

I asked my own social networks (particularly on LinkedIn and Facebook) for feedback on a certain region to see what my friends think of visiting or living there. I’ve gotten plenty of good data on neighborhoods to check out this way, particularly around big cities.

3) Be curious while traveling

As I’ve traveled – I’ve asked people what they think of their homeland, and the area we are traveling in.

Invariably, people respond POSITIVELY to the place they live. For example, in Seattle, when you ask people “How do you like living in Seattle” – you will get mostly positive responses (otherwise they probably wouldn’t live there!) – despite the amount of rain!

Similarly, when I ask people about a place where they USED TO LIVE, I get negative responses. Not unexpected! There is usually a reason why they left.

So when you ask people if they like their homeland, take the feedback with a few grains of salt. I like to probe a little when talking with folks to get at the good AND the bad!

What is my best place to live?

Ultimately, I’ve chosen to settle down in a new location and not go back to Seattle, WA.

I came to this decision (it wasn’t just me, I came to the decision together with my wife of course!) based on the following principles. You can think about these like NON-NEGOTIABLE qualities of our new home location

My wife and I came up with these principles over the final months of our travel, as we were preparing to settle back down.

A few non-negotiable principles:

  1. Lifestyle: Plan a quality lifestyle first, and worry about finding a career and other things that make for a “life” second. At this stage of our lives we want to carve out a great lifestyle that fits our values and affords for the type of things we like to do. We are willing to sacrifice some degree of professional opportunity to maintain a positive lifestyle. This means not much traffic and a small town “feel”.
  2. Weather: Sunshine is critical. After living in Seattle for 14 years with relentlessly gray skies and endless rain, we want over 250 days of sunshine a year. This is non-negotiable!
  3. Outdoors: Trails within 1 mile from our front door and great skiing within easy day-trip driving distance are non-negotiable. My wife and I are trail runners, skiers, hikers and outdoor lovers. We want trails easily accessible every day within minutes jog from our front door. We also want great skiing close by.
  4. Major city nearby: We don’t need or want to live in a major city, but do want to be relatively close to one. This means close proximity to a major airport and likelihood of more job opportunities. It also affords for more cultural opportunities – be it musical acts, plays, festivals or Indo-cultural activities.

Once we got clear on these criteria, we were able to rule out some great town that we enjoyed visiting, but were too remotely located (like Sedona, AZ, South Lake Tahoe, CA or Durango, CO) or cities that seemed great (like San Francisco, CA) but didn’t like up to our lifestyle (no skiing close by, too much traffic and urban sprawl) or recreation needs.

Until we got clear on our PRINCIPLES for how we wanted to live our life, we struggled in deciding where to live.

Once we decided on the PRINCIPLES, the decision was much easier.

If you are considering a move to a new location, your first step should be to decide on the non-negotiables. I call these “PRINCIPLES”. What are the things you don’t want to budge on? Write these PRINCIPLES down. Discuss them with your partner.

As you go through your search for a new home, you may revisit and modify these principles, but you need to start with them in place first. Over time, you will quickly converge on a set of non-changing principles.

They will help you MAKE DECISIONS QUICKLY and you may be surprised, as I was, with the outcome!

So where did I decide to move to? I can tell you for certain that it was not where I expected!

Stay tuned, I will let you know in an upcoming post.

UPDATE: In March of 2015 my wife and I decided to move to Golden, CO. This little mountain town is nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and close to the amenities a large city like Denver has to offer! Trail running, mountain biking and world class skiing are close by. In addition, there is a thriving Technology Community nearby in Denver and Boulder. We love it here so far. It is truly the Best Place To Live for us right now.

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