A Great Big Planet… and Nowhere To Go

The other day I wrote about our first home in Carbondale, the one place I’ve lived that ever really felt like home. It has me contemplating what is next for us. Can we ever find a place that feels like home again?

It’s not secret that I’m not happy living in Florida. After almost seven years it is still better than Texas, but that really isn’t saying much.

The problem is, where should we go? We have no children, we both work remote and we have the privilege to be able to go anywhere on the planet, yet we have no idea where we should go. I think the guidance we need for an answer lies both in our pasts and what we would like for our future.

A Nomadic Life

Growing up I only ever spent much in two states, Illinois and Florida. Joy’s family did more traveling around the country but mine stuck with the trusty path to Panama City Beach every summer where we would stay at my parents’ beach condo.

College changed that. I settled on Southern Illinois University, about a 6 hour drive south of my parents’ home in Chicago and spent 6 years bouncing around a few different addresses in Southern Illinois and even Michigan for a little while (long enough that the job I had required me to get a Michigan license) until I moved to the Chicago suburbs for work and to start a life with Joy.

At the time Joy had never lived anywhere but the Chicago suburbs, even attending college in a different suburb and moving back to within a few minutes of her parents’ house after. It was time for us to move on.

For the next decade we lived in Hawaii, moved back to Southern Illinois and then to Austin. After a decade in small towns and suburbs I took a job in Austin thinking that I wanted to be back in a major city like Chicago or other “top 10” cities I had visited throughout the years.

As it turns out, Austin is anything but a major city. I can best describe it as a suburb that forgot what a major city is supposed to be. There is almost no infrastructure, everything is packed all the time and even its prized food scene had all the variety of the average suburban strip mall.

After moving around for a decade, Austin was our first real mistake. Thankfully, I started working remotely while we lived there we decided it was time to move on. Florida was calling.

Why we moved to Florida

We moved to Florida because feels like home and was much more convenient should we need to visit family, travel for work, etc. As both of our parents winter in Florida, it allowed us to at least be close to our families for half the year plus provides us relatively easy access to get back to Chicago should we ever need to.

We did, of course, have a list of what we wanted in any place we moved, top of that list was a walkable neighborhood followed by good airports and a city-feel all for a descent price. Sarasota seemed to check all those boxes.

The neighborhood is, in fact, so much more walkable than what we had in Austin that we bought our house site-unseen.

Finally, we needed to be able to afford anywhere we moved to and that was a part of the equation. The houses in the neighborhood we bought in were about 1/2 the price of our neighborhood in Austin yet they were the same relative age and size. The only real difference in neighborhoods is the walkability of the Sarasota neighborhood and the fact that the Sarasota neighborhood is much cleaner overall with better maintained homes, streets and sidewalks.

As for weather, Joy really didn’t want a place with winters as cold as Chicago. After living in Hawaii and Texas she just didn’t want to go back to that.

Put it all together and Florida just made the most sense for us at the time. Even today, as I can’t wait to leave, I realize it was still the right move for us when we made it.

Trouble in paradise

So why then am are we ready to leave? There are a few reasons.

First and foremost is I’ve grown to not just dislike summer here but to actually hate it with a passion rivaling few others. Before COVID we travelled a lot during the summer or spent the afternoons in our favorite bar. These past two summers there has been none of that and I realize I haven’t wanted to so much as go outside during any of it.

Second is that our interests have changed. For the last ten years, since a year or so before we moved to Austin, our social life has revolved around are favorite bar. In Carbondale it gave us a cheap excuse to get out of our very small house. In Austin it grew because pretty much everything in Austin revolved around alcohol. When we moved here it continued as we live next to a nice bar district and simply never found anything else to do.

Now that I’ve stopped drinking and our favorite bar went out of business, we realize we want to do more and this area no longer feels like the right place to do that. We’re actually quite young here so most social activities wouldn’t work as there is a heavy focus on retirees, and there really isn’t much of a tech community to speak of. It has made us rethink the community we want to be a part of and realize this really isn’t it.

Finally is the culture and politics of the area itself. I’ve lived in small towns and big cities but never have I experienced the outright hostility that I have here. I’ve been threatened in grocery stores for wearing a mask, sworn at while simply out for a walk and more. I don’t wear political t-shirts or other signs of my beliefs but all it takes is the assumption that I’m a “liberal” for outright hatred to come out.

The daily hostility notwithstanding, we also realize we need to consider the politics of a state that is failing miserably at every challenge thrown at it, from COVID to climate change to human rights and more. Florida, politically, truly is a shit-hole and it only looks to get worse. Living here I fear what would happen should we ever wind up out of work or sick with something serious.

One of our reasons for moving here was cheaper housing, I don’t deny that. I also won’t deny that I wasn’t upset that I didn’t have to pay state income tax as was also the case in Texas. In the cost goal, however, I forgot a very important lesson: you get what you pay for. Florida has personified that lesson.

Where to next?

So this all begs the question: where do we want to go next?

Five years ago I would’ve said the UK as London is one of my favorite cities in the world. Brexit effectively killed that option. We’ve also talked about the Netherlands, Ireland and other countries but either we seem to be priced out or, in the case of the Netherlands, we just didn’t feel like it could be our home.

Today we really don’t know. What we do know, however, is that we have a much more specific list of things we’re looking for.

We would prefer a car-free location but we would settle for another good walking neighborhood. Primarily we still don’t want our lives to revolve around our car. For the most part we’ve found we don’t need our car as much here in Sarasota but we still have to drive to far more places than we would like.

Next we want to either be in a real city or close to one by train. I miss museums, shows and so much more. We miss the excitement of a city and all its different neighborhoods, foods and cultures. I doubt we could live in the heart of a city like London, but we can darn sure get close enough that a train ride is all it takes to enjoy ourselves on any given weekend.

At this point I think we also want to get away from the US. I would prefer to before the GOP takes power again next year but, in any case, our goal is to make it out before things get even worse.

I would love to be somewhere with a deep and interesting history still on display. Joy would love somewhere where she could once again get involved in community theatre. Sarasota has the some of the latter but her many attempts have been met with closed gates. As for the history of Sarasota, there are people alive who are older than the county we live in and there are few monuments without either an original participant or one a family member who knew them still around. While there was also a rich Native American culture in the area before it was a city, little of that is still visible as most has been plowed under for farms and homes.

We both want an area where we could participate in the community. This is something I’ve sorely missed here as, though we’ve tried to join in a number of activities, most of the time we’re written off as not part of the “in” crowd. It gets old.

Finally, Joy wants a place that stays warmer than Chicago in the winter and I want a place where I could go outside between April and November without feeling like I may die of heatstroke. Thankfully, Chicago has pretty cold winters and Sarasota has such hot summers that finding a compromise shouldn’t be too hard.

In the end, when we can start to travel again we look forward to exploring a number of areas that might fit our wish list. We don’t know where that will be, but I’m confident we’ll find something. It’s a great big planet out there, even if it feels like we don’t have anywhere to go at the moment.

5 Comments

  1. I’m going to do the silly thing here and pitch my own region, Berlin Metropolitan Area. But honestly, it seems to tick a lot of your boxes. 😇

    Car-free location: you don’t need a car in Berlin. I live in Potsdam, which is a smaller town outside (lots of walkable green here) and it takes me 40min by train to downtown Berlin. Trains every 10min, downtown every 2 or so. If you really need a car, there are plenty of rental options via app.

    Real city: ok, so historically Berlin is more like the most *un*real city ever, but yeah, it’s a real city. 😊

    Museums, shows, different neighborhoods, foods, cultures: lots. LOTS! I’ve lived in and around Berlin for 23 years and haven’t seen everything there is to.

    Get away from the US: you would, obviously, but hopefully not as much as to get homesick. Berlin has a rich American community.

    Deep and interesting history still on display: from the Kaiser to Weimar Republic to the Third Reich to the Cold War and Spy Bridge to the fall of the Berlin Wall – history creeps at you from every crack in the pavement. Sooo much to experience, marvel at, and learn about.

    Get involved in community theatre: not my area of expertise, but plenty of opportunity afaik.

    Participate in the community: also plenty of opportunity. Berlin has been coined “poor but sexy” by one of its mayors. A lot of community things are run based on “Ehrenamt” (volunteering).

    Warmer than Chicago in the winter: arguably so, although perhaps not very much. The last few winters were very mild, though.

    Comfortable to go outside between April and November: since you’re referring to Florida heat, yes, definitely comfortable.

    There’s my pitch happy weekend! 😄If you have questions, you know where to find me.

    • I second the pitch from Caspar. When I read your list, I immediately thought of Berlin.

      And a bonus: you can visit numerous European and middle-east countries within a span of some hours by car or train.

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