The Where of It All

Treasure Map

Is your life place-specific? Are you relocatable? I am thinking about this after reading The Year of Living Danishly. The author left her high-stress job in London to accompany her spouse when he accepted a year-long contract job in rural Denmark. Yes, for that employer! She worked from home as a freelance writer, and pointedly learned about the country and its culture in order to produce the book. No word on whether this was lucrative or not!

Book_Year Danish

It’s romantic to be portable, especially with a loved one. The idea of travelling anywhere in the world to work and to live as a local is definitely appealing.

Being tied to a particular place also has a certain romance – think of a cottage on the lake, a mountain hideaway, or a downtown loft. Or a celebrated locale: New York, Paris, Cairo, Mumbai! Or the rootedness of farming your grandfather’s land.

Why do so many of us, then, never live away from our homeland, or even our hometown?

Maybe it starts with the idea of opportunity. Do we go because we have a job offer or a “chance of a lifetime,” or do we not wait for that magical moment and go anyway, determined to make our own way?

I lived away from my home province for 15 years, came back, and settled down. I like living near my parents, brother and sister. We spent all of our vacation time and money visiting each other all those years. I appreciate being able to see them any time now, share holidays close to home, and be there when anything comes up. All without the stress and expense of travel – especially emergency travel.

I have had several chances to start over in a new place, and I took some of them. All in North America, though.

Saskatoon

Saskatoon

When I finished university, I took my first librarian job 4300 km (2700 miles) away in Saskatchewan. I spent 7 years there. I loved the land and the sky and the people; I made friends for life; and my child was born there. I adjusted to the -40C stretches in winter. I saw the Northern Lights – visible even in the city! I learned about contemporary First Nations life. The whole experience of living on the Prairies opened my mind. On one hand, it was a big culture change. Life was slower. As farmers in the grain belt, many people were attached to particular parcels of land. Everyone was accustomed to relying on family, neighbours and church, and to some degree, keeping the old ways. There was always a DIY indie ethos. Of course things have changed – I was there pre-Internet! The oil industry later brought a new level of prosperity.

Next I lived in Montreal for a few months, 3000 km from my last home, and a mere 1200 km from my hometown! I loved the downtown city life and the French culture, but it was a temporary stay.

After that I lived in Massachusetts, only 500 km from Montreal. Since it was the northeast of the US, I thought it would be more like my home province of Nova Scotia. The landscape was smaller in scale and easier to relate to. Living in a little village, everything was family-oriented and organized around seasonal and holiday traditions: First Night for New Year’s Eve, outdoor Easter egg hunts, Cinco de Mayo, 4th of July fireworks, harvest festivals, and 4-day Thanksgiving weekends.

Halifax

Halifax

From there I returned to Nova Scotia. When I met Rom, I tried to think in practical terms about whether living in the UK would make sense. His parents, brothers and job were there. My parents, siblings, child, job and house were here. I couldn’t imagine relocating my child for the last 2 years of high school. Furthermore, jobs for professional librarians are sadly rare in the UK, with town libraries everywhere reducing hours, closing, or being run by volunteers. And the cost of living, especially housing, is very high. It was hard for Rom to leave everything and immigrate to Canada. I can’t justify “making” him do it, but ultimately he chose to.

Being the linear citizens we are, I expect we’ll be here until we retire from our jobs many years hence.

I like my job, Rom likes his well enough, we like our house and the things we can do in our city. I wouldn’t at all mind living in a larger city again like Montreal or Toronto, but we won’t be packing in our careers to do it. After being away for a decade and a half, I want to be near for my parents, and I hope my brother and sister won’t go anywhere. But if they do, I owe them a lot of visits!

Weirdly, we are located fairly centrally between Link in Toronto and Rom’s relatives in Sussex UK. In the far off future, when Rom and I are no longer working, we could relocate to Toronto, or even to the UK if we wanted to. I like the idea that we could someday spend long periods of time in either place if we want or need to.

Montreal

Montreal

Then there is that other question: where would we live if money were no object? What if we could live comfortably anywhere? Rom says that apart from the winters, to which he has acclimated, he is happy here, but a city the size of Montreal (with its music and culture scene) would be tempting. When I mentioned the idea of staying in one place and travelling often, he is not so keen – he likes being somewhere, but hates the to-and-froing (air travel).

Link has also shown interest in living in Montreal, so who knows, 15 years from now!

My situation is specific to me, and there are so many choices throughout one’s life. Including the choice to focus less on work and wages, and more on living simply. Ultimately I don’t see myself packing in my current lifestyle to live on less. I like the things I have and what I do, as well as who I’m with, and right now, I could not have that mix anywhere else.

And trifling things like sunshine and warmth? Bah, over-rated! 🙂

Have you made decisions about living far from where you grew up? Or moved to another country? If not, is it conceivable that you still might?

Related Posts:

Why I Live Here, Why I’m in the Suburbs, How to Move to Canada, Down East

26 comments

  1. I moved across several states to relocate to the coast when I was in my 20s. I used all my savings to do it, and didn’t have a job lined up (though I’d interviewed over the phone and knew full well I had a marketable skill set), but it was TIME. I felt called, and I went. I found work, I met my husband, and I created a new place for myself. It wasn’t easy, but I succeeded, and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

    These days I am, essentially, an independent contractor. I could, fairly easily, port my profession to just about any U.S. state with high – and reasonable – expectations of success. My spouse and I have discussed trying this, on a temporary basis, by taking “working vacations” to areas we may eventually wish to move to. A fair amount of savings is still required though, for that to be a smooth operation, and with him out of work, it’s a double-edged sword; we have the freedom, but not the funds.

    The biggest thing that ties us to our place of residence is medical care (his). Otherwise, there are no longer any roots holding us to this ground.

    My parents are getting older, and I live 3,000 miles away. I have always found that freeing, but I also have a deeply embedded sense of duty. Could I move back ‘home’? I can’t even stand to *visit* my hometown for more than 24 hours at a time. So I’m not sure what to do, but the time is coming – and soon – when a compromise will have to be made.

    • When I first moved away from home, I intended to stay for maybe 2 years and it turned into 7. I had thought it would become permanent and as much as I liked my new home, it was gut-wrenching to be so far away from relatives and not to be part of their everyday lives any more. I really just had to put it out of my mind. During that time, I knew I was relying on my brother and sister to do things for our parents, and that eventually I would want to do my share. I know it is a major source of friction in families when one child looks after ageing parents and the rest of the family members say they can’t because of distance and funds. On the other hand, if the far-aways are tied to a place because of work, health care, children, etc. then how could things ever work out “evenly”? It is such a dilemma.

  2. Now I want to read that book!

    I live about 25 miles from where I grew up. Not very far, but it’s a much bigger city so feels like a world away. Plus, many in my hometown never leave it. So even to have moved this (not very) far feels like an accomplishment.

    I lived three hours away, but still in my home state, for college and that was good too. I’ve lived abroad twice. Once for four months in Norway as an exchange student and later for 5 months inDenmark as an au pair.i got quite homesick both times, but otherwise enjoyed it. Well, not being an au pair.

    I doubt I’ll live abroad again, but I’d love to live on the west coast someday.

    • You would like the book, especially since you have stayed in Denmark and Norway! My city is a manageable size and has a good quality of life but sometimes I do long for more, bigger-scale cultural spectator events like concerts, plays and art exhibits. We travel often to Toronto and London and absorb our fill, but we both wish Halifax was just that much bigger (or closer to Montreal!)

  3. Fiona

    omg!! I would go to Denmark *tomorrow* to work for Lego!!!

    You’ve lived in such far-away places for really substantial periods of time. I think anything over 2 years is really making a life of it elsewhere. It does sound like you loved it, absorbed it and took it with you.

    I think it’s an amazing experience to live elsewhere, away from ‘home.’ It does enrich life. But it’s so hard to forever leave. I’m in awe of people who can truly uproot and never return; and start over.

    I’ve lived in 3 states in Australia over the years (at most, 5 years away from ‘home’.) As Mrs Fever says above, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. I’m not sure nowadays, but I think we could go either way now.

    Settle right down permanently? Or maybe we have one more move in us, if something comes up. The move and the re-adjustment is undeniably hard. And I can’t imagine ever calling anywhere else home permanently.

    The open road and adventure still has appeal. But so does knowing every turn of every road; old friends and the things you make as a home in the city you love.

    • If I could take a leave of absence to live in Denmark, I would 🙂 I’m not so in awe of starting a new life elsewhere. Unless you are deliberately turning your back on your family and upbringing, it requires a certain detachment, and I was never at ease with that. It is also a huge financial and time commitment to stay in touch with everyone, and as life gets busier, it is easy for everyone to make assumptions that everyone else has stopped caring. For example, in my 15 years away from NS, I only had one vacation that was not to see relatives – it was unthinkable to use my vacation time “selfishly” because then I wouldn’t have seen my folks for a year or more. I’m glad I spent my time away when I was younger and more resilient, and I am happy to be back with a more mature view of what I left!

      • Fiona

        That is so true about the vacation time! When we lived in Sydney, all we ever did was come home for vacations…and then it was so hectic running around ‘catching up’ with everyone. We’d return home exhausted!

      • Know the feeling. A good kind of exhaustion, though.

  4. I’m considering little homes in Andalucia and Brittany when I retire and travelling between them in a circumspect way in my motorhome.

  5. Juhli

    I left the town I grew up in when I was 18 and went away to college and never lived near my family again. It was scary, exciting and ultimately changed my relationship with my family in unanticipated ways. I continued to move around for more schooling and then a job. Eventually I met my husband and we lived near his family which filled some of the gaps. Then we moved across the country for a job for him and it has been hard for 19 years to not be near any family although it did make it easier to visit my parents while they were living. We are moving back across the country to be nearer our sons when he retires in a year. Again scary, exciting and ultimately will change our relationships with family in unanticipated ways! I find the most daunting aspect of these later life moves being the challenge of making close friends as there is no natural environment for doing so such as school or work. Since relationships are essential for successful aging I think that is an important factor to consider along with the adventure of living in a new/different location.

    • I was thinking of you when I wrote this. My earlier years sound like yours, except that my “path” was broken and I ended up completing a loop. Having personal friends in later life greatly concerns me. So many people have closed their circles because they have enough of everything – enough friends, enough family, enough activity – that they can’t take on more. I am always inspired by your efforts to get out there.

  6. Great story and question. I have moved to four times to three different cities, once back to one I left. I think everyone should move away from home at least once to see what is different. I have turned down jobs where I would have to get on a plane to fly to my childhood city to visit my mother (and father when he was living). So, my one restriction was to be able to drive home within a day. I loved Atlanta, but have lived in Charlotte for 33 years. Only down side is pollen, the price we pay for our trees.

    • I do think it’s a good experience to either live away or travel. I envy anyone who has been able to build a successful life in their home town, while also seeing a bit of the world and opening their horizons. I looked up that Atlanta and Charlotte are about 250 miles apart!

  7. I can’t imagine living anywhere else but NYC (I spent 5 years in school in Boston/Cambridge), but I wouldn’t mind a couple of months in Paris, Istanbul, or San Francisco. I would also gladly spend the summer on the north shore of Massachusetts (Gloucester, Essex, Ipswich etc.) but I usually only get there for a week.

  8. I did! As you know – but only for love, I wouldn’t have otherwise made that decision and were things different I would be back in England in a jiffy, there are lots of things that I miss but for me it is all about family. That said, I do love my new life here in Canada!

  9. I’ve lived mostly in Sydney. Was going to live in the UK for a few years. Well that was the plan and my visa allowed. I am also able to get a British passport. But I met Mr S before I left so didn’t follow that path. We’ve spent a year in a country town up north. Slower pace, everyone knows everyone. Not really our scene. Now we think about where we might retire. I love Sydney but it is getting so crowded.

    I used to think like you regarding visiting family during holidays and it being selfish if I had a holiday elsewhere. But then I thought it was selfish that they never visited me and I had my life to lead and dreams to follow and if I didn’t travel and have the holidays I wanted, I wouldn’t be relaxed and restored for work.

    I can tell you where I wouldn’t live: China. The air has made me quite ill.

    • I had the opposite experience – my family visited me twice as often as I visited them – they were awesome 🙂 Are you giving serious thought to living somewhere other than Sydney after retirement (as far away as it is)?

      • The somewhere else would still be in Oz. I wouldn’t mind living in northern England but only for a year. Our next place will probably be in Sydney. Such an adventurous pair!!!

      • I can picture Rom and I living in other places for 6 months to a year. No, make that 6 months – after 180 days we lose our Canadian health coverage 🙂

  10. SP

    Great thoughts and thanks for sharing your journey.

    For work and economic reasons, living in my hometown isn’t possible. For adventure reasons, I needed to get away – but I could have maybe went back. Or maybe I could have intentionally chosen a path that didn’t need to be in specific, larger areas. There are some places closer to home that have at least some opportunities, and sometimes I daydream about living there for family reasons.

    The other part is that once you are partnered, unless you marry/partner with someone from your hometown, someone has to say live away. My sisters both live in their husband’s respective home towns. :/

    I spent 6 moths in Hong Kong as a student, then lived about 500 miles from home (driveable, but far). Then I moved west to California, then moved to another part of California. Realistically, I think where we are now is “home” if things go how we are planning. We live far far away from our homes – too far to drive. I still get back about 2x each year, but my husband only goes to his hometown every 2 years. I’m nervous to start a family of our own so far away, but we followed our career dreams and I don’t see a path back, and even if I did, my family is no longer located in one central place.

    • That’s it, really – in any kind of partnership, unless you are from the same place, one of you has to live “away.” I think people go in with grand ideals like “Our next move will be nearer to your family” but it rarely works out that way because of education and career paths. I wonder how many people would have made that first, far-away move if they knew there was really no turning back! In my case, I moved back to my hometown and raised my child here, but they grew up and left because of lack of opportunities here, the same as I did at that age.

  11. Barbara

    I grew up in the US but always knew that I didn’t want to stay there. I spent a lot of
    my twenties overseas, first travelling and then living for a time in London and Bangkok.
    I ended up emigrating to Australia almost 30 years ago and marrying an Australian.
    For us there was no conflict about where to live – we were lucky because I know
    several relationships that ultimately ended because of just that. It helped a lot that
    my parents were dead, I had no close family and I had been away so much that
    I didn’t have any close friendships in my home town any longer. People with
    significant ties would find it a lot more difficult.

    • Hi Barbara, Two important points there – whether we still have ties to an old place, and whether we move to where a partner is. What a feeling it would be, to know you could move and stay anywhere (as visas allow)!

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