Once you’ve decided to move abroad, settling on a particular place can be just as daunting a task. I’ve now lived on four of the six habitable continents (!), and each place I’ve lived has helped me define what I really want and need out of my neighborhood, city, and country. The list I’ve compiled is a starting place for narrowing down the corner of the world you’d like to go to, and can be used to rank your most important qualities for the foreign city that will become your home. This week, I wanted to start with our broadest category: choosing between urban, rural, and in-between cities. Later on we’ll dive into more specific considerations, like how far your money will go, volunteer or work opportunities, and how much knowing the local language counts for.
Before you zero in on these categories, have fun dreaming and researching all of the places you could go; you’ll be surprised to find yourself considering cities you’ve never heard of, in countries you can’t find on a map.
Rural, Urban, or Somewhere In Between
I’ve chosen to write about this first because it is the easiest way to narrow down your list of candidates.
If you know you enjoy living in places that are more remote, consider rural areas that aren’t heavily trafficked by tourists. The scenery, tranquility, and predictable lifestyle that exists in these spots can be magical in terms of relaxation, finding with your passions, and getting in touch with nature. However, don’t fool yourself into thinking that, even though you grew up in or moved to a large city and love it, you’ll all of a sudden be happy in the middle of nowhere simply because you need a change. Trust your instincts. If you can see yourself getting bored of village life, this vision will most likely become reality sooner than you think.
On the other hand, if the idea of not having something new to do every weekend makes you want to tear your hair out, you should cross off places on your list more than a comfortable commute from a metropolitan area. Urban settings will provide you with endless neighborhoods to explore, foods to try, and are a convenient embarkation point for travelaround the region or the world. They can also be loud, crowded, and dirty, but you may enjoy the energy that this kind of density generates.
I’ve always found myself somewhere in the middle; I need some bustle, but I need to be closeto nature too. I generally enjoy the second or third biggest cities in a country, with populations under a million people. For this reason, Chiang Mai has been a good fit for me; there’s loads of culture, tons of restaurants, and it’s surrounded by beautiful mountains.
Ability to Get Away
No matter if you prefer more rural or urban areas, make sure you know and are comfortablewith your transportation options. This will affect how often you can travel, how much trips will cost and how much time they will take.
When I taught in France, I was placed in a small town called Nyons that was an hour bus ridefrom the closest train station; while I loved living there, I didn’t have my own means of transportation and it could be a major pain to get away if I missed the bus or my train got in late. It meant any trip requiring an airplane had to begin with a carefully orchestrated schedule ofbus, train, shuttle to the airport, and flight. Life in small towns can be incredible, but you need to be able to go with the flow.
Likewise, look into what kinds of public transit is available in more urban areas; in Chiang Mai, there are very affordable communal taxis that will get you around town, or you can easily buy or rent a motorbike or bicycle. Many large cities in Asia have developed sophisticated transit systems, such as the SkyTram in Bangkok, which will zoom you past increasingly gridlocked traffic jams. In Cairo, we never did figure out the public bus system and heard so many horror stories concerning the metro that we took cabs everywhere (in which case, knowing a bit of the local language and carrying a good map becomes essential). In Europe and North America, most big cities have a subway, tram or bus system that is easy to use. Particularly if you choose to live in the suburbs, look into the cost and hours of these systems to ensure you’ll be comfortable riding it every day.
Coming up in Uprooting: A How-To Series – Picking a Place to Move, Part II