The Lifestyle Change Chronicles II: How to shape a dream

So you’ve come to the conclusion that your life needs a significant turn. You know you are ready to move on. But. Where to? Doing what? And how are you going to get there?

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” Mark Twain

We had been talking about our respective unhappiness in our current jobs for a long time. However, being overwhelmed with the immensity of the task, we never really got past a general discussion phase. Then one day, taking a walk on the lakeshore we realized that the approach needed to be different. ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ kind of thing: One step at the time. One idea at the time.

So far so abstract.

A few weeks after this talk, we flew to Salt Lake City to continue a Mountain Collective Skiing Roadtrip we had started at the beginning of the year in the old campervan we named Bruce. On one of the long lonely stretches between Utah and Wyoming, we started to brainstorm. What do we want in a place? What do we want to do? How do we want to generate income? What kind of community is important? Where do we want to be? Do we have business ideas? The list goes on.

Bruce on tour!

Making a List

My fingers started flying over the keyboard on my lap and what emerged was a mind-map of ideas:

The Brain

This is the gist of the brainstorming session:

  1. Our Lifestyle design is based on the following general principles: It should be self-sufficient and independent. A corporate job should be unnecessary. To minimize risk, multiple income streams should be generated. We want to create a minimal lifestyle that allows us to be time independent. What we mean by that is to have the opportunity to travel and explore for about three months of the year. One very important component is a strong diverse community to support this lifestyle. We are looking for tolerant and open-minded people of a variety of backgrounds, ages, attitudes and lifestyles. Important assets should be sustainability, health-consciousness, outdoor-orientation and progressive alternative mindsets. Since both of us would be moving far(ther) away from our families, this is a particularly important aspect, but simultaneously the hardest to assess.
  1. We also created a general business design that includes eco-tourism, experimental sustainable agriculture – think permaculture and architecture (such as earthships). We are also researching the power of green spaces and the outdoors for short- and long-term resets of stressed city-folk. We would additionally look into offering educational programs that include retreats and workshops in architecture and agriculture, healthy lifestyle change and cultural guided hiking trips.
  1. To narrow our search for locations we created a number of criteria. We are looking for a place that has access to wilderness. This is defined as places where light, air, and noise pollution are at a minimum and where access is restricted to non-motorized admittance. This goes hand in hand with proximity to a destination area such as a National Park or Forest and with it diverse outdoor recreation options. To be able to connect, stay in touch and attract as many people as possible, we’d like to be within a half-day drive of a major metropolitan area (with an international airport). Very important is versatility, such as the possibility of year-round activities: skiing, hiking, kayaking, surfing etc. Essential for us is also the possibility for small-scale farming and generally little or no restrictions to be able to do experimental architecture. Finally, my language documentation spirit and experience yearns for the possibility to continue studying, experiencing and teaching in a thriving native American settlement.

With this in mind, and well-knowing that we would not be able to find any place to combine ALL criteria, we created five location scenarios that could come close with example towns:

  1. Places at the fringe of a large urban center
    1. Boulder, CO
    2. Park City, UT
    3. Olympic Peninsula, WA (Port Angeles/Port Townsend)
  2. Destination areas
    1. Aspen/Glenwood Springs, CO
    2. Durango/Pagosa Springs, CO
    3. Jackson Hole, WY or Victor, ID
    4. Sun Valley, ID
  3. Up- and coming small outdoor-oriented towns
    1. Chattanooga, TN
    2. Flagstaff, AZ
    3. Middlebury, VT
    4. Taos, NM
    5. Port Angeles/Port Townsend, WA
  4. Mid-sized cities with strong economies and proximity to outdoor recreation
    1. Boulder, CO
    2. Austin, TX
    3. Asheville, NC
  5. Commuting between two places (endless summer)
    1. Hawaii
    2. Alaska

Shortening the List

That’s a pretty impressive list! How do you narrow it down?

“There are no safe choices. Only other choices.” – Libba Bray

For us, this process started on a rainy day in Sun Valley, ID. We had arrived the previous day and spent a wonderful night in the most smug little tree house AirBnB. Our plan was to go skiing, but when we woke up the next morning, there was a downpour outside and we quickly decided to be better off exploring Sun Valleys cozy breakfast and coffee places than trying to have a miserable day on the mountain. And that’s where we got the laptops out again, looked at our previous brainstorming session and decided to be highly systematic about it all. So we started putting data into an excel sheet to compare and contrast the long list of locations. We were interested in the median house price, average rent price for a 2bed, cost of living index, and property tax rate to begin with. You can get this kind of information here.

From there we put the numbers into a data visualization program. – I KNOW, fancy, right? We also included some data from Chicago and surrounds for good measure and comparison since this is an area we know well. And added some of the larger metropolitan areas we were interested in such as Seattle and Salt Lake City. All of this quickly revealed a very interesting picture of affordability and potential and allowed us to narrow down the location search significantly.

As expected, long standing vacation destinations such as Jackson Hole, WY, Aspen, CO, Sun Valley, ID or Park City, UT fell through the net – way way way out of price range. Somewhat surprisingly, on the other hand, so did Taos, NM, Austin, TX and Boulder, CO on that measure. On the other hand, Chattanooga, TN looked positively fantastic in the mix, as did Pagosa Springs, CO.

Long story short, we ended up with the following list:

  1. Olympic Peninsula: Port Angeles or Port Townsend, WA
  2. Southwestern Colorado: Durango or Pagosa Springs, CO
  3. Missoula or Whitefish, MT
  4. Chattanooga, TN or Asheville and Waynesville, NC

For these towns and regions, we then purchased some data from AirBnB to learn more about seasonality, occupancy rates, revenue and price ranges. Here, the data revealed great potential for the Olympic Peninsula, Asheville, NC and Missoula, MT.

Comparing AirBnB data

Big-eyed and looking down onto what to us was a list of wonder and opportunity, we asked where to go from here?

Both of us only knew the Olympic Peninsula to some extent from a few long weekend trips to Olympic National Park. However, not nearly good enough for an informed decision on a place to live. But we had not been to the other regions.

So we would have to travel. But how do you plan a trip to a potential future home? How long should you stay? What should you do? What should you expect? How do you “experience” a place in a limited amount of time?

Well, we tried to figure out exactly that during the following weeks and months. The next post will reflect back and report on what we saw, learned, and found.


4 thoughts on “The Lifestyle Change Chronicles II: How to shape a dream

  1. Hi Doro,
    ich mag Eure Idee, nach neuen Lebensentwürfen zu suchen. (Rita und ich tun das auch regelmäßig.)
    Aber warum sucht Ihr den Ort auf so akademisch-empirische Art?
    Hier kommt meine wissenschaftliche Sicht: Am Ende entscheidet das Gefühl über das “wie” und “wo”. Der Kopf sucht dann nur noch nach passenden Argumenten (confirmation bias). Und diese Entscheidung wird durchaus rational sein. Sind doch alle Deine vielen Lebenserfahrungen tief im limbischen (Gefühls-)System gespeichert. Big cerebral data, so to say.
    Meine Ortswahl ist z.B. sehr stark von den Menschen geprägt. Darum zieht es ich immer wieder in die eigentlich häßliche Stadt Köln. Aber die rheinische Frohnatur bleibt ungeschlagen. (Wiesbaden verhält sich in diesem Fall reziprok zu Köln)
    Wie lernt man einen Ort (und seine Leute) in möglichst kurzer Zeit am besten kennen? Gute Frage. Ich glaube an gemeinsame Mahlzeiten bei Einheimischen zu Hause. Essen ist eines der stärksten Kulturmerkmale. ( wird mein Beitrag dazu sein.)
    Alles Gute für Euch,

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