Many of us visit a city on holiday and decide we want to move there later, whether it’s in our home country or abroad. While having this sort of inspiration is generally a good thing, it can be deceptive as well. Simply put, the most tourist-friendly cities make their lifestyles seem like you are living in a movie, while the reality is rarely even close to that.
People who visit New York City assume that if they moved there they’d see all the Broadway plays or would at least go to all the trendy brunch places each weekend. People who visit Los Angeles assume that they’ll wake up early each morning to surf, but only a tiny minority actually have these experiences once they get there.
Visit a non-touristy city or neighborhood for a better perspective
Having lived in so many different places around the world I should be better at being able to separate the fantasy from the reality, but it’s still a challenge. The tourist districts in most famous cities tend to be exciting and filled with appealing quirks, from street food to glamorous bars to famous museums, but living in those cities rarely involves any of that.
For the last two months I’ve been traveling around Great Britain with the thought that I’d like to find a place here to live for awhile. London is too crowded and expensive so I’ve been drifting around to over a dozen cities in other corners of the island. Many places seem very appealing when I’m in the tourist area, but honestly it’s the non-touristy places that provide a better view of what expat life would be like here.
For example, I’ve recently spent 3 days each in Bristol and Exeter in the south, and neither has much glamor to it, which means that I’ve spent most of my time in residential areas and shopping districts. Even if I did move to London, most likely I’d be spending most of my time in residential areas and shopping districts, so this actually adds a new perspective.
Life in the middle of everything won’t last long as an expat
In my experience, even people who intend to live their lives as if they were characters in a movie or TV show, rarely keep it up for long. Bangkok is another good example where the Khaosan Road area feels like round the clock craziness and fun when you are a backpacker there, but once you move to Bangkok you’ll end up living many miles away in one of the quiet residential areas, and life won’t resemble your tourist visit at all.
Assuming you’ll be getting a job of some kind, it’s more valuable to look at a city or country from the perspective of its residential neighborhoods to see if they suit you permanently or not. Even if you are self employed or retired, you won’t be sipping drinks every afternoon at the hotel bar, at least for more than a week or two after you arrive.
So if you are thinking of moving to a new country or city, it’s probably wise to not only spend a week or more there first, but to stay in a non-touristy town or neighborhood. The locals and living options there might seem great, though they might seem more mundane than you expected.